WASHINGTON – Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon starred in the late show at blustery RFK Stadium on Saturday night, combining on an injury-time strike to stun the defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy 1-0.
Stretched paper-thin by injuries, United faced a tall order against a side they haven’t beaten in over six years. But LA were missing some pieces of their own: Robbie Keane missed the match to take part in Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland, while Gyasi Zardes remains with the US national team ahead of their friendly with Switzerland.
It would be D.C.s rag-tag bunch who’d emerge victorious on Saturday. With a scoreless draw looming, D.C. finally found their break just seconds from the final whistle.
Advancing down the right channel, DeLeon used a couple of deft touches to evade Robbie Rogers and lift a cross to the far post. After spurning several chances earlier in the evening, Pontius made no mistake this time, outwrestling Galaxy defender Dan Gargan and driving a diving header into the back of the net to seal the victory.
D.C.’s chances of extracting points from the match were dealt a blow just moments after the opening whistle. In the third minute, Chris Rolfe sent a corner kick to the back post, and rising US international Steve Birnbaum was there to meet it. Birnbaum’s driven header was cleared off the line by a Galaxy defender, but the former Cal center back landed awkwardly, rolling his left ankle and ending his evening.
Early on, LA controlled the flow of the game for long stretches. Eight minutes in, Finnish international Mika Vayrynen’s well-taken free kick skimmed inches wide of the far post. Five minutes later, Stefan Ishizaki raced down the right flank and fired a shot towards goal, a low attempt parried away by United goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
The Galaxy nearly gifted United a goal in the 18th minute when LA goalkeeper Brian Rowe’s attempt at a punched clearance caromed directly off his own defender, rolling back towards goal before being cleared away from danger.
D.C. would take a crack of their own at the half-hour mark. Veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud sent a perfectly-weighted ball forward from the midfield stripe, finding DeLeon in stride about 25 yards from goal.
Deleon touched the ball around an onrushing Rowe, but his touch ran a bit long. Then Rolfe rushed towards goal, but his attempt from a tight angle was blocked.
Alan Gordon would close out the first half with one of LA's best chances of the match, meeting an Ishizaki cross at the penalty spot and heading the ball towards goal. A fine reflex save by Hamid kept the game scoreless at the break.
D.C. gradually wrestled back control of the match during the second half and very nearly grabbed the game’s opener in the 63rd minute. DeLeon bent a ball in from the near edge of the box, finding Pontius at the far post. Pontius connected with the service, but Rowe did well to stop the attempt, smothering the ball on the goal line.
LA returned fire three minutes later with Ishizaki’s curling attempt from 14 yards out, which had Hamid dead to rights but clanged off the post. In the 80th minute, Jose Villarreal gave the Galaxy their final opportunity of the evening, a free kick from the top of the arc which cleared the wall, but not the outstretched arms of Hamid
D.C. won’t have much time to celebrate the victory, as they face a short week ahead of their encounter on Friday night at Orlando City. The Galaxy will regroup before heading north to Vancouver, where they’ll meet the Whitecaps on Saturday evening.