United, Gomez Find Scoring Touch With Shuffled Lineup

United's Jaime Moreno fends off the Wizards' Jose Burciaga during the first half Saturday.
United's Jaime Moreno fends off the Wizards' Jose Burciaga during the first half Saturday. (Linda Spillers - AP)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 22, 2005

D.C. United could attribute its slow start this season to any number of issues. One day it was faulty defending, the next a failure to create opportunities, the next a lack of chemistry. But perhaps the one aspect holding back the defending champion more than any other has been its inability to capitalize on scoring chances and put away opponents that it clearly should beat.

Last night, Christian Gomez made sure that trend didn't continue.

Playing higher in the attack than usual, the Argentine playmaker was the beneficiary of excellent buildups in the second half, scoring two goals to help United defeat the Kansas City Wizards, 3-2, before 18,731 at RFK Stadium.

"It was a big boost morally for me," he said through an interpreter. "I'm happy that my hard work paid off for the team. . . . In the past game it was a little difficult coming back and helping win balls [deep in midfield], but tonight [Coach Peter Nowak] asked me to go forward. I had more liberty and more freedom and overall it was a good game for me."

Jaime Moreno provided United (3-3-2) with a 1-0 halftime lead by converting a penalty kick, but the Wizards (2-2-3) evened it on D.C. rookie Bobby Boswell's own-goal in the 62nd minute. Gomez restored United's advantage seven minutes later and added another goal in the 80th before Kansas City rookie Scott Sealy took advantage of another defensive folly to cut the deficit to one eight minutes later.

A scuffle during injury time resulted in Josh Gros's ejection, leaving United a player short, but D.C. was able to escape.

Following last week's unflattering performance at New England, Nowak decided to alter his starting lineup again. The absence of Freddy Adu wasn't a surprise because the teenager had missed practice most of the week in order to train with the U.S. under-20 national team. But veteran defender Mike Petke was dropped, allowing Bryan Namoff to make his first start after recovering from a broken rib.

Gros, usually a left-side midfielder, became a wingback and Gomez, commonly found in central midfield, joined Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian up front, essentially creating a rare 4-3-3 formation with Ben Olsen, Clyde Simms and Brian Carroll patrolling the center of the field.

Gomez was more assertive on the attack, regaining his scoring touch after going six matches without a goal.

"Christian had great goals," Nowak said, "but you have to see the people around him."

The first people of note were Moreno and Eskandarian. With the game tied at 1, Eskandarian delivered an outstanding long ball to Moreno, who headed it down and across. Simms missed his stab at the ball, which allowed Gomez to bury it from inside the six-yard box an instant before goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi arrived.

Then it was Adu's turn to serve as provider. Three minutes after entering for Eskandarian, Adu made an authoritative run and drew three defenders before slipping the ball to Gomez on his right. Gomez cut back and smacked a hard shot into the lower left corner.

"I didn't look at him, but I knew he was there. We were just playing together," said Adu, who earned his team-high fourth assist. "He kept saying in Spanish, 'Fray-dee, Fray-dee!' I heard him and just got him the ball."

However, what should've been a comfortable lead wasn't. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando had to make a leaping save in the 86th minute -- his third gem of the evening -- but he fumbled a long ball two minutes later, allowing Sealy to score easily and set up a tense finish.

"We can talk about it, we can put the Xs and Os over there, but they actually need to execute the game plan," Nowak said. "They did a very good job. I'm very happy for them because I know they have this hunger again to be one of the top teams in Major League Soccer."

United Notes: Because of a scheduling change, Adu won't have to rejoin the under-20 national team today and instead will remain with United all week. Following next weekend's home match vs. Dallas, Adu will join the U.S. squad full-time to prepare for next month's world youth championship in the Netherlands. . . . In a pregame ceremony, former captain Ryan Nelsen, now with Blackburn in England, was presented his 2004 championship ring.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company