D.C. United found themselves in a tale of two halves in tonight’s preseason finale against Las Vegas Lights FC. A fairly tight first half saw few chances and just one goal, from Yamil Asad, but the second half was another story. The two teams played track meet soccer, with Paul Arriola finishing the match with three assists en route to a 4-2 victory. Darren Mattocks, Ian Harkes, and Luciano Acosta all scored goals after the break.
Ben Olsen likely fielded what he views as his best eleven for next Saturday’s season opener at Orlando City. David Ousted got the start in goal over Steve Clark, while the rest of the lineup contained few surprises. Junior Moreno and Oniel Fisher filled in for injured duo Russell Canouse and Taylor Kemp, while Zoltan Stieber — after a prolific preseason — started as United’s attacking midfielder, likely so he can prepare to replace the suspended Acosta against the Lions.
United had the better of the early exchanges, with Paul Arriola and Steve Birnbaum both seeing efforts go just wide as goalkeeper Angel Alvarez was scrambling each time. Arriola’s came after a poor goal kick from Las Vegas was won by the Black-and-Red, while Birnbaum nodded a superb Stieber service across goal, but just barely on the wrong side of the post.
However, the game settled into a lull from there, with numerous yellow cards (some correct, some dubious) being the only true distinction. United’s defending inside their own box on a pair of corners midway through the half left something to be desired, with Joel Huiqui’s 28th minute miss at the back post particularly glaring.
United replied a minute later with some nice work between Ulises Segura and Arriola to spring the latter, who had come all the way across to the left flank. Arriola picked out Stieber on the run in the box, but the Hungarian swung his foot too late, firing well over the bar.
A pair of defensive miscues gave Las Vegas a strong chance in the 38th minute. United was not prepared for a throw-in along the right, and a quick cross-field ball from Carlos Alvarez then fooled Nick DeLeon, who missed his attempted header. Juan Calderon found himself in a great spot, only to crush a shot two yards over the bar.
United sharpened up just before halftime, with two big chances just after the 40th minute. First, Arriola was fouled while pressuring goalkeeper Angel Alvarez in the corner, and Stieber’s free kick picked out Frederic Brillant. The big Frenchman nodded the in-swinger towards goal, where Sammy Ochoa handled the ball on the line. However, a foul was called on Brillant, nullifying any chances of a penalty kick.
D.C. didn’t blink, taking a 1-0 lead in the 42nd minute. Segura picked out Arriola, who was again slashing all the way across to the left wing. Racing forward, Arriola picked out a low cross that evaded trailing defenders, providing Yamil Asad with the chance to stab the ball into the lower corner from 10 yards for his first goal with the Black-and-Red.
Steve Clark came in for Ousted at halftime, and had to lay out for a 50th minute save as Carlos Alvarez fired through traffic following loose defending from a long throw-in. Within seconds, United was up 2-0. Arriola’s work rate was key, as he hustled back to block an attempted pass from Cristian Torres. The ball popped loose to Segura, who immediately played Arriola into the vacant space on the wing. Arriola had an easier time getting his second assist of the night, picking out a wide-open Mattocks, who fired home in the 51st minute.
A bizarre sequence at the other end gave Las Vegas a goal of their own just two minutes later. A cross in from the left towards Ochoa saw Birnbaum, in his leap to head clear, strike the ball with his hand instead. Calderon took the spot kick, sending Clark the wrong way to pull one goal back for the Lights.
The second half was far more open than the first, with the aftermath of the penalty kick seeing chances at both ends. United let three good looks at giving runners easy shots from inside the box go wasted as the final ball was off the mark each time. At the other end, Isaac Diaz fell after catching Fisher napping on a ball that didn’t quite roll out of bounds, but no second penalty kick was coming.
The chances kept piling up. Stieber sprung Mattocks on a counter, and the Jamaican — with Arriola wide open at the back post — opted to shoot, only to skip one wide of the back post. 90 seconds later, Mattocks did opt for a pass, this time playing Segura in behind as Las Vegas’s attempted offside trap failed. The Costa Rican was well-placed to score, but ripped a shot just over the crossbar. Mattocks repeated the earlier look with Arriola in the 66th minute, though in this case his position to shoot was better.
Olsen turned to his bench soon thereafter, bringing Luciano Acosta in for Stieber in the 69th minute. That was followed by a double substitution in the 77th minute, with Patrick Mullins and Ian Harkes replacing Mattocks and Segura.
Harkes didn’t take long to make his mark on the game. Joining in a high press to force yet another Lights giveaway, Harkes found himself on the ball 25 yards from goal. He quickly fired a pass right to Arriola, who clipped it back across for Harkes just inside the box, and Harkes thumped a low shot past Ferriño to make it 3-1 in the 80th minute.
United were deservedly leading, but Las Vegas wouldn’t let them comfortably manage the final minutes. Following a short 88th minute set piece on the left wing, Freddy Adu — on trial with the Lights — whipped a quick cross at the near post, where Miguel Garduño arrived to nudge the ball past two defenders and the unsighted Clark.
Fittingly for a wide-open second half, both teams had one more great chance. Las Vegas sent a long throw towards the box in the 89th minute, which United inexplicably allowed to bounce towards the top of the box. Adu charged onto the ball, rasping a volley just a foot over the bar from 19 yards.
It was a miss Las Vegas would rue, as a terrible goal kick from Ferriño helped United seal the result. Looking for a 92nd minute equalizer, the keeper tried to rush the ball forward, but didn’t strike it cleanly, sending it right to Acosta. Acosta moved into the box ahead of the retreating defense, feinting once before slotting a shot past Ferriño to make it 4-2.
That goal finished off the match, with United making it three straight wins, all coming in the final week of preseason. The Black-and-Red open the season on March 3rd, with a 7:30pm tilt on the road against Orlando.
Highlights will be added when they become available.