Gomez's Dynamic Night Lifts D.C. Over Houston

Christian Gomez
D.C. United's Christian Gomez is fouled by the Houston Dynamo's Ricardo Clark during the first half on Saturday. Gomez scored on the free kick for United, who won, 2-1. (Haraz N. Ghanbari - AP)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Christian Gomez has been struggling to replicate his MVP season of 2006, frustrated by defenses that have taken away his space in midfield and betrayed by his once-sterling touch on the ball. He had scored a few goals this spring, but was hardly the player that had driven D.C. United to MLS's best regular season record a year ago.

Last night the Argentine midfielder returned to the forefront of United's attack with a goal and an assist before halftime to spark a 2-1 victory over the defending champion Houston Dynamo in front of 18,078 at RFK Stadium.

Gomez scorched a 30-yard free kick in the fourth minute and set up Ben Olsen's goal in the 27th for United (3-3-1), which has won three straight and is unbeaten in its last four. Dwayne De Rosario scored in the 73rd for Houston (2-5-1), just a minute after having his penalty kick stopped by Troy Perkins.

"Teams, players go through stretches where things come hard," Coach Tom Soehn said. "Christian is going to find his way. He's the MVP of the league for a reason, and he's here on our team for a reason. You start to see signs of that. . . . He's going to be a big piece down the line."

Facing a team that had scored in only two of its previous seven matches, United was determined to take the initiative and claim an early lead. Easier said than done, for D.C. had scored the first goal just once this season.

It did not take long, however, for United to strike. After being taken down by Ricardo Clark, Gomez ripped the free kick over Houston's wall and placed it perfectly inside the left post as goalkeeper Pat Onstad reached in vain.

Brian Ching nearly tied it two minutes later, but his header off Brad Davis's cross skipped wide of the far post. It was the first of several quality opportunities before halftime for Houston, which effectively utilized Davis and Brian Mullan on the flanks to stretch United's defense.

United continued to generate chances, as well, and doubled the lead when Gomez set up Olsen.

The sequence began when Luciano Emilio pushed the ball toward Gomez near the center circle. A Houston player seemed poised to seize possession, but Gomez took it away and broke into open space. As he approached the penalty area, he poked a diagonal ball past the defense to the on-rushing Olsen for a 15-yard one-timer to the far, right corner.

"When I got the ball at my feet, I heard Benny yelling for the ball so I just turned and I knew that he was there," Gomez said through an interpreter.

"I was able to play the ball behind the defender and he made a great finish. That gave us a lot of tranquility for the rest of that first half."

Said Olsen, following his first league goal since last July: "Christian played such a perfect ball, I should score that. Christian just puts it on a platter -- the right weight on the ball, right in stride and all I have to do is put it in. It's nice to get a goal -- it's been awhile."

Despite the two-goal lead, United was well aware that one letdown after the break could turn the match. United absorbed pressure well for 25 minutes, but D.C. began wearing down in the heat and Houston took advantage.

United's Josh Gros slapped Corey Ashe's cross deep in the box, preventing a likely goal by the imposing Brian Ching but leading to a penalty kick. Perkins dived to his right to get his hand on De Rosario's shot and push it off the post.

A moment later, though, after collecting a pass from Craig Waibel, De Rosario dodged two defenders in the box and smacked a 12-yard shot into the middle of the net to cut the deficit to 2-1.

"It always happens like that -- you make a PK save and then they come down, they keep the ball in, they press and press, and they get one," said Perkins, who has played well in recent weeks but is still searching for his first shutout.

A victory that seemed so certain was suddenly in danger of slipping away, but after four hectic minutes of added time, United was safe and Houston departed with its fifth loss in six games.

Said Gomez, "The team is playing better Saturday after Saturday, and we are recovering that mystique that characterizes D.C. United."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company