With a little more than a week before the season opener, D.C. United coach Peter Nowak decided his reserves had had enough playing time. In the final game of the Carolina Challenge Cup on Friday night, Nowak played his starting lineup for the full 90 minutes against a depleted Columbus Crew, D.C. handily winning the game 3-0.
It was obvious the United first-teamers were eager to get out and stretch their legs having played only 45 minutes in the first two games in the tournament. They came out putting pressure on the injury-riddled Crew back line, breaking through after just four minutes
Mike Petke got on the end of a Christian Gomez free kick, nodding in the waist-high driven ball into the goal from close range.
The Crew, missing starting goalkeeper Jon Busch and defender Chad Marshall, both away with the U.S. national team, struggled with the United attack that seemed to come in waves.
Two minutes later Jaime Moreno nearly doubled the score, beating Crew 'keeper Bill Gaudette inside the penalty area, but he pushed the ball too far to the side and found only the side netting.
But United had to score again, and the continuous pressure put on the Crew midfield paid off in the 20th minute when Gomez sprung Moreno from just inside the center circle. Moreno ran onto the curling flick only to be met by Gaudette just outside the penalty area.
The Crew 'keeper had two defenders behind him and went down at Moreno's feet, bringing the United captain to the turf. Gaudette received a yellow card for the professional foul.
Gomez stepped up to take the free kick, and hooked a right-footed blast around the Crew wall just inside the far post for the second tally of the night, leaving Gaudette glued in place with the fiercely bending free kick.
With a two-goal lead, United relaxed a bit, concentrating more on defending in the second half. The concerted effort worked, as the Crew never seriously threatened Nick Rimando's goal.
"I thought the first 70 minutes we did all right," Nowak said. "There were still some chances that we didn't finish in the first half, and at the end of the second half. We still need to work on that. But overall, it was a pretty good effort from the whole group."
Moreno finished off the scoring for the night in the 50th minute. Again Gomez was key in the play, playing a perfect ball into the on-rushing Moreno's path just outside the penalty area. Moreno rounded Gaudette before gently rolling the ball over the line.
"It's always good to win going into the season," Moreno said. "Going into the season, I thought we got a lot of positive things out of this game, and the other games we played."
Though D.C. looked to be nearly ready to begin the season on April 2, Columbus still has a long way to go.
"We still have to get four or five starters ready to play," said Crew midfielder Kyle Martino. "The guys that have stepped in have filled roles that are big shoes to fill. It's a lot to ask of rookies and new guys. It's a rocky start, but we got guys experience that we are going to need to come in at the end of games, and later on in the season. Out of that, it is definitely a positive."
The resounding victory was not enough to give D.C. the Carolina Challenge Cup title. The San Jose Earthquakes, 1-0 winners earlier against the USL First Division hosts, took home the trophy with a 2-0-1 record for the tournament. D.C. took second over Columbus on goal differential, each team going team went 1-1-1 over the week-long event. The host Charleston Battery finished at the bottom of the table with a 0-1-2 record.
COLUMBUS CREW 0, D.C. UNITED 3
Columbus: Bill Gaudette, Robin Fraser, Taylor Graham (Manny Lagos 62), Domenic Mediate, Ryan Kelley, Simon Elliott, Ross Paule (Eric Vazquez 76), Kyle Martino, Knox Cameron (Marcus Storey 60), Devin Barclay (Dante Washington 46), David Testo (Ante Razov 67).
D.C. United: Nick Rimando, Brandon Prideaux (Bryan Namoff 67), Mike Petke, Bobby Boswell (David Stokes 76), Steve Guppy (Eliseo Quintanilla 72), Christian Gomez (Freddy Adu 67), Ben Olsen (Clyde Simms 72), Brian Carroll, Josh Gros, Santino Quaranta, Jaime Moreno (Jamil Walker 80).