After a well-played first half from both sides, D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City appeared set to drift towards a scoreless draw on a wet, unseasonably chilly Sunday night in the District. A game that had some zip to it before halftime had slowed as the rain at Audi Field intensified, and it began to look like Tim Melia’s goalkeeping might be the big story on the night.
Fortunately for United, Paul Arriola had other ideas, producing a wonderful strike in the 79th minute and giving the Black-and-Red a 1-0 win. With the game against KC being their first of three in a six-day span, it was a victory that clearly carried a lot of weight in the locker room.
“Behind closed doors, these were very important points to pick up,” said head coach Ben Olsen, whose side has won two straight at home after only picking up one point in three home games in April. “To get these six points going on the road gives us some confidence.”
Olsen also paid tribute to Kansas City, who looked far sturdier on the night than they have in recent weeks. “We had...a tough time breaking through their last barrier. They’re really organized. Their box defending, you can tell they’re really well-coached, and they have a lot of responsibility when the ball turns over, and they’re tough to score on. So it was always gonna take something a little special tonight, to get the goal. I don’t think we got frustrated with ourselves, that it didn’t come. We kept going after it, and Paul makes a terrific play.”
Arriola’s teammates were effusive in praising the winger’s goal, a curling effort from the top of the box that finally managed to beat Melia, who was excellent throughout. “It was unbelievable,” said Russell Canouse. “Once it left his foot, we had a feeling that it was going in... An unbelievable finish.”
Wayne Rooney, who knows a thing or two about scoring impressive goals at Audi Field, agreed. “Lovely finish, he got a good touch on it. Hit it fantastically, and it is a good goal coming into this week... I think [Arriola] is a fantastic player. When he gives, he gives great energy. He is a threat.”
Arriola celebrated the goal by removing his shoe and using it to mime making a phone call before pointing to the sky. The USMNT winger confirmed that it was a gesture to his late father, who passed away last year.
“That was for my father. Looking up at the skies, I know he was looking down... It’s tough, it’s tough losing a parent. You think of them every single day. So I felt like giving him one today.”
On the goal itself, Arriola noted that he “had a couple chances on the right side when I was able to cut in, and I didn’t see the ball how I wanted to see it,” before eventually scoring the winner.
“I think it was a ball that I ended up losing. I kept my run going, and pressured a little bit, stayed on the left side for maybe two minutes... Russell won it, gave to Wayne, Wayne gave it to me, and at that point I knew I was going inside. I think it was [Nicolas] Hasler who was still coming back, so when I went inside it threw him off. Made good contact, and that’s a goal you dream about.”
United also got a solid debut out of left back Marquinhos Pedroso on the night. The Brazilian, acquired in a trade with FC Dallas last week, held key Sporting attacker Johnny Russell to just one shot attempt and one key pass from open play.
“I thought he did fine,” said Olsen of his latest addition. “I think he’s a good defender. It’s not easy coming into a brand new team and getting a start... But some of the staples that he does well, from the physicality, 1v1 situations...I thought his shape, his defensive shape overall on the night was good for the first start.”
Canouse struck a similar chord, saying “Tonight, Marquinhos filled in really well, did an unbelievable job on that left side.”
Pedroso seemed pleased to be back on the field after being overlooked following the coaching change in Dallas this past winter. “For me it was a great feeling, you know, I was waiting for this time. I know there is a great team here with a lot of tradition.”
Evaluating his own performance, the Brazilian newcomer said “I felt great. I know that the most important part for my part is to keep it safe to my side, I think I did this with a very good player in Russell. [There were] a lot of duels, [it] was nice to see him again. I played against him twice last year because I was with FC Dallas.”
Pedroso’s presence also gave United a natural left back, something they haven’t had since Joseph Mora suffered a broken jaw on March 31st. That allowed Olsen to shift back into the 4231 he and Dave Kasper assembled their roster to play, and in turn that familiarity allowed D.C. to get back to being able to high-press with regularity.
Rooney was particularly pleased with how his side went about their business in that department, saying “The first half was the best we’ve pressed as a team.”
Olsen felt the attack was sharp despite Sporting’s best efforts to make it tough on them. “Offensively, you can tell there were some real sequences there where things were clicking, and there was a real understanding of where players needed to be. Our specific players that we feel are dangerous, we put them in dangerous spots. I think Russell and Junior had a really good relationship centrally, and now we’re able to find Lucas and Wayne, and Paul in particular, in the pockets around their number 6. I thought we really did a good job of that, and again, that’s a product of that 4231.”
Despite the positives, the Black-and-Red were trying to shift gears quickly, as they face the toughest stretch of their season in terms of travel. After today’s recovery-focused training session, United will train again tomorrow before heading to the airport and flying to Toronto for Wednesday’s potentially crucial match against Toronto FC. They’ll then train in Toronto on Thursday before again getting on a plane, this time flying south to Houston to train on Friday and play in typical Texas heat and humidity on Saturday night.
Olsen made his feelings on the topic clear. “We’ll need a bunch of bodies to get through this. There’s only two days rest in between each game, which I think is ridiculous. I think it’s just silly, silly scheduling, but [it is] what it is, and we’ll grind through it.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Rooney. “Listen, I think people make a bit too much of it, it’s a flight Tuesday and a flight Thursday to Houston and then you are flying back, so it’s two flights where you have to prepare and get ready for the game. Which, it’s part of your job and what you have to do. No complaints.”