Tony's take: Awoken giant
There is a valuable rule to live by which children learn from fairy tales: "Don't wake a sleeping giant." The advice makes perfect sense, since it wouldn't take long for a giant (once awake or angered) to stomp or crush anything that came its way. So, everybody learns at a young age not to bother sleeping giants, and it applies whether you're a small boy climbing a beanstalk or a member of Major League Soccer. MLS has only one giant: four-time champions D.C. United and, so far this season, the league's most dangerous team had been sort of sleepwalking, especially in the final third of the field. But this past Saturday night at RFK Stadium, somebody woke the giant, and as a result D.C. United stomped on the Columbus Crew.
But who woke the giant? Was it Jaime Moreno, who scored D.C.'s first goal against the Crew? Was it Freddy Adu, who drove the team forward for an explosive first 10 minutes? Was it Josh Gros, whose incredibly powerful diving header proved to be the game-winning goal in United's first home win of the season? No, it was Peter Nowak.
The entire week leading up to the match versus Columbus, Nowak was emphasizing good habits. Nowak emphasized that everything that the team does well is based on their habits. Last season, D.C. was in the habit of scoring goals and in the habit of winning games. After the victory over the Crew, D.C. is on the right track to getting into the same habits that led them to the 2004 MLS Cup. The manner in which Nowak prepared the club for this match was critical in getting United back in the right frame of mind, but the preparation was probably the second most important aspect of the great result.
Adu and Christian Gomez both started in the midfield for D.C. United against Columbus. It was the first time that Nowak had ever started the two creative players together in the center of the midfield, and the decision paid off immediately. After only five minutes, Adu used good skills at the edge of the penalty area and sent a cross into the box that was redirected into the goal by Jaime Moreno. That was Adu's first assist of the match. Four minutes later, Adu set up the second goal with a perfect through ball down the right sideline to Ben Olsen, who crossed the ball to the penalty spot where Josh Gros came flying in to send a powerful diving header into the back of the net. Adu showed great vision to pick out Olsen's run with precision, just as Nowak showed great vision by putting D.C.'s two most creative midfielders together in the center of the field.
After a substitution in the second half, Adu was moved forward to finish the match on the front line, and his impact as a striker was just as immediate as in the midfield. United's two-goal lead was cut in half in the 69th minute by former Maryland Terrapin Domenic Mediate, but only two minutes later, Adu found himself going one-on-one at the edge of the penalty area, beat the first defender, held off two more defenders and sent the ball off the inside of the far post and into the goal. It was quite a match for the Boy Wonder.
Adu deserves a lot of credit for his performance this past weekend, but he could not have been as effective had it not been for Gomez. Adu often enters as a substitute for Gomez, but if Adu had started instead of Gomez, the balance in the midfield would have been disrupted. The fact that Adu and the rest of the team, knew that the calming presence of Gomez was out there on the field gave everyone confidence to go forward and be aggressive. Even though Gomez did not have any direct impact on the three goals, he played a very solid game and gave Adu the freedom to have an outstanding match.
It was only one match for D.C. United, and one match does not constitute a habit. But United certainly played their most complete game of the season Saturday, and there is reason to believe that the defending champions might be coming around. Besides the improved play versus Columbus, the players are starting to get healthy again. Alecko Eskandarian, Bryan Namoff and Dema Kovalenko all returned from injury this weekend, which gives an already deep team even more options. D.C. United has a perfect test to prove that Saturday's match was not a one-time occurrence this upcoming weekend. United travels to Foxborough, Mass., to take on the only undefeated team in MLS. The New England Revolution have won five straight matches, and they already beat United a few weeks ago at RFK. These two clubs have recently created the best rivalry in the league, and the matches between these two sides have a history of being very memorable. A national television audience will tune in on Saturday afternoon to see if New England can remain unbeaten against the league's only four-time champion, or if the giant has been awoken for good.
Tony Limarzi is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is also the voice of D.C. United soccer, calling all of the Black-and-Red's games live on WMET.