With preseason winding down, a reserve-heavy D.C. United made easy work of Saint Louis FC of the USL, rolling to a 3-0 victory at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex in Clearwater, FL. Alhaji Kamara and Sebastien Le Toux scored while United’s probable second team was on the field in the first hour, before Patrick Nyarko scored a late goal to cap things off. Perhaps most importantly for United, though, was Bill Hamid’s return to action. The USMNT hopeful got 45 minutes in his first appearance following offseason knee surgery.
Ben Olsen, likely preparing to use his starters for this weekend’s preseason finale against the Philadelphia Union, sent out a largely second-choice starting lineup. Travis Worra started in goal, while the back four featured Jalen Robinson, Kofi Opare, Bobby Boswell, and Chris Durkin from right to left. Rob Vincent was at the base of the midfield, underneath Jose Ortiz, Ian Harkes, Sebastien Le Toux - playing as an attacking central midfielder - and Lamar Neagle. Alhaji Kamara got the start up front.
United had a shot within 70 seconds, with Kamara teeing up Harkes for a shot that goalkeeper Devala Gorrick smothered. A long sequence of possession in the attacking third ended with Vincent firing over the bar, while Le Toux’s 11th minute shot from inside the box - after good work from Neagle - appeared to graze the crossbar.
Ortiz and Neagle switched flanks during an early attack, and five minutes later that nearly paid off. The Costa Rica international whipped a right-footed cross in from the left side, and Neagle found himself in a great spot. Unfortunately for United, Neagle appeared to take his run a bit too far under the flight of the ball, and he had to break stride before trying a half-volley that bounced right to Gorrick in the 15th minute. Neagle was again in a good spot in the 18th minute, but he scooped his shot over the frame after a smart long ball from Opare had put him in behind.
United’s early pressure paid off in the 20th minute. Another early ball in behind the high-pressing St. Louis back four sprung Neagle down the right. This time in a crossing position, Neagle rolled the ball across the goalmouth, where Kamara had beaten his man to easily side-foot home. The break was such that, had Kamara completely whiffed, Ortiz would have had an equally good look from 4 yards out.
DCU continued to be the aggressor, with fullbacks Robinson and Durkin pushing high up into the attack. Le Toux and Harkes offered plenty of hard work off the ball, both helping United keep possession and also making it very hard for St. Louis to get things going through their own central midfielders.
Ortiz, having moved back to the right, won a free kick in the 33rd minute. Vincent’s service from deep found Opare, who showed real strength to hold off his man and nod the ball back into the middle. Durkin picked up the loose ball and fired what appeared to be a goalbound shot only for a St. Louis defender to glance the ball just wide. Four minutes later, Ortiz fired over under pressure after good work from Kamara at midfield had opened the field up.
United really should have made it 2-0 a minute later. Harkes used the outside of his foot to send Le Toux in behind on a breakaway. With St. Louis appealing for offside, Le Toux rounded Gorrick well outside the penalty area, but was forced wide right. Le Toux seemed focused on taking an extra touch in the slippery conditions, which allowed Ivan Mirkovic just enough time to get a toe to the ball. That deflection forced the ball up on Kamara, possibly hitting his hand before going to Gorrick, who fell gratefully on the ball.
United received a major boost at halftime, as Hamid subbed in for Worra. However, he could do nothing about a 51st minute shot from Sebastian Dalgaard, who amid protests from United for offside cut back on the left to curl a shot across goal. Dalgaard’s shot was going in, but Durkin arrived to chest - or possibly handle? - the ball away from danger.
St. Louis wasted an even better chance two minutes later, as a free kick from Tom Howe found former New York Red Bulls forward Jose Angulo at the back post. Angulo had the goal at his mercy, but headed the ball back across goal and wide, letting United off the hook.
The USL club would rue those misses, as United would make it 2-0 just before a mass substitution. Neagle was brought down deep in the DC half after checking back to Boswell. As referee Ted Unkel gave the free kick, St. Louis relaxed, and United’s veterans pounced. Neagle quickly stopped the ball before chipping his free kick in behind the defense, rewarding Le Toux’s run between the center backs. Previously Le Toux opted to round Gorrick; this time, he calmly lobbed the goalkeeper to give the Black-and-Red a bigger lead in the 59th minute.
Three minutes later, United brought eight new players into the match. Hamid and Boswell retained their positions, with Nick DeLeon, Sean Franklin, and Taylor Kemp rounding out the defense. Marcelo Sarvas took over as the #6, while Lloyd Sam, Jared Jeffrey, Luciano Acosta, and Patrick Nyarko made up the new-look midfield. Ortiz stayed in as well, moving up front.
The new group nearly got a goal for themselves within just two minutes of entering the match. DeLeon’s pass up the right gave Sam room to hook a pass in behind the St. Louis back four, where Ortiz slid in to poke the ball goalwards. Gorrick produced a strong save to deny the Costa Rica international, and then Konrad Plewa made a diving header on the line to deny Nyarko’s follow-up.
Plewa interfered again in the 69th minute after a slick exchange of one-touch passing between Acosta, Jeffrey, and Sam saw United’s #10 get to the endline to cross. Five minutes later, Patrick Mullins replaced Ortiz as United moved to what will probably is their opening day starting eleven (minus Steve Birnbaum, who most likely was simply given the day off).
United yet again came close to scoring in the 77th minute, after stringing together a long series of passes. Eventually Nyarko picked his head up and saw Jeffrey charging from the midfield and between the center backs. Nyarko’s pass put Jeffrey in behind, and the Texas native slotted the ball underneath Gorrick only to see it kiss the foot of the post.
Gorrick denied Mullins in the 79th minute after Acosta - following possibly the best passing exchange of the preseason between him, DeLeon, and Sam along the right - had burst out of midfield to tee up the former Maryland Terrapin. Acosta showed his quick feet two minutes later, dancing free before taking a shot that ramped up off a defender before Gorrick could catch it on the goalline.
Sam again found himself in a dangerous spot on the right in the 84th minute, sending a low cross for Mullins, whose attempt to put the ball into the roof of the net clipped a defender and went over for a corner kick that Gorrick claimed easily.
United had earned more than just a 2-0 win, and they finally got their third in the 88th minute. A stylish no-look pass from Acosta in United’s half sent Sam in behind the left back Howe and into acres of space. Sam took plenty of time to size up his pass into the middle for Nyarko, who slashed into the box from the left. Plewa arrived to nick the initial service away, but in doing so poked the ball in between Gorrick’s feet, where Nyarko managed to awkwardly knock the ball into the empty net.
United will conclude their preseason this Saturday at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, where they’ll take on the Philadelphia Union for the second time this month. The match is their final prep before March 4th’s season opener, a home game against Sporting Kansas City.