D.C. United has played beautiful soccer for extended periods of this season, but you might not have known it watching this weekend's match in New England. D.C. United played their least attractive match of the season, but ended up with perhaps their most pleasing result.
United disproved the old adage, "You can't win if you don't score." D.C. was fortunate enough to receive an own goal in the fourth minute that held up as the game's only tally. D.C. didn't score, but managed their first road win of the season. For the players, coaches and fans, the somewhat ugly win leaves a much better feeling than the beautifully played games that end in losses. Even though the attractive style was missing for most of the game, United showed a lot of heart and determination, which had been missing in earlier games when late leads slipped away.
D.C. United needed this win badly, and they certainly fought like it was a must-win situation. United had lost two in a row, and with a match looming against conference-leading Chicago at Soldier Field, it was essential to take advantage of a struggling Revolution team with a depleted roster.
United received a lift as Ben Olsen and Bobby Convey returned to the lineup. Both are so important to the team that their presence alone can make a big difference. In the early stages of the match, Convey and Olsen were orchestrating the attack as United applied high pressure for most of the first half. Seconds before halftime, Olsen had a glorious opportunity to put United in front by two, but his shot from close range was denied by an amazing save from the Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis. In the second half, Olsen was content to do extra defending, while Convey constantly ran from end to end defending in his own penalty area and leading counter-attacks.
Ryan Nelsen, Jaime Moreno and Dema Kovalenko all missed the match in New England for different reasons, and their absences were noticed. Even though United came out with a victory, extended absences for any of these players would make things a lot harder on the team.
Nelsen is in New Zealand for World Cup qualifying and he will miss this weekend's match in Chicago. Without Nelsen, the defense still managed their second shutout of the season. Most of the credit for the shutout goes to rookie goalie Troy Perkins.
At the start of the season, Perkins was third on the depth chart at the goalkeeper position. A month ago, he was as unlikely to start in goal for D.C. United as Sam Perkins. But, Peter Nowak saw something in him during training, and in his second career start, Perkins earned his first win and his first clean sheet. Playing from behind, New England played long ball after long ball into the box, and this strategy played right into Perkins' hands ... literally.
Perkins was very aggressive coming out all the way to the edge of the eighteen to stifle the Revolution attack and did an excellent job controlling the penalty area. There were a few anxious moments near the end as there are in any one-goal game, but Perkins showed great confidence throughout the match. His confidence must have skyrocketed in the 52nd minute.
Referee Kevin Terry called a questionable penalty against D.C. United as Steve Ralston came storming into the box and collided with David Stokes. United's rookie goalkeeper found himself bouncing on his goal line staring at one of the league's best goal scorers in Taylor Twellman, waiting to tie the match from the penalty spot. Twellman struck the ball to the right post, and Perkins fully extended his body in that direction. The ball banged off the outside of the post and destiny seemed to be on the side of Perkins and United.
Ten minutes later, Twellman had another good chance to score - he was surely looking to make amends for his missed penalty. Dribbling across the top on the area, he fired a hard left-footed shot across his body right along the ground. Perkins was moving to his right and dove back to his left, got down to the ball incredibly well and swatted the shot away. This save was the most important play of the match.
For D.C. United, one third of the season is now behind them. The team feels like they have already given away too many points, and they probably have. The game against Chicago this weekend is another important one. The Fire already beat D.C. United at home in United's only game without a goal. The standings in the Eastern Conference are starting to take shape, and United is still fighting for the top spot. With a nearly full roster, a goalkeeper growing in confidence and the momentum of the season's first road win, D.C. United has the pieces in place for a great performance against Chicago. But, as they found out this past weekend, they'll take an ugly victory over a beautifully played defeat.
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.