DC United, at home for what seems like the 800th US Open Cup match in a row, showed enough nerve in a penalty kick shootout to overcome a battling Philadelphia Union side at the Maryland SoccerPlex last night. The Black-and-Red converted all four of their penalties, with Designated Player Branko Boskovic firing the winner. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Bill Hamid - in his return to competitive play after a lengthy recovery from shoulder surgery - came up big in stopping the Union's Roger Torres on Philly's third shot.
Despite having more of the possession throughout the match, United fell behind after some shoddy defending allowed Carlos Ruiz to settle a long throw-in by Sheanon Williams before lashing in the opening goal in the 18th minute. Undaunted, United pulled even thanks to Josh Wolff's close-range header following a scramble just before first-half stoppage time began.
In the second half, DC slowly but surely upped the pressure, more closely resembling the dynamic, confident bunch that took the Columbus Crew apart on opening day. After the Union's Carlos Valdes was sent off after picking up his second yellow card in the 86th minute, it appeared the home team could grab a winner before overtime.
Philly barely survived the ensuing siege during stoppage time, but could only hold out for so long in the overtime that followed. Daniel Woolard smashed a loose ball into the roof of Faryd Mondragon's net in the 111th minute after Stephen King's cross from the right had caused chaos in the Union box. Unfortunately, Woolard's involvement on the scoresheet was not done; from a 118th minute Philly corner, Brian Carroll's close-range blast was saved by Hamid, but the rebound ricocheted off Woolard and into the United net before he had any chance to react.
For more details and player ratings, read on:
From the outset, it appeared that United would be in for a very tough game. Former DC head coach Peter Nowak, notorious for the high level of fitness he requires from his players, selected nine first-choice players in a narrow 4132 despite the low-key nature of the game and the fact that the Union had just played at Los Angeles on the previous Saturday. Ben Olsen, meanwhile, used the luxury of having a deeper roster to call on players like King, Brandon Barklage, and debutant Ethan White in his 442.
DC would own the advantage in possession throughout, but between the compact nature of the Union line up and less-than-incisive quality of United's use of the ball, there were few chances for either team in the first half. For Philly, their offense came almost exclusively through the long throw in from Williams, which caused trouble on three separate occasions. On Ruiz's goal, both Woolard and Rodrigo Brasesco missed their attempts to head clear at the near post; the ball was allowed to bounce in the middle once before falling to Ruiz, who was unmarked despite being someone teams tend to want to mark.
United's best chance before Wolff's goal came after Andy Najar, in his best performance of the season to date, did well to first-time a low cross to the penalty spot. Fred managed to get a step on Carroll, but arrived a fraction of a second too late and could only get a glancing touch instead of a firm shot. As United's possession lacked the sharpness to open up a defensive Union squad, Olsen swapped Fred and Boskovic's positions around the 25th minute, with the Montenegro captain playing centrally and Fred moving out to the left. With the swap, United also went away from the diamond they'd started with, as King moved up closer to Boskovic in the middle.
The goal DC probably deserved came just as the half ended, and like Philly's it was the result of a set piece. Boskovic served up a quality corner to the near post, where White's volley attempt hit Wolff's shins. Kyle Nakazawa's attempted clearance was blocked, falling to Joseph Ngwenya. Ngwenya's intention looked to be to pound a low shot through the crowd, but his attempt popped up into the air after both Barklage and Union midfielder Keon Daniel attempted to block it. Fortunately for DC, the ball floated to Wolff, who nodded the ball in despite the efforts of Michael Farfan on the line.
As the game wore on, Philly lost a bit of energy due to spending so much time defending. Despite bringing on fresh legs up front in the form of Blake Brettschneider, United continued to string passes together in front of the Union back four, and were only able to get behind them sporadically; Najar's miss from the right was the only real chance from either team.
Around the hour mark, however, the game opened up as both defenses started to loosen up a bit. Boskovic was guilty on two occasions of waiting too long to shoot (a long-standing United tradition), while Sebastien Le Toux shot directly at Hamid on one of the few moments he managed to make an impact. Later Dejan Jakovic, who had checked in during the first half for Brasesco, was a fraction of a second late at the back post following a Chris Pontius flick-on of yet another dangerous Boskovic corner kick.
