Coming into Saturday's season opener against Club Deportivo Chivas USA, the biggest question mark for D.C. United was how their backline would fare with the absence of Ryan Nelsen, last year's captain and heart of central defense.
The 2-0 victory at The Home Depot Center might have done well to ease those early doubts.
"I think we played very well today," said veteran defender Mike Petke. "It's the first game of the season and I don't want to start praising the defense at all, by any means, but I think for the first game we did a good job."
The main cause of concern was with the inexperience of the defensive unit. Rookie Bobby Boswell made his MLS debut, starting in the center of United's back three, while Brandon Prideaux was in and out of the starting lineup last season. Along with Petke, the group limited the expansion side's chances to long-range shots, few of which came during the run of play. Their best scoring chance of the game came off a free kick from 30 yards out.
Early on in the match, though, United seemed shaky.
"I think we were horrendous in the early part of the first half," Petke said. "We didn't produce many options for our midfielders but we did a lot better in the second half."
It wasn't until the second half that United started to funnel more of the offense through playmaker Christian Gomez. The Argentinean playmaker had few touches early in the match owing to the backline's failure to effectively jump-start the attack.
"Although we played well defensively, we need to create more chances starting from the back," said United coach Peter Nowak.
Prideaux showed signs of effective play on both ends of the field out of the right back slot. Early on he made several good runs up the right flank forcing Chivas USA defenders to scramble back and defend. When Chivas USA countered, he did well in recovering.
Most of the uncertainty, however, centered around the center back spot left vacant by Nelsen. The 22-year-old Boswell gave reason for optimism though, showing flashes of solid defensive play in the center slot. It was critical that the young defender turn in a strong performance, especially since the coaching staff has been clear that it is shopping for a foreign center back.
"I'm a new guy and hopefully they'll have the confidence in me to keep doing the job that I know I can do," Boswell said.
Petke, who had a calming effect on the young defenders, was optimistic about the club's showing in their first game of their title defense run.
"Overall, we did well in getting the shutout. We have to be able to build on this game and keep moving forward," he said.
Danny Bueno is a contributor to MSLnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.