Short-handed United Cobbles Together a Tie
Sunday, September 10, 2006
When D.C. United stepped onto the field at RFK Stadium last night, there was a goalkeeper making his regular season debut and a defender appearing in an MLS game for the first time in four months. There was a newly acquired Argentine still not in ideal playing shape, a rookie midfielder in his first career start and a locally trained winger who had not even started half the club's reserve division matches.
This is what happens when four starters are serving suspensions, the primary goalie is in need of a break and the bench is depleted by injury.
Coach Peter Nowak's makeshift lineup held up well for most of the evening, but yielded a tying goal midway through the second half and had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake before a crowd of 19,812.
Although he was pleased with his short-handed club's effort, "We need to be a little smarter," Nowak said. "We're leading 1-0 and I told them in the locker room we still have inexperienced guys playing the game. . . . Having these couple of mistakes we make, and of course the goal, was not necessary."
With MVP candidate Christian Gomez, Alecko Eskandarian, Josh Gros, Bobby Boswell and Troy Perkins watching from the stands, Freddy Adu gave United (14-3-9) the lead just before halftime with a pinpoint free kick. However, Chris Klein tied it 20 minutes after the break for Real (9-12-6).
United, coming off a 3-0 loss at Chicago on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, is 1-2-4 in its last seven league matches.
Considering all the absences, though, it was not a bad result. Nick Rimando made two excellent saves before getting beat, the back line yielded few opportunities to MLS leading scorer Jeff Cunningham and the reconfigured attack stretched Real's defense to generate a handful of quality scoring chances.
"I think we got back to dominating and playing the way we want to play," midfielder Ben Olsen said. "Saying that, we got a tie against a team we should have beat."
The most surprising starter was Stephen deRoux, a left-side midfielder who played at High Point High School and Prince George's Community College before starring in local amateur leagues and earning a roster spot after impressing D.C. coaches at a tryout early last year. Outside the reserve team, his only playing opportunities came late in games against Scottish club Celtic in July and Chicago on Wednesday.
"The first one is always the worst one," deRoux, 22, said of overcoming his pregame nerves. "The coaches told me to attack and get forward and I think I did pretty well. I just hope to get more chances."
He was joined in the lineup by Rod Dyachenko, a Russian-born rookie playmaker whose minutes steadily increased the last six weeks; by right wing Matias Donnet, from Argentina, who debuted last weekend; and by veteran defender Brandon Prideaux, back in action after recovering from knee surgery and taking Boswell's vital central role.
DeRoux's speed caused an early stir, twice jetting loose in the box to sting shots into the side-netting. Several times, he beat defenders but was unable to cross effectively.
The match was meandering toward a scoreless intermission when Adu struck for his first goal since June 28. After drawing a foul five strides beyond the penalty area, Adu joined Donnet around the ball. Jaime Moreno usually takes free kicks from that distance, but with the team captain bothered by a knee injury, Adu took charge.
"I just said, 'Me, me, me,' " Adu said of his communication with Donnet, who speaks hardly any English. "He goes, 'Okay.' I've been practicing free kicks every day for the last month and it paid off."
Adu lifted a left-footer over the defensive wall and into the right side of the net, well out of the reach of goalkeeper Scott Garlick, who overplayed in the other direction. "I don't know why he was there because that ball was dead center," Adu said. "I just saw him cheating."
The equalizer, however, came in the 65th minute, when Cunningham drew out Rimando and slipped the ball back to Klein for a one-timer to the far corner.
"They lost two points," Nowak said of his players' inability to hold the lead, "but we're going to get back these points."