Joe Willis makes the save of the night, and maybe the save of the week
It seems like just last week that we were complaining about no one else scoring goals for D.C. United besides Dwayne De Rosario. So since the sudden MVP candidate has never played for Vancouver, it would seem likely that D.C. would be shut out in this game, and could be in trouble without its starting goalkeeper as well.
After 45 minutes were in the books, that troubling thought persisted. The Vancouver Whitecaps had the best opportunity of the half, while United's attacks repeatedly fell short. Until one didn't. De Rosario was the inspiration again, but it was Chris Pontius who did the finishing this time around. Then the entire match changed. United didn't look back. They didn't need to.
They were clinical, decisive, and unrelenting. They performed to their potential rather than to their opponent's capabilities. Now we know what this D.C. team is able to accomplish, and now they know too.
I saw the confidence in the eyes of Pontius and Quaranta in the locker room last week. So perhaps they already knew.
Full recap here. Player ratings below.
Without any intent to offend goalkeepers, tonight's Man Of The Match was Chris Pontius. If he fails to put away De Rosario's excellent and well-earned cross in stoppage time in the first half, we could see a very different final score. His second goal was the prettiest of the night though, as the crossbar finally made up for its past transgressions against CP13. And with seven goals now on the season, Jurgen Klinsmann may start to take notice of Pontius as another option for the U.S. at left wing when Clint Dempsey and Brek Shea are unavailable.
Perhaps more important than Pontius' strike though was the fingertip save by rookie Joe Willis in the 40th minute on a Vancouver free kick. He then made two more point-blank saves in the ensuing scramble. It was the only time Willis was truly tested, but a goal there for the Whitecaps would have created a much different locker room for Chad Ashton to preside over at halftime. Willis couldn't have done it without Daniel Woolard though. The left back made a goalline block on that same sequence. He was blocking shots and breaking up plays throughout the first half. He may have taken a nap at some point in the second half though as far as I could tell. The entire backline was probably pretty bored for the second 45 minutes.
His goal might not have been all that pretty, but Andy Najar still did well to chase the ball down, keep it in play, and fire it at Jay Nolly in hope of a mistake or rebound or deflection or something. He got one of those. And we're reminded why Nolly couldn't even make it as United's backup goalkeeper all those years ago. Najar also did well on the defensive end when necessary.
He may not have scored, but he did have two assists, and Dwayne De Rosario continues to have a huge influence on this team. They're playing with more confidence, more aggression, and more vision. Or maybe he just shared his porridge with the entire roster at halftime.
It was good to see the hard-working Stephen King finally grab his first goal in a United uniform, and first since 2008. We've always pondered if a lack of confidence has held King back recently rather than a lack of competence. After having his shot blocked on the play leading up to United's third goal, King patiently finished one with his left foot as he found himself open with Nolly out of optimal position.
With tonight's win, United moves into a tie for fourth place in the MLS Eastern Conference, in a tie with Sporting Kansas City, and just one point behind the New York Red Bulls after their tie with the Chicago Fire tonight. We've got one game in hand against the Sporks, and three against New York. A win for United in Chicago on Thursday night is critical and entirely plausible. But our visit to Kansas City on Sunday could be the first step towards deciding our playoff fate.