D.C. United notched their first win of the preseason, defeating the Philadelphia Union 2-1 at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida. Darren Mattocks scored his second goal of the preseason in the first half, and moments after conceding an equalizer, Luciano Acosta won the game for the Black-and-Red in the 89th minute. Steve Clark, who started and played 45 minutes, kept the United ahead in the first half, denying CJ Sapong from the penalty spot after Ulises Segura committed a foul in the box in the 30th minute.
Head coach Ben Olsen made only three changes to the starting lineup from the team that lost 2-1 to Malmö FF last week. Steve Birnbaum returned after an injury to partner Frederic Brillant in defense, replacing Kofi Opare. Oniel Fisher started at left back, and Yamil Asad made his first appearance for United, replacing Ian Harkes in the starting lineup and starting wide on the left wing.
United had a better start to the proceedings than their Eastern Conference counterparts, and had a goal in the 14th minute to show for it. After an initial attack was denied, Zoltan Stieber picked the ball up on the right flank, and whipped a cross towards the far post. Mattocks was able to get in front of his marker, and bounced a header past John McCarthy, the Union’s keeper in place of Andre Blake.
Stieber then nearly made it two after Paul Arriola won a free kick just outside the box. The Hungarian aimed his effort at the near post, but McCarthy was able to shuffle over and make a diving stop, to keep the Union in touching distance early on.
From there though, United struggled throughout much of the rest of the first half. David Accam rounded Clark in the 20th minute, but was pushed wide by Clark’s attempt to win the ball. Accam’s eventual shot was goal-bound, but Birnbaum was in position to clear the ball away before it reached the goal.
Accam then had a dipping bid fly just over the bar in the 28th minute, just before Sapong won the penalty, getting knocked down from behind by Segura. Sapong smashed his penalty on frame, but Clark was able to get his fingertips to the shot, and pushed the ball up off the crossbar before gathering the rebound.
Asad — who was quiet in his Black-and-Red debut — Moreno, and Clark, came off at halftime, replaced by Luciano Acosta, Chris Durkin, and David Ousted. It was Acosta’s first appearance of the preseason after missing out on the Malmö game due to a concussion, while Ousted was making his debut, having also missed the Malmö clash. Stieber moved out to the left side, allowing Acosta to play his typical attacking midfield role.
United, who had struggled in the first half retaining possession against Philadelphia’s pressure, managed to get back on track to begin the second half. Mattocks was played into the box in the 52nd minute by Segura, firing off a shot that was parried away by McCarthy. Mattocks was then on the end of another pass from Stieber in the 59th minute, but was once again stymied by McCarthy.
Then the subs came thick and fast for both teams, disrupting any momentum that the game had. For United, Patrick Mullins came on for Mattocks in the 65th minute, with Opare on for Brillant three minutes later. Wholesale changes came in the 70th minute, as Harkes came on for Segura, Bruno Miranda replaced Stieber, and Jared Jeffrey surprisingly played out wide on the right for Arriola. Jalen Robinson, Chris Odoi-Atsem, and an academy player came on the replace the remaining members of the defense.
The Union had a couple of cracks at an equalizer, which probably should have come in the 81st minute. After Fafa Picault worked his magic down the right hand flank, a ball played into the middle found Adam Najem all alone 12 yards out. Instead of scoring though, Najem’s first timed effort blazed over the bar.
But when Najem turned from finisher to creator in the 88th minute, Philadelphia were back on level terms. A lofted ball to the back post, similar to Stieber’s in the first half, found Cory Burke, who beat his defender. Burke was able to get his header past Ousted for what should have been the final goal on the night.
Instead, a poor play a minute later from Richie Marquez gifted United their winner. Trying to play the ball out of the back, Marquez passed the ball straight to Acosta, who quickly got past the center back. Once in the box, Acosta just had the keeper to beat, and did so by slipping the ball in towards the back post, to give United the 2-1 win.
United are back in action on Wednesday, when they take on the Jackonsville Armada in Clearwater, before going to Las Vegas to finish up the preseason against USL expansion club Las Vegas Lights FC.