WASHINGTON – This past week in training, rookie forward Nick DeLeon made a bold statement ahead of D.C.United’s second match with Columbus in three weeks: “We’re not going to lose to them two times in a row.”
On Saturday night, he again made a statement. Only this time, with his feet.
DeLeon’s inspired streak down the near sideline left Crew defender Josh Williams helpless, freeing up Chris Pontius to boot home his 10th goal of the season and D.C. United back on the winning side after a 1-0 victory against the Crew at RFK Stadium.
HIGHLIGHTS: D.C. United 1, Columbus 0
“I felt like I got into a little funk [earlier in the season],” DeLeon told reporters after the victory. “Recently, I’ve just been really focused on amping my game up to my next level. You can’t be satisfied with where you’re at.”
D.C.’s goal developed when captain Dwayne De Rosario fed the rookie out of Louisville on the right flank. DeLeon dribbled into the corner, cut back against Williams and muscled by the 6-foot-2 back before spinning off Williams to switch feet. The athletic spin was…?
“Just a bad touch,” he said. “I knew it was coming, so I improvised. It worked out for the best. We got the goal, we got the win. I’m happy about that.”
To complete the play, DeLeon – who played 79 minutes and attempted three shots – sent a cross toward the box where forward Long Tan put a backheel on the ball that Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum batted away. The rebound bounced right to Pontius for a gimmie.
“The thing that made him successful tonight is that he kind of kept the defenders on their heels,” Pontius said of DeLeon.
In the first half, DeLeon seemed a hair off on a trio of plays. On one, he dribbled down the far side and attempted to feed De Rosario, but instead booted the ball out of bounds. On another, he found himself trapped in the corner against two defenders and conceded possession. When Pontius launched a useful left-footed cross toward the far post, DeLeon was there for a header but directed the ball high over the net.
“Early, I didn’t think he was real tuned in to the game,” said D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen of the rookie. “Then, a few minutes into the first half we saw some of that early Nick DeLeon. He continued it and did a lot of work. That play that he made was a great individual effort to get us a win.”
DeLeon has made the most of his consecutive starts against Columbus, especially given that Olsen said he probably wouldn’t be starting if midfielder Andy Najar was with the club instead of playing for Honduras in the Olympics. There’s also the worry of DeLeon, who started eight consecutive matches from March to May, hitting the famed rookie wall.
“They all hit at different times, different lengths,” Olsen said. “It’s always a tough thing to manage. As a coach, they need to play, they want to play. … They’re overwhelmed. The college season is so short and to concentrate for this duration, that’s very hard.”
For a few minutes of Saturday’s much-needed victory to jumpstart a busy August for D.C., DeLeon made it look anything but.