Heading into the weekend, the Under-23 squad of D.C. United perhaps was looking forward to their Sunday game the most. That was against the Under-23 team of the New York Red Bulls. The two teams played each other in the first game of the season, a 1-1 draw that became a 3-0 forfeit as the Black and Red had an unregistered player on its roster. But to get to that game, they had to play their game Saturday against Lehigh Valley at the Evergreen Sportsplex.
The team came out to a roaring start, as Jeremy Ebobisse (Duke University) headed a ball into the corner in the 22nd minute after moments before, hitting a free kick from 20 yards out just wide. Less than 10 minutes later, Collin Bonner (UNC Wilmington) received a ball which started in the back from Taylor Washington and Ryan Harmouche (both of George Mason) and chipped it over the Lehigh keeper for a 2-0 lead. Washington was giddy enough that he could be seen skipping a la Jordan Henderson. Bonner added a second goal in the 32nd minute, and Ebobisse added a second of his own 10 minutes later as the Black and Red went into the half with a 4-0 lead. D.C. brought on their substitutes in the second half as Tunji Osifeso (Campbell University) came on for Ebobisse and scored two of his own, the latter on a penalty kick that he drew the foul on, to make the game a comfortable 6-0 lead. A late Lehigh goal made the final 6-1 for the home side.
Sunday's game found D.C. coach Richie Burke starting a few of the same players as Saturday night, with Academy grad and fullback Christian Kershaw (Marshall University) and goalkeeper Steffen Kraus (George Mason) coming in as the only changes from Saturday. You would never know it, as Ebobisse put home a rebound from a Bonner shot in the 21st minute to take an early lead.
The Red Bulls would strike back quickly and with abundance, scoring three goals in five minutes. Carter Manley (Duke) appeared to have been fouled and was dispossessed from the ball, and Brian White (Duke) eventually scored to tie the game in the 27th minute. In the 29th, Alex Muyl (Georgetown) was the recipient of a through ball that was put away for a 2-1 Red Bulls lead. Shorter still, Zach Knudson (North Carolina State) got to a cross in the area before Manley for a 3-1 lead that the Red Bulls took into halftime.
The second half found D.C. get their footing back a bit, and a 50th minute ball from Bonner went just over Evan Louro (Michigan) and appeared to be handled, but no PK was awarded. In the 65th, Ebobisse did manage to get one past Lauro off a 20 yard free kick that brought the deficit to one. The team continued to press, and D.C. Academy grad Nigel Robinson (Cal-Northridge) weaved his way around the New York defense and was taken down in the area, earning both a penalty kick and as it turned out, a separated shoulder in the process. Bonner buried the PK to Lauro's left, leveling the match at 3. D.C. continued to press, as Washington fired a left footer just wide of net, and the Red Bulls had chances of their own closer to the end of the match, before Bonner cleared things for a 3-3 tie.
89' - United level it after @RagingBonner's PK goal! 3-3 and the @DistrictUltrasX go crazy! pic.twitter.com/GMehERNkus— D.C. United U23 (@DCU_U23) June 28, 2015
With the tie, D.C. (now undefeated in their last nine games), the Red Bulls and Reading United are tied for third (Reading has a game in hand), two points behind second place Jersey Express in the Mid-Atlantic Division. The top 3 teams will be eligible for playoffs.
Ebobisse, scoring four goals in less than 24 hours, had a little bit of pride on his last one. "You can ask my teammates, I knew that free kick was going in the second I hit it. I just turned around and started walking away. When the crowd didn't react at all, I second guessed myself."
Before doing that, he did give credit to the group. "As a team, it's all down to the service. We've been training hard for these big games, not only (Sunday) but also yesterday as well. And I'm really happy to see the hard work pay off."
Bonner scored three in the same time period and also credited the team, saying, "We've been created a lot of chances this season and it was nice to get a few guys on the scoresheet, then (Sunday) definitely a physical battle with the rivalry." Bonner, who is listed at 6'4" and 215 pounds, normally towers over defenders, but spent most of the day against Red Bulls defender Timothy Schmoll (Harvard University), listed at 6'6" and 207. "It was a physical battle, I still tried to use my body as much as I could. If I got a little bit of room I tried to turn the corner and try to use my speed to get by them."
As two players who did not come through the Academy system, Ebobisse and Bonner have enjoyed how well the group has come together. "In a short period of time we've gelled really well, you've got guys from D.C., from Bethesda, and then guys from Pennsylvania and New York coming in to play," Ebobisse said.
Bonner continued, "We had 14 guys at the beginning of the season and we just keep on adding guys and I think we've meshed really well together. It feels like a family even though we've been together for two months."
On Sunday's game, Burke said, "The first 45 minutes we were half asleep. We were a little bit heavy-legged and talked about not playing into their trap and we did. In looking at how we rotated players this weekend, we should have done a better job (Saturday) than we did today. We used all our subs yesterday and today. But Tom (Torres) and the staff have all talked about making it a positive development experience, so we give them chances to play."
The team has a week off before returning to Evergreen to host the Baltimore Bohs on July 8, Richie Burke has plans for them during their brief hiatus.
"Some of the boys will be in to train with the first team, some of the other boys will have a program to do on their own, but in the macro cycle cycle of training we prepared, we said 'there's not much we can do in one or two training sessions and after that gargantuan effort (today), take a week off.'"
MOAR MEDIA UPDATE: Video of Sunday's game below.