D.C. United carried the MLS banner with pride in a compelling matchup with English Premier League champion Chelsea FC on Thursday night, but the opportunistic visitors edged out United's superior possession for a 2-1 win.
Bobby Boswell gave United a lead midway through the first half, but Damian Duff pulled Chelsea level just four minutes after. Then, Hernan Crespo put Chelsea ahead with a cool finish just before the hour to provide the final scoreline.
United began in their customary 3-5-2 set, welcoming veterans Ben Olsen and Santino Quaranta back to the starting lineup after U.S. team Gold Cup duty, while Chelsea assumed their attacking-oriented 4-3-3 formation.
United veteran Jaime Moreno created the first chance of the night, receiving the ball on the right side of the visitors' box before turning wickedly and unleashing a low blast bound for the far post, but goalkeeper Petr Cech saved his side's blushes with a deft kick save.
But the ball spun right to Josh Gros, who saw his first-time effort blocked by Glen Johnson. However, the rebound fell invitingly for the D.C. winger again, and the crowd shrieked in anticipation of a shocking opener, only for Gros to volley well over the bar.
Immediately Cech raced off his line, berating his defense -- clearly the tall Czech knew his side had dodged a bullet.
To the surprise and delight of the raucous home crowd, United dominated possession in the early going, knocking the ball from wing to wing on the spacious FedExField pitch as they probed the English champions for openings.
Nonetheless, Chelsea's class was evident, as the Premiership side looked to pressure D.C.'s back line to force turnovers and take advantage of a fearsome strike force featuring a trio of internationals -- Irishman Duff, England's Joe Cole and Cote d'Ivoire star Didier Drogba.
United could claim superior fitness, but Chelsea looked dangerous on the counterattack, and several times United were forced to commit professional fouls to stall the pace of the Londoners. Holding midfielder Brian Carroll was particularly lucky to avoid an early caution.
Gros drew cheers again just before the half-hour mark, sharply cutting back from the right wing and uncorking a shot that cannoned off John Terry's head and out.
On the ensuing corner kick, United's persistence paid off as they stunned Chelsea with a well-taken goal from an unlikely source, center back Boswell. Christian Gomez's outswinging corner was met by the tall rookie, who rose well to nod home the opener completely unmarked in the center of the area, sparking euphoria among the United supporters' groups clustered behind the goal.
Chelsea were clearly stung, and their response was swift. Moments later, new signing Shaun Wright-Phillips was given too much time and space on the right channel, and he curled a high cross to the far post that was met by a world-class finish from Duff.
When D.C.'s Brandon Prideaux scrambled to track the ball as it floated over his head, the Irish winger set his feet and struck a first-time volley that bulleted into the opposite side netting past a helpless Nick Rimando. Duff wheeled away, fists clenched in jubilation, as it was the sizeable Chelsea fans contingent's turn to celebrate.
Chelsea made wholesale changes at halftime, introducing nearly an entirely new 11 led by star midfielders Frank Lampard and Arjen Robben. United coach Peter Nowak chose to change goalkeepers, giving backup Troy Perkins some time in the net, and replaced Gomez with Freddy Adu in the attacking midfielder spot.
But it was Argentinean striker Hernan Crespo, recently called back from a loan spell with AC Milan, who broke the deadlock in the 57th minute with a simple finish set up by Robben's good work.
After a United turnover, Chelsea raced forward on a quick counter and when Boswell took Robben's bait and stepped forward to meet what looked like a bad touch, the Dutch winger poked the ball past him and into the path of Crespo's run. Perkins had no choice but to fly off his line to cut off the angle, but it was for naught as the striker made no mistake to give his side a 2-1 lead.
The goal quieted the crowd somewhat, but confident play from Adu drew increasingly loud cheers from the stands, and the din peaked when the teenager earned a corner after an aggressive run into the Chelsea box.
Eight minutes from time, Chelsea nearly sealed the result with a flowing move from Robben to Eidur Gudjohnsen and on to Lampard on the left, whose low shot was well-struck but just wide of Perkins' right post.
Adu gave Chelsea's Lassana Diarra fits with his twists and turns, and the youngster's nifty flick drew another foul in an inviting spot for a free kick in the waning moments. But Adu's delivery into the box was headed clear by Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho.
D.C.'s final chance fell to Clyde Simms in the 89th minute, but his shot was blocked and the ensuing goalmouth scramble was finally cleared, as Chelsea withstood a stout test from the defending MLS champs.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
Chelsea FC vs. D.C. United
July 28, 2005 -- FedEx Field
DC -- Bobby Boswell 1 (Christian Gomez 1) 31
CFC -- Damien Duff 1 (Shaun Wright Phillips 1, Joe Cole 1) 35
CFC -- Hernan Crespo 1 (Arjen Robben 1, Tiago 1) 56
Chelsea FC -- Petr Cech, Glen Johnson, Williams Gallas, John Terry, Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright Phillips, Tiago, Jiri Jarosik, Joe Cole, Didier Drogba, Damien Duff.
Substitutes Not Used: Geremi, Lenny Pidgeley.
TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Frank Lampard 2, Hernan Crespo 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 4 (4 tied with 1); FOULS: 16 (Lassana Diarra 5); OFFSIDES: 2 (Hernan Crespo 1, Damien Duff 1); CORNER KICKS: 1 (Arjen Robben 1); SAVES: 1 (Petr Cech 1)
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, Brandon Prideaux, Bobby Boswell, John Wilson, Dema Kovalenko, Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez, Ben Olsen, Joshua Gros, Jaime Moreno, Santino Quaranta.
Substitutes Not Used: Kenny Arena, Nana Kuffour, Tim Merritt, Matt Nickell, David Stokes, Andrew Weber, Jason Thompson, Nick Van Sicklen.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (3 tied with 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Jaime Moreno 1, Bobby Boswell 1); FOULS: 13 (Jaime Moreno 3); OFFSIDES: 1 (Joshua Gros 1); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Christian Gomez 2); SAVES: 2 (Troy Perkins 1, Nick Rimando 1)
DC -- Bobby Boswell (caution; Pushing, Holding) 40
CFC -- Lassana Diarra (caution; Dissent) 68
CFC -- Robert Huth (caution; Pushing, Holding) 92+
Referee: Kevin Stott
Referee's Assistants: George Vergara; Alex Prus
4th Official: Nathan Clement
All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.