D.C. United put English first division side Nottingham Forest through their paces on Wednesday night, but could not break down a steadfast defense in a 1-1 draw. United dominated possession, especially in the second half, and forced save after save from Forest goalkeepers Paul Gerrard and Darren Ward, and claimed a 4-3 victory in a penalty kick shootout.
Forest, who have been conducting preseason training in Richmond, Va., were welcomed by a vocal contingent of expatriate supporters. United fans had plenty to shout about as well, welcoming Santino Quaranta back to action after a long injury layoff and watching phenom Freddy Adu play a full 90 minutes for the first time this year.
Recent signing Ezra Hendrickson started in place of All-Star Ryan Nelsen in central defense, making an immediate impact at the attacking end only nine minutes in. Earnie Stewart swept in a tantalizing corner kick, and Hendrickson used his dominating height advantage to full effect, rising high to head home from the six-yard box.
With one team in preseason and the other shuffling its lineup, the first half was marked by sloppy play and miscommunication, though Jaime Moreno continued his impressive resurgence with deft touches and smart distribution.
He was at the center of United's most fluid play, including a smooth combination with Stewart in the 21st minute that sprung Dema Kovalenko in the 18-yard box. Kovalenko's cross just missed Adu but fell to Joshua Gros on the far post, whose shot created havoc in the six-yard box but was frantically cleared by the Forest defense.
On the ensuing corner, Adu's service was headed back across by Moreno, and another Hendrickson header was goalbound but cleared off the line. Moreno bewitched Matthieu Louis-Jean to make space, but his left-footed shot just missed the far post.
Only two weeks into training, Nottingham Forest's fitness levels could not match DC's, so they seemed content to absorb pressure and look for openings to counterattack, highlighted by the pace of striker David Johnson.
The strategy was rewarded in the 32nd minute as Louis-Jean's mazy run down the right flank set up Gareth Taylor, who laid the ball off for Andy Reid. Reid stunned Nick Rimando with a blistering drive from almost 30 yards out, rattling into the lower left corner for a fine equaliser.
Gerrard, Forest's 'keeper in the first half, came up big in the 35th minute, kick-saving Adu's shot in a one-on-one situation, then watched Stewart blast the rebound over the bar.
Gerrard was hard at work again just moments later, tipping Gros' drive wide in the 37th minute, and denying Kovalenko from point blank range from the ensuing corner. Johnson immediately ignited a Forest counterattack, carrying the ball from box to box before firing wide of Rimando.
The second half was less frenetic but still dominated by United, with Adu looking increasingly confident. He often dropped deeper into midfield to get more possession, and took most of D.C.'s corners and free kicks. His 53rd minute cross found Hendrickson in the box again, but the big Vincentian international nodded just wide.
Alecko Eskandarian led a United counterattack in the 66th minute, knocking wide to Gros, whose rebound dropped to Adu at the penalty spot. His curling effort was spectacularly saved by Forest 'keeper Ward, diving at full stretch.
Forest's best chance came two minutes later, as David Johnson struck a hard shot from just outside the box that caromed off the right post.
Despite multiple chances in the Forest box, United was unable to sneak in the winning goal in the closing minutes, highlighted by Quaranta's injury time opportunity. Gros raced down the right side and slotted back to Quaranta at the penalty spot, but the Baltimore native's shot sailed over the top.
For entertainment as much as competition, the two teams proceeded to a penalty shootout after the game's conclusion, where United scored four of out five spot kicks to win. Appropriately enough, the winner was smashed in by Ben Olsen, who spent several months on loan at Nottingham Forest three years ago.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com.