United's Perkins Saves The Day

Clyde Simms
D.C. United's Clyde Simms, right, vies for a ball against Kansas City's Sasha Victorine. (Dick Whipple - AP)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo., July 4 -- At the end of a roasting afternoon Wednesday, after Troy Perkins had made the last of his sensational saves to repel a superior opponent and Luciano Emilio had scored for the fifth consecutive game, D.C. United exited a mostly empty Arrowhead Stadium in a position unfamiliar to the club since last fall: first place.

"The hard way," Coach Tom Soehn said, huffing a sigh of relief. "It wasn't pretty."

United's 1-0 victory over the Kansas City Wizards was made possible by Perkins's reflexes, defender Devon McTavish's disruptive qualities and the work of a Brazilian duo that produced the goal against the run of play just before halftime.

It was hardly a deserving result for United (7-4-2), which was badly outplayed in the first half and endured additional threats after the break, but by improving to 7-1-2 in the last 10 matches, the club vaulted over three teams to the top of the Eastern Conference.

"The quality of individuals we have in the attack, at any moment, we are a dangerous team, and that's the exciting part of joining this team," said defender Greg Vanney, who was acquired in a trade with Colorado last week. "We can turn a game at the drop of a hat; just give these guys one chance."

After leaning so heavily on Perkins, United would have gladly headed to the locker room with a scoreless tie. But in the 44th minute, D.C. seized the lead when Fred, the crafty Brazilian midfielder, took possession and, in one fluid act, faked a shot and penetrated into the penalty area before touching the ball to Emilio, his high-scoring compatriot.

Emilio looked, twisted, turned and lifted a left-footed bid from about 12 yards into the upper right corner for his team-best eighth goal and sixth in five games since shaking off a six-match drought.

Both players explained the sequence through a Spanish interpreter, with Emilio saying, "When I got the ball and turned, I had the impression that a defender would be coming right at me, and that's why I kind of went for the fake to just create enough space to get the shot off."

Added Fred: "My first instinct was to shoot the ball, but as I looked up, I saw there was enough space to get Luci the ball. When I played it to him, I told him, 'You've got time.' "

That was all United would require to avenge an early-season 4-2 loss to the Wizards (6-5-3), as Perkins offered his finest performance of the year to record his second shutout.

In the first half alone, he tipped Jack Jewsbury's shot off the right post, made foot saves on clear runs by Davy Arnaud and Ryan Pore, and reacted to his right to thwart Scott Sealy's free opportunity. He also received help from McTavish, a second-year player thrust into the lineup because of Bobby Boswell's Copa America duty and Bryan Namoff's hamstring injury. In a three-minute stretch, McTavish prevented two seemingly sure goals by blocking shots deep in the box.

"We were just lackadaisical with the ball in our own half," Perkins said of the Wizards' first-half dominance in possession, if not on the scoreboard. "We got caught keeping the ball at our feet, too many touches, then bad passes, and put ourselves in trouble. They were right down our throats."

The Wizards picked up where they left off after halftime. In the 50th minute, Yura Movsisyan hit the far post and Perkins blocked Sasha Victorine's follow-up. A moment later, McTavish chased down the free-running Sealy to prevent a clean shot and, in the 64th, Sealy went one-on-one with Perkins again -- and failed again.

"Very, very frustrating," Wizards Coach Curt Onalfo said.

With the heat draining both clubs and slowing the pace, United was able to settle down the final 25 minutes in front of an announced crowd of just 7,872. After another McTavish play in the box and Victorine's half-volley that sailed high and wide, United counterattacked and held possession effectively to seal the improbable victory.

"They had the better of the chances and I thought we put Troy under too much stress, but he came up time and time again," Soehn said.

Added defender Josh Gros: "Troy was amazing. He saved us 10 times."

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