After struggling to score during the Florida portion of training camp, D.C. United's attack came to life in the early stages of a 2-0 victory over the Austin Aztex in the ATX Pro Challenge. Rookie Miguel Aguilar opened the scoring with a wonder strike in the 9th minute, while Conor Doyle - playing in his home state - doubled the Black-and-Red's lead in the 16th minute.
Ben Olsen opted to give more second-choice players the start tonight. The starting eleven saw Andrew Dykstra backstop a 442 featuring a mysterious trialist - more on him in a minute - on the right, Rauwshan McKenzie and Kofi Opare pairing up as center backs, and trialist Luke Mishu on the left. The midfield saw Jared Jeffrey partner new acquisition Michael Farfan in the middle, with Aguilar on the right and David Estrada on the opposite flank. The strike partnership consisted of Doyle and Jairo Arrieta.
United has made a point of not identifying the player we've been jokingly referring to as Florida Man, which is apparently at the player's request. However, during the match "Florida Man" was seemingly identified by The Washington Post's Steve Goff as, well, Costa Rica Man:
Best I can tell, #DCU trialist is Costa Rican Alexander Robinson Delgado, 26 yrs old from Saprissa & Juventude (Brazil)— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) February 14, 2015
United's start was uncertain at best. A 5th minute foul from
Florida Man Robinson gave Austin a free kick just outside the box. Austin's Tony Rocha curled the ball around United's wall, but Dykstra was able to make a smart save low to his right.
United gained their footing thanks mostly to an absolute golazo from Aguilar. Following a turnover, Arrieta found United's newly-signed first round pick on the right. Aguilar first breezed past Austin's Ryan Roushandel before cutting inside. With no one in an Aztex shirt stepping up to deny him space, Aguilar ripped a shot into the upper corner with his left foot to give the Black-and-Red a 9th minute lead.
United nearly made it 2-0 a few minutes later (it was hard to tell without a running game clock). Farfan's free kick from a long way out fell perfectly for Opare, whose header beat goalkeeper Devin Perales but crashed off the crossbar. Robinson was on the spot to fire a half-volley from the rebound, but Perales made an acrobatic save. The scramble continued for a moment, with Robinson having another shot blocked, before the Aztex cleared.
United could sense that Austin was going through a rough spell, and the second goal didn't take long to arrive. Arrieta's smart through ball from left of center sent Doyle clean through on goal in the 16th minute, and he cruelly rolled the ball past a helpless Perales to double the Black-and-Red's lead.
Austin took a short-short-long approach to build-ups, passing the ball around the back before looking to go long in behind United's back four. However, they struggled to time their runs well, resulting in a slew of offside calls. After pressing high in the early moments, United seemed content to focus on halting the vertical passes while allowing the passive possession in Austin's half. When Austin tried to connect multiple passes in the middle third, they often found the move disrupted by United's midfield.
Despite that, there were moments in which DCU lived a bit dangerously. Austin's Mozzi Gyorio was able to put a shot past Dykstra midway through the half, but once again the assistant referee flagged for offside. Without the benefit of a replay, it did seem like Gyorio took a full step beyond Robinson and Opare before Maryland product Drew Yates slotted him in behind the defense.
Farfan's debut was a bit uneven playing as a #8 in the Black-and-Red's central midfield. While he was often the man making the aforementioned disruptive blocks on the defensive side of the ball, his touch appeared rusty and he had a couple of giveaways on passes that he would normally connect. More than likely, this is something we should see him improve as the preseason continues. It will be interesting to see whether he was deployed centrally so Estrada could get more of a fair shot at making his case to sign a new deal, or if Olsen simply wants to use him in the middle.
Gyorio would have another opportunity about ten minutes after his non-goal. Rauwshan McKenzie stepped high into the midfield but didn't come up with an interception, allowing the Aztex to break forward against a disorganized United defense. Yates found Gyorio with his cross from the left, but in the midst of a crowd the Canadian was off-balance and ballooned his header safely over the crossbar.
United nearly capped off the half with a third goal in the closing moments. Arrieta again showed off his passing ability, finding Estrada on the left. As with Aguilar's goal, Estrada cut inside after no one stepped out to close him down. His right-footed shot looked promising, but the ball glanced off a diving defender and went behind for a corner kick. Robinson got onto the service, but Austin again had a man in place to make a block.
Bill Hamid made his first appearance of the 2015 preseason as United's only halftime sub, but the first major action in the second half came at the other end. A right-to-left passing move saw Aguilar feed Doyle, whose first-time shot curled off frame and missed wide by a foot or so. United held a good bit of the possession to start the half, using Jared Jeffrey - who was dropping off of the rest of the midfield rather than playing as a full-time anchor man - as a possession fulcrum. However, other than a near-miss on a 50 yard crossfield ball looking for Estrada, Austin was able to prevent United from playing any penetrating balls.
Austin started to push back after the game started to take on a bit of a hard edge that was initiated by United. Gyorio headed another service over the bar, while halftime substitute Greg Mulamba's blast following a Jeffrey turnover flashed wide. Austin then forced Hamid into action, as United's star netminder snagged an inviting ball into the box that an Austin attacker was inches from reaching first.
That look was followed by a United line change, as Olsen brought in a completely new group of field players. The second group nearly scored right away, as Chris Pontius put a low cross into the six yard box that just needed a finishing touch that never came. United's stronger eleven featured a back four of Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Markus Halsti, and Taylor Kemp. The front six was familiar: Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, and Chris Rolfe manned the midfield, while Fabian Espindola and Pontius were the forwards.
That second group also appeared to have been given instructions to attack rather than simply hold onto the 2-0 lead, and United's possession was able to pin Austin back for several minutes. However, the spell of dominance ended and the Aztex won a corner after a good sequence in the 70th minute. That corner picked out Austin center back Leone Cruz - formerly with Seattle and RSL - whose header looked destined for the back of the net. As is his nature, Hamid disagreed with the fates, spectacularly getting his right hand to the ball in the nick of time.
The home fans wanted a penalty a few minutes later after a cross from the right, but the referee correctly saw that the Aztex forward simply lost his footing while trying to recover what was a too-heavy chest trap attempt. At the other end, Pontius drew a yellow card for a foul within 35 yards. Espindola's free kick was nodded across goal - whether by a United or Austin player, it was hard to tell - where Pontius lost out to a well-positioned defender.
United had a couple of attacks go awry - Pontius should have shot following a backheel from Rolfe, while Kemp's attempt to burst past his man into acres of space ran over the touchline - before nearly adding a third goal in stoppage time. Substitute keeper Cody Laurendi made a sharp save on a Rolfe shot from distance. DeLeon picked up the rebound and crossed low from an acute angle, which was nearly turned in for an own goal. Halsti's ensuing corner ended up at the feet of Pontius, who felt that his legs were taken out inside the box. The referee had little interest, however, and ended the match a few seconds later.
With the win, United moves on to the ATX Pro Challenge final against FC Dallas, who won the early game 3-1 over the Columbus Crew. The match will take place this Sunday the 15th, with kickoff scheduled for 4:15pm EST.
We'll add the highlights when they become available.