After an entire season of attractive play and spotty results, D.C. United suddenly seems to have mastered the art of "winning ugly" just in time for the postseason.
United's 1-0 win against the New England Revolution at RFK Stadium on Saturday night owed more to grit than glamour, but the United faithful won't be complaining about their team's fourth win in five games.
"It wasn't pretty, that's for sure," said coach Peter Nowak afterwards. "It was a very physical battle, and we expected that. We're supposed to do better with the ball, but I'm happy with the result."
Christian Gomez volleyed home a Ben Olsen cross in the 32nd minute, his second of the year since joining D.C. from Argentina's Arsenal de Sarandi, and Nick Rimando made several key saves to deny the Revs in the late going as United closed to within one point of the MetroStars for the Eastern Conference's second-place spot.
"I was surprised that the ball actually went through to the near post and I found it on the back post by myself," Gomez said. " ... I thought the defender was going to get to the ball first, but I was lucky enough to get there and put it in. I made a run through the penalty area and was in the right place at the right time."
The Revs were unfortunate not to get an equalizer in a hard-fought second half, with rookie Clint Dempsey the most prominent example of New England's hard-working, never-say-die approach. But even an inspired performance from the Texas native couldn't penetrate United's determined back line, marshaled by captain Ryan Nelsen in his return from a one-game suspension.
"We got a bit deep on a few too many occasions. We really didn't put enough pressure on the ball, which made us drop. It's never good, you don't like drop back too much into your own goal box," Nelsen said. "But, when it did happen, we dealt with the crosses and whatever they got at us pretty well. I remember a couple of hairy situations, but nothing to get too scared about, so it wasn't too bad. It was pretty solid."
The two sides combined for a whopping 37 fouls and seven cards, the most notable occurring in the 74th minute, when referee Marcel Yonan handed combative midfielder Dema Kovalenko his second yellow card for a foul on Dempsey. Kovalenko will miss next week's match against the MetroStars at RFK, as will Josh Gros, whose second-half yellow put him over the caution points limit.
With only 10 men, Nowak and United had to sweat out the final 16 minutes as New England rained down crosses on the D.C. penalty area, but United's composure won the day and they will hope to leapfrog the Metros with a positive result against their Atlantic Cup rivals next week.
Meanwhile, the desperate Revs must now win at home against Chicago next week to earn a trip to the playoffs.
"I think it was quite typical of the way we've played this year. We've promised a lot, but basically the whole season when it's come down to whatever, a shot or a tackle or something, we're not producing," said Revolution coach Steve Nicol. "We're getting ourselves in decent positions, but we're not producing."
Said midfielder Brian Kamler: "We've just got to forget about what happened tonight, look at what we did wrong, and get ready to play hard next week. If we win, we're in."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.