United Shows Progress

Draw with Sporting KC ends 7-game losing streak by DC
by Peter Muller   |   Monday, May 20, 2013

United Capitol – column on DC United (DCU) & the Washington DC/DMV area soccer scene.

DC United took a small step forward Sunday evening as they earned a 1-1 draw at home against Sporting Kansas City in front of 13,612 at RFK Stadium.

The result ended a 7-game losing streak and recorded United’s first point in the standings since March.

The game was not without some controversy, however, as Sporting was denied an apparent goal in the first half due to a dubious offside call. And the home team had to rely on recalled goalkeeper Bill Hamid to prevent a host of Kansas City chances in order to preserve the draw.

“It wasn’t a great performance from us, but it was a gutsy performance,” said DCU manager Ben Olsen. “It’s what we needed right now to change our course.”

Olsen chose a youthful squad to take on KC, giving a debut to first-round draft choice Taylor Kemp and sticking with Ethan White in place of the out-of-form Brandon McDonald on the backline. He also selected a more attacking starting XI, with Nick DeLeon pairing up in the center of midfield with Perry Kitchen. And he returned goalkeeper Bill Hamid to the starting lineup after resting the first-string goalkeeper last week in Dallas.

Breaking with recent form, United kept their opponents from scoring in the early stages of the match – but only with the help of assistant referee Mathew Nelson, who judged Sporting defender Ike Opara to be in an offside position when he put the ball past Hamid in the 30th minute. Television replays indicated Opara’s goal should have counted.

“I misjudged the play at the time the ball was kicked, leading me to believe the player was in an offside position,” said Nelson.

“It’s a big mistake,” complained SKC manager Peter Vermes. “It’s a major mistake. There’s at least 3 guys that keep him onside, right? I don’t know what (the assistant referee) is thinking then. I just don’t know.”

For United, it was the type of break they have been seeking for weeks. During their 7-game losing streak, everything that could go wrong seemed to have gone wrong.

And that is how they must have felt in the 60th minute, when they fell behind on a corner kick that led to an own goal. Once again it was a set-piece that led to their undoing – something that has haunted United all year.

Graham Zusi sent a free kick from United’s right corner that flew just over Opara’s head and bounded off an unknowing Ethan White into the United net. “It just goes back to set pieces,” said Hamid, “and we as a team have to do better on set pieces.”

But United pressed forward and was rewarded 5 minutes later. Chris Pontius, who made his return as a substitute after missing 3 games with a groin injury, crossed a dangerous ball into the box that found Kyle Porter at the back post for the finish.

“It felt great,” said Porter on scoring his first MLS goal. “I double-checked the linesman to make sure he didn’t call it back. It was good – a big confidence booster.”

In the final 25 minutes, it was Kansas City that seemed the more threatening, particularly after Kei Kamara entered the match. Hamid made a series of big saves to keep United in the game, including deflecting a shot from Claudio Bieler away from the corner of the goal, and DC preserved the draw.

The result was the first positive news for United in 2 months, but still leaves much to be desired.

“It was better,” said Pontius. “It’s a step in the right direction again, but these steps in the right direction need to start coming out with a complete performance from us. One too many mistakes.”

United will take encouragement from the return to health of Pontius and DeLeon, who played the full 90 minutes. And the young squad showed a determination that has been missing from DC in recent matches.

Olsen hopes that ending the losing streak will help the team’s morale going forward.

“This gives them a chance to exhale and maybe smile for a day or two,” he said. “This gives them an opportunity to really change things next weekend against Portland.”

NEXT UP: May 25 - DC United vs. Portland Timbers, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C., 7 p.m. ET, Comcast Sports Net, Univsion, MLS Live.


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Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.