The rookie wall. Somehow it shows up in every sport.
Maybe its because there's not much tape on the rookies when they enter the league. Maybe they start hot out of the gate, but can't sustain it. Maybe its just because a professional season is longer than a college season.
Nick DeLeon is no stranger to the rookie wall. After getting his MLS career off to a great start, DeLeon just hasn't looked the same since recovering from a hamstring injury back in May. Well, not until tonight.
D.C. United defeated the Columbus Crew 1-0 tonight at RFK Stadium, and DeLeon is a big reason why. On a quick attack that was started by Dwayne De Rosario, DeLeon took on Josh Williams 1v1. He beat him to the endline, then he beat him again. DeLeon slid the ball back across the face of the goal to Long Tan, who tried a back-heel that was stopped by a defender. The ball fell to Chris Pontius at the back post, and he had no trouble putting the ball away for his 10th goal of the season.
There were several other encouraging signs tonight besides the offensive effort that led to the goal. The defense did a great job of limiting the number of shots that Bill Hamid had to face. When you see a team taking plenty of shots but all of them going off target, that's not just the result of good luck. Its good defending as well - cutting down angles, putting a body on the attacker to make the shot difficult. Perry Kitchen, Emiliano Dudar, and Brandon McDonald did all those things well tonight, with Chris Korb and Daniel Woolard limiting the service in from the outside as well.
Another positive development: Branko Boskovic played 90 minutes, and he looked pretty good doing it. His set pieces may not have been of the quality that was earning him an assist almost every game during previous stretches, but this was a totally different Boskovic from the player who looked timid and low in confidence when he was yanked from the starting lineup against the Montreal Impact back in April. Its probably not a coincidence that that's the last time United earned less than three points at home.
But this wasn't quite the dominating victory that we were hoping to see, and that we've seen at RFK Stadium a few times already this season. Pontius, DeLeon, De Rosario, and Tan all left a few plays on the field, besides combining for the goal. The most notable concern though is the possible concussion suffered by Woolard.
Depending on the status of Woolard, D.C. United may now have to continue in the month of August with the most predictable deficiency of all time. When a team begins a season with only three outside backs on the roster, losing two of them to injury isn't a surprise. We were just begging for this issue to surface, and it has. In his short time on the field, we learned that Lewis Neal probably isn't the solution to that issue, as he was emasculated by Emilio Renteria on more than one occassion. United may instead look to choose between either Andy Najar, Dejan Jakovic, or Ethan White to fill the other outside back role opposite the suddenly strong Korb.
With five more matches this month, including four in an 11 day stretch, United will have to address the issue quickly.