Reporters looking for the positive psychological effects of the season’s first victory for D.C. United on Wednesday night did not have to wait long – only about 15 minutes after the final whistle, in fact.
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“I never told you guys, but that’s actually how it was going to be all along,” deadpanned D.C. coach Curt Onalfo at the start of his postgame press conference at RFK Stadium. "I said patience and perseverance, and my first win would be against my former employer. That’s a joke.”
For more than a month those press briefings have been a small, subtle form of torture for Onalfo, forcing him to field difficult and increasingly critical questions after each loss in his team’s dispiriting 0-5 start to the season. But Wednesday offered a welcome change of pace as the United boss was able to discuss a gratifying result, as well as a few bold decisions that he made to create it.
Onalfo shook up the status quo either end of his lineup sheet, making a dramatic change in goal with veteran and sometime U.S. international Troy Perkins giving way to his 19-year-old understudy Bill Hamid, while striker Danny Allsopp, one of the club’s marquee offseason signings, earned only his third start of the season up top.
“For me it was, ‘We’re 0-5 and I feel like I’ve got to make some changes,’” Onalfo explained afterwards.
Both moves paid rich dividends as Allsopp notched both D.C. goals and Hamid produced a five-save performance that belied his tender age and limited experience. In fact, both men made history as Allsopp became the first Australian goal-scorer in MLS and Hamid broke Tim Howard’s record for the league’s youngest goalkeeper to notch a win.
“I think it’s probably a relief for everyone here," Allsopp said. "We’ve had a difficult start and it’s good that we’ve got a win in front of our home fans. They’ve been through a lot with us as well, so I think everyone’s pretty pleased tonight and hopefully it’s the start of more to come.
“Everyone’s been giving everything, and sometimes, it just doesn’t work out the way you want," the Australian continued. "But everyone’s stuck together and we’ve hopefully turned a corner tonight.”
Hamid has advanced from the United under-18 academy team to a starting role in the senior squad in less than a year, and the measured maturity required to make that journey was evident in his reaction to Wednesday’s proceedings.
“For myself, I think I played well,” he said. “But as a team it’s more important: We fought for all 93 minutes. At times, we’ve lapsed for little bits and portions of the games and it’s cost us breakdowns. But today we knew the task at hand and we fought for all 93 minutes.”
The importance of putting the club’s preference for flowing, attractive soccer aside in favor of a results-oriented approach was a major theme in the run-up to the match against Kansas City, and United’s lineup and tactics duly reflected this reality. Allsopp was paired with burly target man Adam Cristman up front and their colleagues did not hesitate to serve searching balls up towards the duo, confident that they would eagerly contest headers and remain hot on the heels of the Wizards defenders.
It rarely recalled the subtlety and finesse of historic Black-and-Red sides, but it paid off as both of Allsopp’s strikes were keyed by mistakes in the KC back line. D.C. are likely to be put to use again in three days’ time as they head to Pizza Hut Park for a weekend date with FC Dallas.
“I think there were moments in the game tonight where, when we actually put in the work, it allowed us to play nice soccer and pass the ball and connect, and it felt more fluid,” said Cristman. “But I think we’re finding, at least in this league against the teams that we’re playing against, that’s not necessarily how you win games. You have to put in the work, it has to be dicey and it’s not always pretty. At the end of the day we’re all coming in with knocks, tired and dead, but that’s what it takes to win games and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”