United's Attacking Woes Are Gone in 5 Minutes
Sunday, April 6, 2008
D.C. United's 4-1 victory over Toronto FC in its MLS home opener last night unfolded as well as Coach Tom Soehn could have imagined.
His club's dormant attack awakened from a two-game funk and scored twice in the first five minutes before 20,161 at RFK Stadium. Santino Quaranta was exceptional in his first start since returning to the club, high-priced playmaker Marcelo Gallardo scored his first goal and Jaime Moreno returned from a nearly month-long absence to add another strike.
And because the result was barely in doubt after Kevin Harmse's red card left Toronto shorthanded for the final 68 minutes, Soehn was able to remove three starters in the second half and rest them for Wednesday's second leg of the Champions' Cup semifinals against Mexican power Pachuca at RFK.
"The start to the game is something we talked about over and over again, making sure the first 15 minutes impact the game," Soehn said. "A start like that, it's obviously hard to overcome."
Luciano Emilio, MLS's scoring champion and most valuable player last season, got it started 66 seconds after kickoff and Quaranta followed three minutes later. Gallardo and Moreno, the league's career scoring leader, added second-half goals for United (1-1), which has won all four meetings with the second-year Canadian team.
Maurice Edu, the former University of Maryland star, scored in the 88th minute for Toronto (0-2).
Coupled with a rout of Harbour View (Jamaica) last month, United has scored nine goals in two home appearances.
Starting in place of the ineffective Franco Niell, Quaranta played a primary role in this one-sided affair. The last time he was in the lineup for United was in October 2005, a 4-0 playoff loss to Chicago. He spent much of the following season on the sideline with injuries and, when he did return, there was no future for him in Washington.
United traded him to Los Angeles, where he made a strong first impression before wearing out his welcome and getting shipped to New York last year for a forgettable few months. Waived by the Red Bulls during the winter, Quaranta, 23, worked himself back into shape after foot surgery and agreed with United on a base salary of just $35,000 -- $2,000 more than the minimum for a senior roster player.
"I guess I have been riding this potential train for a long time and to be able to go out there and work hard and to know you are helping your team win is a good feeling," said Quaranta, who entered MLS in 2001 at age 16. "From where I was, just to be out there, I was looking around again, I've come a long way. It's emotional for me."
Quaranta and his teammates were lively and inventive from the start. It took about a minute to seize the lead when Emilio ran onto a free ball and placed a 12-yard shot under goalkeeper Greg Sutton.
Then in the fifth minute, Emilio glided into space and cracked a 23-yard shot off the crossbar. Devon McTavish headed the rebound on target, but Sutton slapped it away. The ball fell to Quaranta, who slotted an eight-yarder into the right corner.
"Tino added a lot of energy and life, and his feet were good today," Soehn said.
Despite United's advantage, Toronto's opportunities were plentiful and the visitors kept keeper Zach Wells busy for much of the half. But the comeback hopes were severely damaged in the 22nd minute when Harmse was sent off for a challenge on Gonzalo Peralta.
The man advantage did not translate into another goal before halftime and, in fact, Toronto threatened almost as often as United. Sutton kept the score intact with a sensational reflex save on Emilio's six-yard header, a falling stop on Gallardo's 28-yard free kick and a slap save on Emilio's partial breakaway that had been set up marvelously by Bryan Namoff.
The start of the second half was highlighted by Moreno's appearance, his first since a hamstring injury on March 12. With another attacking element, United maintained pressure. After Sutton stopped McTavish's drive, United moved the ball crisply along the top of the penalty area, culminating with Quaranta's diagonal pass through the defense to Gallardo, barely onside, for a simple finish and a 3-0 lead.
With victory certain, Soehn was able to continue planning for Wednesday by pulling Gallardo and Emilio. Moreno got his 113th regular season goal in the 78th minute, using clever footwork in tight space to roll a shot past Sutton and into the far corner.
"I was a little bit disappointed because I thought my leg was better," Moreno said. "I'm not comfortable yet sprinting 100 percent. I still have a little fear and that's mental. Hopefully, I will be good for Wednesday."
Overall, United had few complaints.
"That is always something we want to do -- get on teams early, pressure and try to score," defender Marc Burch said. "Tonight was a good example of what we can do."