Fred Helps United Pick Up The Pace, and a Playoff Berth

christian gomez - d.c. united
Fred set up the game-winning goal at RFK Stadium on Wednesday night with a beautiful cross to Christian Gomez, above, in the 72nd minute. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007

Coming off of a win in which the creativity and energy of its offense had shined through, D.C. United's attack seemed somewhat stifled in the first half last night against Real Salt Lake. Without forward Jaime Moreno, who was on international duty with Bolivia, and midfielder Fred, who was being rested on the bench, D.C. just wasn't the same.

But while United could not bring Moreno in to save the game, Coach Tom Soehn did use Fred as a substitute in the second half. That change -- and a slight shift in formation -- made all the difference, as Fred helped speed United's attack and assisted on midfielder Christian Gomez's game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory at RFK Stadium, securing D.C.'s spot in the MLS playoffs.

Fred set up the game-winner with a beautiful cross to Gomez in the 73rd minute. After Marc Burch's free kick bounced around the box, defender Bobby Boswell found Fred on the right side. The Brazilian curled a ball to the far post and Gomez headed it home.

Fred is "like a jackrabbit -- that's how much energy he can bring to a game," midfielder Josh Gros said. "To be able to bring him off the bench is huge and he definitely sparked us and we got that goal and that was all we needed."

United continued its trend of scoring early when forward Luciano Emilio, the league's top finisher, put in a header in the 16th minute. United was a bit fortunate, since the sequence started when Ben Olsen mis-hit a one-time shot. The ball curled right and landed on the foot of Gomez, who dribbled to the endline and crossed to Emilio on the far post. The Brazilian striker rose above defender Jean-Martial Kipre and nodded it home for his 19th goal.

But besides the early goal, United struggled in the first half. Real Salt Lake dominated the midfield, dictating possession in the first 45 minutes while outshooting United 8-5 and winning six corners to United's one.

The visitors finally tied the score in the 32nd minute when midfielder Kyle Beckerman scored from about 25 yards. The goal came after Beckerman picked up a pass from defender Chris Wingert, and turned to dribble. United's Boswell, who stood about 10 yards away, was the closest defender and as he moved to Beckerman, the Salt Lake midfielder took a quick step to his right, firing a shot to the near post and out of the reach of goalkeeper Troy Perkins.

"It was disappointing because we addressed [Beckerman's shooting] before the game," Soehn said. "And we failed to step and close that and we gave him an opportunity to have a look at goal and he punished us."

In the second half, United switched to a formation that allowed them to crowd the midfield, and brought Fred in for Guy Roland-Kpene. The changes immediately brought new life to United.

D.C. first threatened when Gros earned a penalty kick four minutes after halftime. He faked a one-time cross, cut the ball to his right and was taken out by Salt Lake defender Kipre in the box. Without Moreno, who is the usual kick-taker and has scored four times this year on penalty kicks, the task fell to Gomez. The midfielder hit a strong, low shot, but goalkeeper Nick Rimando, a former United star, dove to his left and made the save.

United then had a goal erased in the 55th minute when Gomez and Emilio were called offside. Video replays seemed to show the two were actually held on by a Salt Lake defender.

After Fred's cross had put United ahead, D.C. fans had to hold their breath when referee Jorge Gonzalez awarded Real Salt Lake a controversial penalty kick in the 76th minute. Replays showed that United defender Devon McTavish was thrown to the ground by Salt Lake captain Carey Talley, but Gonzalez whistled the foul on McTavish. Alecko Eskandarian took the kick for Salt Lake but his offering was saved by Perkins, who dove to his left and pushed the ball away.

United now enters a 10-day break riding a nine-game unbeaten streak.

"We've had a lot of games in a short amount of time and we knew we had this break coming up and we might've actually thought we were on a break today," Soehn said. "But I'm still pleased we were able to get a result on a day where it wasn't good enough."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company