WASHINGTON — There were no goals to speak of when D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders wrapped proceedings Saturday, but that's not to say the match was completely devoid of drama.
The teams traded opportunities throughout, even though neither side found much of a rhythm in what often amounted to a battle of physicality in the middle of the park.
But no player, it turns out, was as influential as the woodwork on the south end of RFK Stadium, as the match's best chances came when United striker Hamdi Salihi struck it in the first half and Seattle substitute Marc Burch — making his return to D.C. amid a chorus of boos — rang it in second-half stoppage time.
"Offensively, I don't think either team was really at their best," United coach Ben Olsen said. "It was a pretty physical battle. I think they came here with the thought of getting numbers behind the ball and having a real blue-collar day."
Burch drew the ire of the D.C. faithful when he made remarks to The Seattle Times earlier in the week criticizing United's decision to let him go after five years with the club. The left-sided player, who had entered the games just seconds before, very nearly had the last laugh when a rebound from goalkeeper Joe Willis off an Osvaldo Alonso shot fell to him.
His header, however, hit the crossbar.
"I should have pushed it out a little wider, but it fell right to their player," Willis said. "And I was lucky that the post was there to help me out."
The opportunity capped a second half that was more open than the stagnant opening stanza. Boosted by the influential entrances of Chris Pontius and Branko Boskovic, United repeatedly forced Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning into action. The Austrian came up with his finest save in the 69th minute, reaching across his goal to deny Nick DeLeon's near-post free kick bid.
"It was one of those games where it was run and gun," DeLeon said. "By the time you saw it in the second half, it was just wide open because everyone was so tired."
United (1-2-2) nearly took the lead midway through the first half when Salihi made a near-post run to connect with a low service from DeLeon. But the still-scoreless Designated Player knocked his one-time effort off the bar.
Until Burch nearly played hero, the Sounders' closest chance came in the 34th minute, when an isolated Fredy Montero steered a point-blank header just wide.
Seattle (2-1-1) used a stellar effort from Alonso to negate United playmaker Dwayne De Rosario, who found little room to operate with the Cuban midfielder constantly nipping at his heels. The Sounders' all-around workmanlike performance was music to coach Sigi Schmid's ears after his team disappointed in a 1-0 home loss to San Jose the previous week.
"The battle that we showed was very good," Schmid said. "I thought last week San Jose out-competed us a little bit, so I wanted to make sure that we came out and competed. And I thought we did that from the opening whistle to the end."
United, on the other hand, couldn't replicate the offensive fireworks of their 4-1 win over FC Dallas last week. While the buildup was sometimes there, the final ball never was.
"I think Seattle right now is a better team than Dallas," Olsen said. "They were pretty charged up physically. They were ready to go."