DC United sent a statement to all MLS teams last night with a 3-2 win over Mexican Primera Division side Santos Laguna. Santos is currently in 4th place in the Mexican Clausura, and boasts some of the best players in the league, including Mexican National Team goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, who played 90 minutes in this match. A win for DC in front of a packed crowd at Nuevo Estadio Corona sure feels significant. Probably more significant than any other preseason victory of recent memory.
The record of all MLS teams playing in Mexico is 0-17-2. That record doesn't include friendlies, and won't include last night's match either, but I think the message is still clear: MLS teams are notoriously and inarguably awful in Mexico. Despite some close matches over the years, some of which included our very own home club, no MLS team has ever won in Mexico before.
Until last night.
This offseason has been surprisingly uneventful, and borderline disappointing. Three of our top attacking players departed this offseason, and the front office has yet to add any marquee players to replace them. The superhero who was assumed to be our next head coach and potential heir to Bruce Arena's throne as the greatest coach in US Soccer history turned us down in favor of staying at a small school in Ohio. But surely the team added some new players in the draft, right? No, all but one of our draft picks were traded away. And our series of goalless preseason matches don't offer too much inspiration either.
So understandably, United fans haven't been too excited to see this MLS season start, if its going to start at all. But suddenly DC United fans have a reason to be optimistic. We just did what no American team has done. Ever. Is it possible that this United team is actually something special? That we are more than the sum of our parts?
One positive result in a meaningless game doesn't guarantee that. But it does give us a sliver of hope. It gives us reason to believe that 2010 might not be so bad after all.
More after the break.
DC United lined up for this match in what we all have to assume is Coach Onalfo's best starting lineup at the moment. It looked something like this:
The team immediately went on the offensive, with Chris Pontius heading in a Christian Castillo corner kick in the 23rd minute, and Jaime Moreno converting a Brandon Barklage through ball in the 30th to take a 2-0 lead into halftime.
Both goals caught my attention for different reasons. The Pontius header means that our first team has now scored a goal off a corner kick in two straight matches. Scoring off corners is an area that United has struggled with for much of their history, so this is a very positive sign. The Moreno goal struck me as important because the chance was created by Barklage, who we've all got our eyes on as a possible breakout star this season. Barklage is continuing to reward Onalfo for putting faith in him, and proving that he deserves to be in our starting lineup.
Some other interesting lineup decisions included the addition of Bolivian trialist Juan Manuel Pena and newly signed Kurt Morsink in the starting lineup. Given the first half shutout, it's a fair assumption to say they each did well. Also important to note that Devon McTavish earned the start ahead of Vaughn at right back.
Things evened up a bit in the second half after United replaced all 10 field players and went with the following lineup:
The team gave up two goals to two of Santos Laguna's top players, before seizing the lead and ultimately the victory in the 70th minute with John DiRaimondo hooking up with Boyzzz Khumalo for the final score. After only 45 minutes with the first team in 2009, it's great to see DiRaimondo asserting himself so far this year. Khumalo was able to add his third goal in two matches, and looks promising to contribute much more in 2010.
I keep bouncing back and forth between tempering my expectations (its just the preseason!) and being ecstatic. After all of us preached not to read too much into preseason results, I'm now suddenly finding it hard to refrain from climbing up on the roof and singing: