United Roars Past Beckham's Galaxy
Monday, June 30, 2008
Judging by the number of No. 23 jerseys circulating through the concourse at RFK Stadium yesterday, many of the 35,979 spectators were clearly just as excited to see David Beckham in his only Washington visit of the year as they were about watching D.C. United's match with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
But by the end of a sweltering afternoon, those folks were dazzled not by the Galaxy's English superstar and his club's MLS-best attack, but by a United team that continued its torrid scoring pace and extended its winning streak to four with a 4-1 victory.
They watched Luciano Emilio score two goals, giving him nine during United's six-game unbeaten streak, and observed embattled goalkeeper Zach Wells make several excellent saves in his finest performance of the season. They saw Beckham largely neutralized by United's ever-tightening defense, and in the most emotional moment of the joyous day, they provided a thunderous ovation for veteran midfielder Ben Olsen, who made his 2008 debut in the second half after being sidelined because of a career-threatening ankle injury.
"We have a talented group, and whenever you underperform, it is frustrating on all ends -- the coaching side, the players' side," United Coach Tom Soehn said, reflecting on his team's resurgence since a 2-7 start. "They've stuck together, and it was a matter of time when the chemistry was going to start setting in. Guys are starting to understand each other a little bit more, and we are starting to look more and more like a team."
With the victory, United (7-7-1) passed three teams in the Eastern Conference standings and moved into third place at the midway point of its regular season schedule. The club increased its goal tally during this 5-0-1 run to 18 -- which is equal to, or more than, the season total for seven teams.
If not for Steve Cronin's superb stops in the final 15 minutes, United would have humiliated the Western-leading Galaxy (6-5-3), which has scored and conceded the most goals in MLS.
"They've got players that can destroy a back four [defense], doesn't matter who you're playing against," said Beckham, who played the entire match and offered a few nice crosses but, for the most part, was a non-factor.
United did not waste any time, seizing the lead in the fifth minute on Jaime Moreno's penalty kick, his 20th consecutive conversion from the 12-yard spot. There was no disputing referee Jair Marrufo's call. Ante Jazic shoved Santino Quaranta from behind as the United right wing collected Moreno's pass and penetrated the 18-yard box.
The Galaxy appeared to draw even in the 21st minute when Landon Donovan redirected Beckham's exquisite near-post ball past Wells, but an offside call negated it. TV replays showed Donovan fractionally beyond United's final defender.
Los Angeles's next one counted. Donovan dashed through space in the 26th minute and pushed the ball into the penalty area. After United defender Gonzalo Peralta whiffed on a clearing attempt, Edson Buddle beat Devon McTavish and Bryan Namoff to the ball and slid a 12-yard shot past Wells for his 10th goal of the year.
Quaranta left with a strained hamstring and was replaced by Marc Burch, who does not run at defenders as well as Quaranta but adds a dimension with his crossing touch. A few minutes after Wells made a nice tip on Donovan's bid, Burch crossed from the left side to Emilio, who, despite having to backpedal to meet the ball, was able to direct a 10-yard header into the lower left corner for a 2-1 lead.
"We go forward with three or four players, we have more opportunities, more combinations," Emilio said. "It's very nice. We have a lot of motivation right now."
At intermission, Soehn instructed his team to maintain possession longer and make the Galaxy work harder in the excruciating conditions. "When you are chasing the ball, you expend a lot of energy," Soehn said. "It's a lot easier when you have the ball. That really hurt them."
With few exceptions, United owned the half. After three clear opportunities went unfulfilled, Marcelo Gallardo doubled the lead in the 60th minute with a stab from inside the penalty area. Gonzalo Martínez set it up with a left-side cross that Emilio brought down and left for Gallardo to finish.
The Galaxy had a chance to get it back, but Wells disrupted Donovan's weaving run deep in the box. After Burch hit the crossbar with a breathtaking free kick from 30-plus yards, Fred broke loose on the right and crossed beyond the diving Cronin's reach. With a simple putaway, Emilio had his 10th goal and inched within one of MLS leader Donovan.
"You can feel it -- it's automatic," Moreno said, describing United's fine-tuned attack. "When everyone is playing this way, it makes it easy."
Added McTavish: "You never know which way we are going to hit you."