D.C. United hopes to use AC Milan victory as a springboard

D.C. United's Luciano Emilio celebrates with fans after scoring a goal in the 3-2 win against AC Milan.
D.C. United's Luciano Emilio celebrates with fans after scoring a goal in the 3-2 win against AC Milan. (Ricky Carioti/the Washington Post)
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By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 29, 2010

The expectations for D.C. United entering Wednesday night's friendly against AC Milan were not high.

D.C. was struggling in MLS play, winning just one of its first nine games; it faced an important stretch of league matches in the days ahead; and it was up against one of the most talented teams in the world.

To some, the match would serve as an opportunity to fix some on-field problems and maybe to provide a little bit of fun.

"It was a training exercise the way we looked at it," defender Carey Talley said.

What happened instead was a 3-2 win in which United enjoyed some quality play, defended well against some of the world's top players and, in the end, maybe gleaned more than just one night's worth of confidence.

"We went into that game and it was kind of nice because for the first time we were going out there without a lot of pressure on us, three points were not on the line," said forward Chris Pontius, who scored United's second goal against Milan. "So we were all saying it was a tuneup game for this Saturday. It's a little bit of a different tuneup game because you're playing against some of the best players in the world, [but] I think it's definitely something we can build on. I think it's a steppingstone for us and now we take the positives and the negatives out of it and we build off of those."

The hope among players is that the win will serve as a turning point in a season that thus far has offered little optimism. Beyond just the result of the match, players and coaches pointed to United's composure on the field moving forward, and especially in defending as a team.

Those technical aspects will perhaps be the most difficult to replicate as United prepares for league opponents that are not as technical as AC Milan, starting Saturday night against Chivas USA, and thus will bring a different set of challenges and a different type of motivation.

"What I was telling our group is we need to be even more disciplined and more concentrated because if you're playing against an AC Milan it's easier to do that because the players are so talented and they really almost never do unforced errors," United Coach Curt Onalfo said. "They connect passes, where an MLS game is a little more fragmented, it's back and forth, there's more errant passes and that requires more discipline on both sides of the ball and concentration. We need to even pick it up another notch."

United also took some encouragement in the performances of individual players who are working back from injury or coming back into form.

Forward Luciano Emilio, whom United reacquired this season in search of a true goal scorer, scored against Milan and is showing signs of regaining his match fitness. Santino Quaranta returned from a staph infection and was effective against Milan. Pontius, the talented forward who has struggled this season with lingering hamstring issues, also brought much needed energy on the outside for United.

Now, United will try to carry over the same mentality and positives from Wednesday's low-pressure friendly to a season in which it is in desperate need of instant results.

"That was one of those things where we needed to go out and have fun because, to be honest, we haven't had fun in eight games, it's been a grind, " Talley said. "And I think that's something we need to do more of."

United notes: Midfielder Brandon Barklage tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and also had a partial tear to the meniscus, the team said. He likely will undergo surgery in the next week. . . .

Salvadoran defender Manuel Salazar trained with the team at practice on Friday, but United General Manager Dave Kasper said it was not a trial. . . .

Emilio (left hip flexor) is questionable and will be a game-time decision.

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