On a beautiful night at RFK Stadium, only three days removed from the horror of
Snoquester Noquester, D.C. United played at home for the first time in 2013, in front of 17,072 fans (and fireworks!), and defeated Real Salt Lake 1-0. It was a game that D.C. United needed to win to get the season moving in a positive direction, but it was also a game that gave us everything we love about this Black-and-Red team while also giving us all the things that infuriate many of us. To quote Dennis Green, former NFL coach, D.C. United, without Dwayne De Rosario, "is who we thought they are," a hard-working, competent, grind-it-out, defense-first, goals-are-difficult-to-come-by, the-coach-makes-good-tactical-adjustment side that gets results at home.
What They Said:
- Goff: "On an artistic scale, D.C. United's 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Saturday did not rate very high. There were a few stretches of grace, an opportunistic goal and a sound defensive performance. For the most part, though, this was one of those blue-collar efforts that carried United into the MLS playoffs last season."...It's one of those plays where, as a forward, you are always aware of what might come out of it," Pajoy said through an interpreter. "I was able to make it happen. Those are the situations you want to take advantage of." Pajoy is a puzzling and sometimes infuriating player to watch. He misses scoring opportunities regularly but does the dirty work that Olsen asks of him - pressuring defenders, holding the ball, getting back on defense. And at times, he registers a pivotal goal."
- Thomas Floyd: "Ben Olsen knows all too well the skepticism surrounding Lionard Pajoy. The man seems to do everything but finish. Admire the work ethic. Praise his awareness. Worry about the missed chances. But on this night, Pajoy buried one. And to Olsen, that's all that mattered. "He scored a goal," he deadpanned before smirking. "The one that won the game. So you're not going to get any knocks on Pajoy from me." "I think everyone on this team likes playing with him," midfielder Chris Pontius said. "Everyone tends to say he's not the greatest finisher, but the work he puts in off the ball I think is phenomenal for us, and that's what we need from a forward." From Pajoy up top through the midfield and back line, United won tackles and closed gaps - the type of win-ugly effort the team has delivered with increasing frequency as the 35-year-old Olsen has latched on to his coaching identity. "It was a sound performance," Hamid said, "from the back to the front."
- Chris Pontius, at dcunited.com: "The defense is phenomenal. Could have been a lot more clinical on offense. But once again you're talking about, you know, beating a season. I thought the game got chippy at times and I thought we managed it well."
- Kyle Beckerman, at dcunited.com: "They're a good team, especially here at RFK. You know, you only get one crack at it a season, so now we have to wait almost two years before we come back, but you know we don't really look at those stats."
- RSL Soap Box: "The [RSL] midfield seemed at times a bit disjointed in the first half, and Real Salt Lake was perhaps lucky to go into halftime without having conceded; an improved performance in the second half was canceled by the goal...Throughout, Real Salt Lake rarely looked dangerous, although a slew of interceptions high up the pitch should have helped."
- Ben Olsen, at dcunited.com, on John Thorrington's injury: "We don't think it's anything season ending, but there's probably something in there, maybe an MCL, but we'll wait. We'll wait until we hear what's going on. I thought he had a great night. He calms us down. I thought Dejan [Jakovic] was pretty sharp tonight, and [Brandon McDonald] and the back four were very connected. We weren't connected and we didn't look out for each other in Houston and the back four did a great job of that tonight."
- John Thorrington, at dcunited.com: "Yeah, we're getting an MRI Monday. It's unfortunate obviously, I don't want to speculate, and set any expectations - no expectations, no disappointment, so we'll see, it's heartbreaking for me. I was really enjoying myself out there and, you know, it's just one of those things. I went to block a shot and it's a freak thing and it happens. It happened to [Dwayne] De Rosario last year, and, you know, I've come back from injuries before. I'll do it again."
What the Black and Red United Staff Said:
Adam: That's more like it. Ben Olsen shifted his formation and made adjustments throughout the match, but the end result was there: 1-0 to the good guys. Lionard Pajoy's second-half finish put United ahead, and they would hold on through RSL pressure late to win 1-0...Outside of the win, the story of the night will be John Thorrington's knee. The midfielder was much stronger today in a deeper midfield role than he was in Houston as an attacking mid last weekend, but his night ended in the 75th minute when his knee twisted as he blocked a shot in the United box. He was replaced by Saragosa and will undergo an MRI on Monday.
Martin: He won't get credit for an assist. But Thorrington did very well to keep that play alive. Took the time that was given him to line up the shot and hit it perfectly at the upper corner. Took all of Rimando's effort to keep Thorrington's shot out of the goal and gave him no chance on the rebound.
What I Say:
From about the 15th minute through their 60th minute goal and until about the 70th minute, D.C. United controlled the match comfortably. This long stretch started just about the same time that Ben Olsen switched Chris Pontius and Marcos Sanchez from their starting positions. Pontius looked much more dangerous attacking from the left, and his combination play with Chris Korb up and down the left side of the field generated much of D.C. United's offense throughout the night. The switch also allowed Sanchez to roam from sideline to sideline, also generating some dangerous opportunities. For a smaller player, Sanchez impressed me with his ability to turn on RSL's much bigger defenders inside the box and generate opportunities.
Overall, many of D.C. United's players had strong individual matches: Korb (he was actually superb), Dejan Jakovic, Brandon McDonald, Pontius, Thorrington, and Perry Kitchen. Bill Hamid didn't really get tested, but his leaping touch of a backpost RSL cross in the 30th minute saved what was likely a sure RSL goal. Additionally, Sanchez showed very well for his first ever D.C. United start, and is definitely a player I want to see more from. Nick DeLeon had an off night and seemed to have difficulty with his first touch throughout the game, while Carlos Ruiz showed his nose for goal by creating multiple good opportunities in only about 10 minutes of play.
The Last Word:
This game won't do anything to quiet the debates about the strengths and weaknesses of this D.C. United team. But, it was an important win that secured D.C. United 3 points while building momentum early in the season. Yes, Ben Olsen said after the match that his side was looking for 4 points from their opening two matches, but D.C. United has to be satisfied with their 1W-1L-0D record, especially considering the quality of their first two opponents, and the fact they were without DeRo.
Next week, D.C. United travels to New Jersey to take on the New York Red Bulls in their home season opener. And, for the first time since Sep. 1, 2012, Dwayne De Rosario will start. During that 6.5-month stretch, D.C. United has played 13 regular season and playoff matches without their captain. Getting him back now, against the team's fiercest rivals on a national NBC broadcast, sets the stage for a fantastic match in which D.C. United will have the opportunity to prove they may become even more than the team we think they are now.