Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By PABLO MAURER
As D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen marched into his post-game press conference this evening at RFK Stadium, something was obviously different.
Gone was the scorn that the young coach has worn with such frequency during United’s nightmarish 2013 campaign. It was replaced by an air of confidence, and some very, very relieved body language.
“Man,” Olsen quipped. “It’s been a while.”
Thirteen games and 105 days, to be exact. That’s the amount of time that had passed between United’s 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on March 9 and their 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night. It was the longest winless streak in club history and just 5 games shy of the MLS all-time record.
United looked alive from the get go, pressing high defensively and consistently creating chances on the offensive side of the ball as well. Midfielder Kyle Porter created United’s first chance, venturing forward and ripping a shot from 22 yards out that skimmed inches over the crossbar. Just five minutes later, United would get an even better opportunity to strike pay dirt, in the form of a penalty kick.
United midfielder John Thorrington found Chris Korb streaking down the right sideline. Korb—sensing an onrushing Justin Morrow—took a heavy touch and ran directly into Morrow’s challenge, drawing the spot kick. Chris Pontius struck the ensuing PK low and right, giving United the early advantage and notching his first goal of the season.
D.C. would continue to push for a second goal throughout the half—Thorrington’s bending attempt in the 18th minute nearly beat San Jose keeper Jon Busch from 20 yards out—but would gradually fall back as the Earthquakes found themselves with a bit more possession in the half’s final 15 minutes.
United’s halftime lead was their first all year, and D.C. did well to hang on to it. San Jose found themselves with a trifecta of quality scoring chances in the game’s second act. In the 61st minute, Sam Cronin played a long, looping ball to Shea Salinas, who found space in the box between United defenders Conor Shanosky and Daniel Woolard. Salinas’ attempt from close range was parried away by Bill Hamid to preserve the lead.
Salinas would be on the other end of San Jose’s next attempt in the 71st minute, feeding Adam Jahn, whose bending strike from 12 yards out struck the post.
Alan Gordon had what was perhaps San Jose’s best opportunity of the night, slipping in between Woolard and Shanosky and chipping his sliding attempt from inside the six over the crossbar just minutes from the death.
United’s win was by no means a complete performance, but it certainly marked a step in the right direction. Defensively, Daniel Woolard, Chris Korb and Ethan White (who left the game in the first half with a possible concussion) put together a strong performance. Conor Shanosky did well over his 60 minute shift as well.
The real standout, however, was United’s latest acquisition, former Whitecaps outside back Alain Rochat. Rochat was active on both sides of the ball, providing a sense of confidence and class defensively that D.C. have been missing all year.
“He was great,” Olsen told SBI when asked about Rochat’s performance. “He’s just what we thought he was. His passing helped us out of a bunch of spots and he continues to give us possession when we’re in trouble. I also thought the way he went forward tonight was also a pleasant surprise.”
For San Jose, the road loss was more of the same. At 1-6-2, the Quakes continue to struggle away from home, and drop to eighth place in the Western Conference, 7 points clear of basement-dwelling Chivas USA. They’ll try and work through their issues before their next match – a home encounter with LA next Saturday.
United, however, have a shorter break, and don’t seem to have any intention of resting on their laurels. They’ll get a resurgent New England side in Open Cup play on Wednesday evening; it’ll be a strong test for Olsen’s squad, who’ve placed added importance on the USOC given the teams struggles in MLS play. Still, the Black and Red seem resolved to keep the ball rolling.
“We’ve all been tested,” Olsen reflected when asked what the past 3 months has been like for his team. “We’ll continue to be tested the rest of this year and for the next two weeks. It’s been brutal for the staff, for the players; it’s been brutal for the organization and our fans. What i’m most proud of, though, is the way we kept things moving forward. We’ve had some bumps, but the fans haven’t given up hope.”
“All that stuff means a lot to these players and my staff,” Olsen concluded. “We’re doing the best we can.”
Here are the match highlights: