This weekend in San Jose D.C. United came from behind for the first time all season, to tie the Earthquakes. The important point earned on the road is the starting point of a critical stretch of the season for the team from the Nation's Capital.
Goals are so precious that falling behind is always risky, especially on the road. Falling behind on the road after being shutout the week before is demoralizing. Falling behind to the defending MLS Cup Champions on the road after being shutout the week before is catastrophic. But D.C. United responded very well with their backs against the wall. United took control of the second half from the outset, created a beautiful goal and held on for the draw.
D.C. United takes a valuable point away from the match, but looking ahead United now has something even more worthwhile- confidence. The next time D.C. is trailing late in the match there shouldn't be any panicking; they came from behind in front of a jam packed hostile stadium against last year's Cup winners. Saturday's game is no guaranty for future results, but it is much easier to do something once you know it can be done.
In their last home game, D.C. United missed numerous scoring chances. Dema Kovalenko had two clear chances; in the first half his hard shot was saved, in the second half he let the Chicago keeper off the hook from point blank range. Dema is a very intense, very emotional player. He was hard on himself after the Chicago game and, in his post game comments, it sounded like he would be sure to finish the very next scoring chance he had. He did.
In the 66th minute from about 30 yards away, Bobby Convey sent a high cross from the right wing to the back post. The ball went just over the heads of Jaime Moreno and his defender and dipped right onto the foot of Kovalenko. Dema brought it down beautifully and volleyed it past Pat Onstad for the equalizer. United's team MVP from one year ago scored his first goal of this season. Barring injury it will not be his last.
For D.C. United there is no Steve Rammel, there is no Raul Diaz Arce, there is no Roy Lassiter. Around MLS most teams have one particular goal scorer who scores more goals than all of his teammates combined. In D.C. United's case it is goal scorer by committee. The good news about this type of attack is that, if a forward suffers an injury, slump or suspension, it doesn't really have a crippling effect on the offense. For better or for worse, this is how it will be for United this year and goal distribution hasn't been a problem.
D.C. United is now past a very difficult opening five matches to start the season. "Freddy Adu Mania" made things a little tough on the team for the early weeks. Here's what D.C. United has had to go through in their first five matches: four national television afternoon matches, two trips to California, two matches against last year's top teams in the Eastern Conference, two matches against the defending MLS Cup Champs, one game against last year's U.S. Open Cup champions and one unusual 1:00 pm kickoff (local time). Phew!
Now D.C. United plays three straight games at night at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, and the tie against San Jose has United coming home with a good mindset. United can now get back into a regular routine, their standard workweek with no travel for a little while. The next three times D.C. United takes the field it will be under the lights at RFK, where the Black-and-Red have always been most comfortable. After the upcoming three matches, the MLS season will be in full swing and the standings will start taking shape. Peter Nowak looks for three points each week, home or away, and United has a very good opportunity to defend their home field and surge to the top of the table. Nine points in that stretch makes D.C. United the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.