Photo by ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON – For D.C. United, how new acquisitions Dwayne De Rosario and Brandon McDonald would fare in their debuts was the storyline entering Saturday's meeting with the Philadelphia Union. But for the second straight week, the team's inability to hold onto a late lead at home dominated the postgame discussion.
Union striker Carlos Ruiz played the villain's role at RFK Stadium a week after Brian Ching did so for Houston, earning the visiting side a 2-2 draw with an 84th-minute goal. United moved to 4-5-7 with the result, while first-place Philadelphia's record shifted to 7-4-6.
"It's obviously a very disappointing tie — again," United coach Ben Olsen said. "It's not the end of the world. If that's the No. 1 team in the East, we've got a chance. We just have to find ways to close out games at home."
The Union twice came from behind to even the score, negating Josh Wolff's opener with a Perry Kitchen own goal and then canceling out a spectacular long-range strike from Andy Najar with Ruiz's tally.
With the draw, Philadelphia is just 1-1-4 since it's offense broke out during a 6-2 win at Toronto in late May. But the Union has continued to get results and remain on top of the Eastern Conference despite the slump.
"I think the important thing is that on a night like tonight when we did not play well, we still got the point," Union coach Peter Nowak said. "We came back and tied the game in a very good fashion. The boys are still fighting, so this is a good sign."
Days after Union star Sebastien Le Toux said he would prefer to play with second-year forward Danny Mwanga up top, he helped set up Ruiz, the player he seemingly belittled with the comment, on the equalizer.
Le Toux found Sheanon Williams' run with a through ball, and Ruiz made a goal-crashing run to finish the overlapping right back's low ball across the penalty area for his fifth goal of the season.
"It was a great collective play," Ruiz said. "I think those were the crosses I was looking for all game in front of the goal."
United had gone ahead in the 58th minute thanks to a moment of brilliance from Najar defined by equal doses of skill and ambition.
After collecting the ball at midfield, Najar took several touches and, as Philadelphia continued to concede space in front of him, ripped a shot from 30 yards out that bested Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon and found the far side netting.
"I looked up and the keeper was a little bit out, so I said to myself, 'This is an opportunity to shoot,'" Najar said. "I still can't believe I was able to hit it from there and score."
Following Monday's shocking trade that sent him from New York to D.C. in exchange for Dax McCarty, De Rosario marked his first match in a United uniform with an assist on Wolff's opener in the 44th minute.
The Canadian international collected an entry ball from Najar and beat Union midfielder Brian Carroll to the end line, playing a pass in front of goal that Wolff redirected past Mondragon. It was the fourth goal of a resurgent campaign for the 34-year-old Wolff, who scored just two last year with Kansas City.
"To have an immediate impact like that is always good," De Rosario said. "Wolffy is a great poacher. He has a nose for the net and you saw that."
De Rosario compiled plenty of touches, working hard off the ball throughout the contest while playing an advanced midfield role until Olsen shifted him forward in the match's latter stages.
Starting alongside rookie Ethan White at centerback, McDonald enjoyed a steady debut while bringing a clear organizational presence to United's youthful back line.
"I think I'm kind overintense about shape and being in a team system," McDonald said. "I feel like if we come together as a whole and a unit, we shouldn't get broken down. So that's my job."
Philadelphia responded to Wolff's goal four minutes after halftime when Veljko Paunovic's lofted service into the box was mishit by Kitchen into his own net.
It was an opportunistic, if lucky, score — and precisely the type of chance that seems to be bouncing in right now against a United squad that continues to drop points at home and for a Philadelphia team doing just enough to stay on top of the table.
"It's there for us to take and we're not taking it," said Wolff, who took over as United captain with McCarty's departure. "And that's disappointing. We're going to look back in September and October and these are points you can't make up for."