On a day that saw 14-year-old prodigy Freddy Adu make his professional debut, D.C. United received a vintage performance from forward Jaime Moreno that gave the home side a 2-1 victory over the defending MLS Cup champion San Jose Earthquakes on opening day in the official kickoff to the 2004 Major League Soccer season on Saturday afternoon.
The sellout crowd of 24,603 at R.F.K. Stadium witnessed MLS history in the 61st minute as Adu entered the match, while Moreno brought back memories of the glory days for United with a goal and an assist as Peter Nowak celebrated victory in his first match as D.C. head coach.
United's lead was short-lived, however, as the visitors grabbed the equalizer in the 19th minute on a penalty kick scored by central midfielder Ronnie Ekelund. Midfielder Richard Mulrooney sent the ball down the heart of the United defense into the path of a cutting Brian Mullan. United goalkeeper Nick Rimando came off his line to anticipate Mullan, but collided with the player instead. Ekelund stepped up to drill the spot kick into the upper left corner of the goal, tying the score at 1-1.
It was Moreno's vision which helped restore United's lead in the 39th minute. Moreno, who continuously sought the ball and made his characteristic penetrating dribbling runs, sliced a pass into a seam in the middle of the San Jose back line which found Alecko Eskandarian. The No. 1 selection of the 2003 SuperDraft beat his defender to the ball and lofted a left-footed shot inside the far right post for his fourth career goal.
While the Earthquakes presented its long-established 4-4-2 lineup, United's first-year head coach unveiled a new lineup with Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen and Mike Petke forming the team's three-man defense. Second-year player Brian Carroll, who was making his MLS debut after playing in U.S. Open Cup and exhibition matches in 2003, played directly in front of the back line behind a fluid midfield comprised of Bobby Convey, Ben Olsen, Dema Kovalenko and Stewart from left to right, who all continuously swapped positions. While Eskandarian was the target man in attack, Moreno was left free to roam the entire field and proved the creative spark behind United's attacks.
United missed several clear-cut scoring opportunities in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. Five minutes after the break, Convey ran onto a pinpoint long-distance pass from Stewart, rounding San Jose goalkeeper Pat Onstad on his first touch. But his shot from 10 yards out hit the left side netting. In the 53rd minute, Petke sent a weak header from just five yards out into the hands of Onstad, who botched the outlet pass seconds later leading to another shot by Stewart that finished high of an open goal. Two minutes later Eskandarian found another seam in the Earthquakes back line but his left-footed shot on goal was saved by Onstad.
Chanting "Freddy, Freddy" from the start of the second half, the fans finally got what they wanted when Adu came on for Eskandarian just after the hour as cameras flashed in the stands. The No. 1 pick in this year's SuperDraft replaced last year's No. 1 overall pick in United's attack and became the youngest player in league history, surpassing the mark set by D.C. teammate Santino Quaranta, who made his debut at the age of 16 years and 207 days on May 9, 2001.
The best chance at a second-half equalizer for the Earthquakes came on a 65th minute attempt by Donovan, who cracked a searing shot from the top of the box which United goalkeeper Nick Rimando bounced to his right to parry away.
Two red cards left their mark on the end of the match as Earthquakes defender Craig Waibel was shown a red card for a foul on Moreno in the 76th minute. Four minutes later United was also reduced to 10 men after a Kovalenko was sent off for clipping Mullan from behind.
Neither team was particularly threatening in attack for the remainder of the match as United comfortably held on for a 2-1 opening day win in a match which marked the first career win as a head coach for Nowak, while San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear saw his debut end in a loss.
D.C. United is back in action next Saturday, April 10, when the team travels to The Home Depot Center to meet the Los Angeles Galaxy at 10 p.m. ET (HDNet, FOX Sports World, FOX Sports en Espanol). The Earthquakes will also play on April 10, opening their home schedule at Spartan Stadium in San Jose when they host the defending Eastern Conference champion Chicago Fire in a nationally televised rematch of MLS Cup 2003 (4 p.m. ET -- ESPN2).
MLS Man of the Match: Jaime Moreno (D.C. United)
DC -- Jaime Moreno 1 (Earnie Stewart 1) 12
SJ -- Ronnie Ekelund 1 (penalty kick) 19
DC -- Alecko Eskandarian 1 (Jaime Moreno 1) 39
San Jose Earthquakes -- Pat Onstad, Craig Waibel, Jeff Agoos, Eddie Robinson, Ramiro Corrales, Brian Mullan, Ronnie Ekelund (Brian Ching 74), Richard Mulrooney, Ian Russell (Arturo Alvarez 86), Dwayne De Rosario (Jamil Walker 81), Landon Donovan.
Substitutes Not Used: Jon Conway,
TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Ronnie Ekelund 3);
SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Landon Donovan 1, Ronnie Ekelund 1);
FOULS: 14 (Eddie Robinson 3);
OFFSIDES: 3 (Landon Donovan 2);
CORNER KICKS: 4 (Ramiro Corrales 2, Richard Mulrooney 2);
SAVES: 5 (Pat Onstad 5)
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke, Earnie Stewart, Brian Carroll, Dema Kovalenko, Ben Olsen, Bobby Convey (David Stokes 89), Alecko Eskandarian (Freddy Adu 61), Jaime Moreno (Joshua Gros 85).
Substitutes Not Used: Kevin Ara, Ronald Cerritos, Troy Perkins, Brandon Prideaux, Doug Warren.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Alecko Eskandarian 3, Earnie Stewart 3);
SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Alecko Eskandarian 2, Earnie Stewart 2);
FOULS: 25 (Ben Olsen 7);
OFFSIDES: 1 (Bobby Convey 1);
CORNER KICKS: 2 (Bobby Convey 2);
SAVES: 1 (Nick Rimando 1)
SJ -- Dwayne De Rosario (caution; Deliberate Handball) 23
SJ -- Craig Waibel (ejection; Serious Foul Play) 76
DC -- Dema Kovalenko (ejection; Violent Conduct) 80
DC -- Ben Olsen (caution; Reckless Foul) 89
Referee: Kevin Stott
Referee's Assistants: Craig Lowry; Greg Barkey
4th Official: Michael Kennedy