FRISCO, Texas — Eric Alexander stepped up in a somewhat unexpected way.
The rookie midfielder made just his second MLS start on Saturday at D.C. United because his team was also without starting center back Ugo Ihemelu, who is out with a concussion. With fellow rookie Zach Loyd filling in for Ihemelu, FCD coach Schellas Hyndman wanted the defense-minded Alexander stationed in front of Loyd to help solidify the middle of the pitch.
As it turned out, not only did the rookie contribute defensively, but he also made his mark in the attack. Alexander assisted on David Ferreira’s goal in the 36th minute and then netted his first-ever MLS tally, the eventual game-winner, in the 49th minute off Milton Rodriguez's feed.
"He had a very good game … in a hostile environment that we don’t do well in,” Hyndman said. “I think he’s starting to play with more confidence. He put himself in a position we want him to be in—the arc. He scores a great goal, and it turns out it’s the game-winning goal.”
Alexander’s performance came after a somewhat shaky start in which he gave a few balls away, leading to several scoring chances for DC. However, he quickly settled down and delivered a solid game.
“They’re a tough team to play against," Alexander said. "They played high-pressure and they put us under pressure early. It’s hard to keep possession against teams like those.”
On David Ferreira's 36th-minute goal, Alexander sent a nice through-ball to Brek Shea, who was streaking up the left flank. Shea then delivered a pinpoint cross into the heart of the DC box and Ferreira knocked it in for his sixth goal of 2010.
It was a good moment for the 2010 third-round pick, but the rookie was quick to credit a veteran teammate for getting him the ball in the first place.
“I got a nice pass from Daniel [Hernandez], and I just turned and played it to Brek,” Alexander said. “I know he likes to get in behind, so I saw him one-on-one with the defender. I just put it through, and he played a nice ball across to David for the finish.”
On his goal in the 49th minute, Alexander finished beautifully, firing off a blast that put his club ahead for good at 2-1. Rodríguez gained possession after Ferreira was stopped by United goalkeeper Bill Hamid at the near post and the ensuing carom fell to the feet of his fellow Colombian.
“I think it was more of being in the right place at the right time," Alexander said. "I got that pass from Milton and it set me up perfect. I just placed the ball in the side, which was the objective of my shot. It was good for me and felt great."
As the game wore on, it was clear that the rookie and Hernandez were playing off each other quite well and forming a solid combination in the middle.
"We had a shaky start, but as the game went on, Daniel and I were more on the same page and it was harder to break through us,” Alexander said. “We were just more focused and working together better."
FCD return to the field Saturday against Chivas USA at Pizza Hut Park. After Alexander’s performance in DC, he figures to get another serious look in his third career start. However, Dax McCarty, FCD’s starting linking midfielder who has missed the last three games with a strained right quadriceps, could return this week and force Alexander back to the bench.
Even if he isn’t in the first XI in four days’ time, he is keeping the same positive mindset.
“After a game like that, I feel pretty good and my confidence is high," Alexander said. “We’re doing well right now. Every game is a new game and we can do better. We just look forward to every game we play.”