Following the somewhat odd red card to Valdes - who apparently kicked the ball away while remonstrating with official Andrew Chapin, who was not popular with either team afterwards - DC made a concerted push to win the game in regulation time. Pinning Philadelphia in their own defensive third throughout the five minutes of stoppage time (thanks to the red card and an absurd sequence where Ruiz, feigning injury, needed about one full minute to walk 30 yards to be subbed off, despite walking right next to the Union bench the entire time), DC created a flurry of chances. The best of these was an attempt from King, which got past everyone only to be hacked off the line by Farfan, who had a respectable display playing both right midfield and right back for the Union.
The onslaught continued as the game went to overtime, as a tired and now short-handed Philadelphia team was repeatedly stretched at the back. Early in the first overtime period, Brettschneider hit the post with a low shot from close range after he had corralled a poor touch from Ngwenya, who should have been able to go at goal himself after being lobbed in behind the defense.
A DC goal seemed inevitable, and it came from an unlikely source in Woolard, who had stayed forward after a United free kick was partially cleared. King crossed to the left side of the box, where Woolard's header hit Pontius in the chest. Pontius spun and fired a hard shot that appeared to hit Jack McInerney in the face. Finally, Woolard arrived just before Mondragon to thump a shot into the roof of the net from inside the six yard box. It would appear that Woolard loves to play at the SoccerPlex, as he also scored an outstanding goal for the Chicago Fire against United in the first half of the infamous Cuauhtemoc Blanco brawl game in 2008.
Unfortunately for Woolard, the fates had yet another goal in store for him. After a couple promising opportunities petered out, and after Mondragon did well to prevent Ngwenya from icing the match, the Union forced a late corner kick. The ball bobbled past McInerney and Brettschneider before falling to United old boy Carroll, who crushed a shot on goal from close range. Hamid did superbly to save, but the ball zipped straight into the path of the retreating Woolard, who had no time to avoid the ignominy of an own goal. The drama was not over, however, as Nowak was sent off for what appeared to simply be celebrating an unlikely goal in a normal manner.
Penalties beckoned, and despite the chants of Philly's fans, the shots took place at the beer garden end of the SoccerPlex. McInerney blazed the Union's second attempt over the bar to give DC the advantage. Barklage scored with ease to put United in the lead, and then Hamid came up with a crucial save on Torres, who had looked short of confidence from the moment he began jogging towards the box. After successful shots from Najar and Nakazawa, Boskovic would clinch victory by shooting to Mondragon's right with the kind of calm confidence you'd expect from a veteran of his stature.
Player ratings (using the B&RU 1-5 scale):
Hamid - 5 Despite a couple of shaky drops that caused a moment or two of tension, Hamid had a huge save just before the Valdes red card and then saved a penalty. It'll be hard for Olsen to leave him on the bench against LA.
Barklage - 3 Sound positioning, but he also had a couple of dicey clearance attempts.
White - 3 Not bad; dangerous on set pieces, but also was a bit casual with the ball.
Brasesco - 2 Had the best shot at clearing the ball before Ruiz scored; left early with a groin injury.
Woolard - 4 Gets a bump thanks to his goal for us; own goal was just terrible luck. Little to do in run of play.
Najar - 4 Consistently dangerous on the dribble. Looked like he got his swagger back.
King - 4 Helped create Woolard's goal, did little things well at DM. Quietly strong outing.
Fred - 2 Didn't create enough for me, though his mind may have been elsewhere after becoming a father for the second time only hours before kick off.
Boskovic - 3 Set pieces were strong throughout; needs to shoot when the chance is there, but this was a step in the right direction for him.
Wolff - 4 Movement not as sharp as season opener, but he did his job in scoring in just 45 minutes of work.
Ngwenya - 3 Lots of hard work and involvement in Wolff goal are good, but "little things" only get you so far as a striker. Dude needs to be more dangerous.
Jakovic - 4 Not culpable on either goal, and avoided any characteristic meltdowns.
Brettschneider - 2 Applied himself well, but shot off the post in OT had to be converted.
Pontius - 4 Involved in Woolard goal, also nearly created goal for Jakovic. Energy really troubled tiring Union.