Tony's Take: Mixing the old and new
For the final 20 minutes of the Saturday night's match RFK Stadium, D.C. United went from the "Same Old D.C. United" to the "Old D.C. United" as the club's all-time leading goal scorer Jaime Moreno put on a dazzling display for a beautiful game-winning goal, just like he used to do in the glory days.
It's a little uncanny how consistent D.C. United has been at home this season. A careful fan can almost predict exactly the way the games are going to go at RFK Stadium. D.C. United will start off very quickly and create clear scoring chances very early on in the match. They scored in the 4th minute against the Columbus Crew, scored in the 12th minute against the San Jose Earthquakes and barely missed clear opportunities in the first 10 minutes against the Chicago Fire and the Kansas City Wizards.
The chances continued for about the first half hour, but D.C. United suffered a difficult blow in the 38th minute when Ben Olsen left the game with a strained right quadricep. From that point, United lost a lot of their momentum. The rest of the half and the first 20 minutes of the second stanza were uneventful for both sides. There was a lot of possession for D.C. United, but the best chance went to the Wizards when Diego Gutierrez cranked a shot off the crossbar.
Then in the 66th minute, the fans' focus returned as Freddy Adu entered the match. For the first few games of the season, the ovation for Freddy was because of his superstar status, but on Saturday, the knowledgeable fans at RFK were cheering for another reason. In Freddy's first few games with D.C. United, he was a figure that was considered bigger than D.C. United, bigger than Major League Soccer, maybe bigger than the sport itself. But, Freddy-mania seems to have died down a little, which is probably better for all parties involved. To the fans at RFK Stadium, Freddy isn't an icon anymore, he's a very important member of their favorite team. And when the crowd rose to its feet as Freddy trotted onto the field, the fans weren't excited just because Freddy was coming in, they were excited because they saw the substitution as a real chance to breathe some life into the team. That's just what happened.
There wasn't anything specific that Freddy Adu did in the match to make his team play better, it seemed like just his presence was enough for the burst of energy that United needed. The crowd was into the game, the players became a little sharper and the confidence that was evident in the first 35 minutes re-appeared for D.C. United.
One of the things that will be invaluable to Freddy Adu's development will be his ability and willingness to learn from great players. If he wants to become a force in Major League Soccer, he can learn while playing alongside a great role model in Jaime Moreno, one of the best attacking players the League has ever seen. But in Saturday's game, Freddy was the one leading by example, and Jaime followed suit. When Freddy entered the match, he didn't look nervous, he didn't look anxious, he looked cool and confident. His attitude rubbed off on his teammates and just 10 minutes later, the confidence and energy was transformed into a beautiful goal.
Jaime got the ball near midfield, turned and saw some space in front of him. He accelerated to goal, leading a three-on-three counter-attack. Jaime was still picking up speed as he entered the attacking third and the defenders kept backing up. When Jaime reached the top of the box, he showed great skills, using a little stutter-step to create some space. The defender lunged the wrong way, reacting to Jaime's fake, and Jaime played it past the keeper for the game's only goal.
It was an amazing individual effort. Jaime went to goal from almost 50 yards away; he had teammates on either side, but decided to do the work all on his own. He started the play and finished it all by himself. But, he couldn't have done it without Freddy.
For the first time this year, D.C. United earned a victory when it looked like a draw was imminent, but there's no time to enjoy the victory. It's a short week for D.C., with a mid-week match at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy. It looks like L.A. will be without their goal-scoring machine, Carlos Ruiz, but D.C. United has injury problems of their own. Bobby Convey, Ben Olsen and Ryan Nelsen are all nursing aches and pains, and with the lack of depth at the midfield position for D.C. United, Coach Nowak has a number of important choices for his line-up.
Overall, the level of play hasn't dropped off at all for United, regardless of the combination of players. But with the potential of being without two or three regular starters, Nowak will need to have every player prepared if United is going to make it back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Tony Limarzi provides live match commentary for all D.C. United games in English on WMET. He also contributes a column to dcunited.com, in which he breaks down the Black-and-Red's most recent game.