WASHINGTON – It wasn’t always pretty, but that doesn’t always matter.
D.C. United took care of business on Wednesday evening, using a mix of reserves and starters to down Jamaican side Waterhouse FC in their CONCACAF Champions League group stage opener.
The game couldn’t have come at a worse time for United, right in the midst of their busiest stretch of the year – a seven-game August that includes crucial road match ups against Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy in the coming week. With rest at a premium, the lineup that Ben Olsen marched out onto the field looked more like a bit more like a second-choice XI than a full-powered one.
"That’s what this was about tonight: just getting a win,” Olsen told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “We were able to do that so I’m happy. We were off a bit with some of our partnerships and patterns out there but that’s what you get when you throw a team that hasn’t played together a lot out on the field – for them to keep a zero against a pretty dangerous team was pretty good.”
Anchoring the lineup for United was goalkeeper Joe Willis, the former starter who this year has found himself plying his trade at United’s affiliate club, the Richmond Kickers. Willis did admirably in the match, weathering a late surge by Waterhouse that easily could’ve leveled it.
“We were alright, a little unorganized at times,” Willis said. “Everyone on the field is a good soccer player and that can go a long way in a game like this. Our back line guys were able to keep their ears up which was great.
“It’s huge – this is a confidence boost but it also gives us an advantage, gives us a good quick start and puts us in a good spot for the rest of the group.”
Ironically enough, the only United player to find the back of the net on Wednesday was regular starter Eddie Johnson, whose spot in the starting lineup was booked when he was issued a two-game suspension from league play a week ago. Johnson found himself slotted in alongside former Seattle Sounders teammate David Estrada, and the two combined well throughout the first half, most notably on EJ’s game-winner.
“[EJ] did fine,” Olsen said confidently. "He gets his goal – that’s why we brought him here, or part of it. Again, these games are never perfect but it’s about the result, we started the team off on the right foot in this tournament. You’d like to get another goal or two but ultimately a win in a four game series is pretty good."
D.C. also managed to survive their encounter with Waterhouse without having to rely on many bench players, all of whom will likely start against Sporting on Saturday; Taylor Kemp and Luis Silva both saw limited action in the second half, though neither player was on the pitch for more than 20 minutes. In reality, things likely couldn’t have turned out much better for United.
"That was the plan going in,” concluded Olsen. “To use those starting guys as long as we could – no one went down early so I didn’t have to use any of the guys who'll start on the weekend, so I’m definitely pleased."