Moreno Helps United Move Out of the Basement

fred - d.c. united
Toronto FC 's Andy Welsh, left, and D.C. United's Fred struggle for the ball during the first half. After losing its first three matches, United (2-3-1) is unbeaten in its last three to jump over Toronto (2-5) and escape the Eastern Conference basement. (Aaron Harris - AP)

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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2007

TORONTO, May 19 -- A few minutes after D.C. United's 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon, defender Bryan Namoff escaped the bedlam of sold-out BMO Field and was heading down the hallway toward the club's locker room when he succinctly summed up the thoughts of his coaches and teammates.

"We started to play some soccer in the second half, huh?" he said, grinning.

Indeed, United's triumph was not accomplished with the grace and elegance that has been glaringly absent for much of this promising MLS season. But it was richly deserved after former D.C. star Alecko Eskandarian put the expansion team ahead just before the break.

Boosted by Coach Tom Soehn's lineup and formation change, United was far superior in the second half and rewarded with an own goal in the 52nd minute and Jaime Moreno's penalty kick in the 79th. Moreno is tied with the recently retired Jason Kreis for the most goals in league history (108).

After losing its first three matches, United (2-3-1) is unbeaten in its last three to jump over Toronto (2-5) and escape the Eastern Conference basement. The last time D.C. went three league matches without a loss was last July.

"We were down 1-0, and in the beginning of the year, I don't know if we would have come back," defender Josh Gros said. "We got some confidence going and we are winning games. No matter how ugly they are, they're wins and that's all that matters."

United offered another pedestrian effort in the first half, a troubling sign for a team that had not played in 13 days and was facing a club playing for the third time in a week. D.C. was ordinary in the back, lacked ingenuity in midfield and was ineffective in the final third of the field.

"We weren't really bringing the game to them; we were just kind of reacting," defender Bobby Boswell said.

Toronto was not much better, but seized the lead when Carl Robinson's shot struck Eskandarian, deflected off teammate Maurice Edu and dropped to Eskandarian for a 10-yard shot into the roof of the net for his first goal since being traded by United in the offseason.

United responded after intermission by dominating possession and testing goalkeeper Greg Sutton. Shortly after Luciano Emilio missed wide on a clear run, the equalizer came on Christian Gomez's free kick from about 35 yards into the heart of the penalty area. Toronto defender Kevin Goldthwaite tried to direct it out of danger, but instead nodded it into the net.

With the match shifting in United's favor, Soehn removed defender Facundo Erpen, added rookie forward Guy-Roland Kpene, dropped Moreno into a supporting role in midfield and played with a 3-5-2 formation that had caused D.C. so much trouble early in the season.

"When you analyze where the game was going," Soehn said, "it was important we made that adjustment."

Moreno became more involved, the clever Kpene pressured Toronto's back line and, after two serious threats, United took the lead when Kpene connected with Emilio deep in the box. Defender Marvell Wynne closed down space, but appeared to sweep Emilio's leg out from under him. Emilio sold it well and earned the call from referee Baldomero Toledo, drawing vociferous protest from Toronto and the 20,183 supporters.

Moreno deposited the penalty kick into the lower left corner for his third goal of the year.

"I felt the referee saw something different than I did," Toronto Coach Mo Johnston said. "It's harsh, but these are the realities."

Toronto's play turned desperate. Troy Perkins made a reflex save on Ronnie O'Brien's wicked attempt and Andrea Lombardo's header sailed high. Emilio hit the left post during added time, but the gassed hosts had nothing left. "We were running in quicksand," Johnston said.

Said Moreno: "The hunger and the will to win was there [in the second half]. We were missing that in the first half. Our passing wasn't good enough, but in the second half, we moved the ball better and we knew they were going to get tired."


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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