After a much-improved outing last week against Chicago, DC United's offense continued to hum Saturday against New England. 12 open-play crosses in the first half. Crafty runs by Fabian Espindola. A couple beautiful through-balls from Perry Kitchen.
But with no shots on target, the final product was glaringly absent.
United can thank José Gonçalves for helping on that front: The Revolution captain bungled home an own goal in the 43rd minute, and DC United added one through Chris Rolfe in the third minute of stoppage time, earning its first win of 2014 with a 2-0 result at RFK.
"I bet you guys are glad to see me smile for the first time in a while," head coach Ben Olsen cracked to start his postgame press conference. "It was just important for us to move forward in our play and also get the win."
That progress manifested itself on both ends of the pitch against New England. Despite lacking that finishing touch, United's offense created double-digit scoring opportunities, and its defense held a lead-and a clean sheet-for the first time this season.
And all that with an injured Bill Hamid on the sidelines. "I knew something was up a day or two ago," said six-year vet Andrew Dykstra, who filled in for Hamid on the night. "I didn't know the extent of it, I didn't speak with Bill, I didn't know what was going on. So I was prepared today for whatever my role might be, which was a little tough. But I showed up, and I got the nod, and I was ready to go."
The former Chicago Fire backstop recorded just one save on the night off of New England's one shot on target. DC United had just two shots on target itself. But that dearth of shots was hardly the product of a defensive stalemate—even without the likewise-injured Luis Silva, the Black and Red managed to put together attack after attack in the opening half.
The problem, in the end, seemed to be a reluctance to shoot. Right back Sean Franklin was the first culprit in the 14th minute, receiving a pass from Eddie Johnson and opting for a cut-back pass instead of an open strike; Johnson and Davy Arnaud would do the same shortly thereafter.
"It's not because I'm not telling them to shoot," Olsen explained. "I wouldn't say it was an overall theme of the night, but I think there were one or two where I would've liked [a shot]."
Even so, Gonçalves' own goal gave the home side the lead at the break, his volley into the side netting beating Bobby Shuttleworth after the center back misplayed a Johnson cross.
The second half started off somewhat slower, but New England's Diego Fagundez nearly pulled the visitors level in the 73rd minute off an audacious bicycle kick that knuckled just wide of Dykstra's left post. Still searching for a goal late, the Revolution used its two subs on two familiar faces for the D.C. crowd, in former four-year Georgetown star Steve Neumann and former United striker Charlie Davies.
"I had a lot of my friends and family here to watch, and I was really hoping that it'd come today and it ended up coming," Neumann said of his MLS debut. "Wish it was under a little bit better circumstances, obviously-we came out on the wrong end of the result, [so] it's all a little bittersweet."
It was a DCU sub that would ultimately steal the spotlight, though, with Chris Rolfe making his club debut in the 63rd minute and giving his new team an insurance goal a half-hour later. Dykstra—who before Saturday hadn't played in a league match since 2010—held on from there.
It may not have been an ideal personnel situation for Ben Olsen, but it worked nonetheless: Unlike last week against the Fire, there would be no late equalizer this time around.
"I honestly didn't really think much about [how long it'd been] since my last league appearance. It came up in a conversation before the game, but it wasn't something I'm thinking about," Dykstra said. "I've played a lot of games since I left Chicago, so I've been in a good rhythm, and I feel pretty confident about what I'm doing."
After United made its long-awaited breakthrough in the win column Saturday, Dykstra's not the only one with reason for confidence.