No one would go so far as to call it an eye-catching performance, but D.C. United won the ATX Pro Challenge final by defeating FC Dallas 1-0 today in Austin, TX. Chris Rolfe produced a gorgeous goal to win it for the Black-and-Red, who also had to lean on the goalkeeping of Bill Hamid a couple of times to keep a second straight shutout.
United started out with the group that finished the match against the Austin Aztex on Friday. That meant a 442 featuring Hamid, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Markus Halsti, Taylor Kemp, Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, Rolfe, Fabian Espindola, and Chris Pontius. Unless Steve Birnbaum's knee injury clears up completely within the next week, that's looking more and more like the eleven that will start United's CCL quarterfinal in Costa Rica.
A slip from Walker Zimmerman nearly handed United a golden opportunity within the first two minutes. Arnaud's quick throw-in was aimed at Pontius, but Zimmerman arrived first. The young defender tumbled over at the crucial moment, however, and Pontius found himself on the ball inside the box. From an acute angle, Pontius looked to find a runner but his cutback was cleared.
Some route one soccer resulted in an actual golded opportunity a minute later. Boswell's long ball was flicked on by Pontius - who beat Matt Hedges to the ball a few yards into the FCD half - into space for DeLeon, who was free on goal. With just Dan Kennedy to beat, DeLeon opted for power and blasted his shot wide of goal when a chip or a low finish both seemed like better options.
Despite some flashes of invention from younger players - Fabian Castillo tried to heel-flick the ball over his own head on the run to beat Kemp, while Kitchen later showed some lovely footwork to escape a crowd on the edge of United's box - both teams seemed to settle into exchanging spells of possession. Hamid beat Castillo to a through ball from Ryan Hollingshead after Franklin was stripped of the ball, but beyond that both teams seemed to be comfortable in cancelling each other out.
Of the two teams United was doing more with possession during the first third of the match, using it to move up the field and taking charge of who had the ball as well as where the game was being played. However, the next shot would come from the Hoops, as Mauro Diaz hit a dipping shot from 30 yards that cleared the crossbar. United came back the other way after Pontius forced a turnover at midfield, but the 3v2 break ended with Pontius taking a shot that Hedges blocked.
A good piece of possession in the 22nd minute saw United connect some one- and two-touch passing before Kitchen sprayed the ball wide for Rolfe in some space on the left. Rolfe's low cross looked dangerous but didn't find anyone in black, and Dallas burst upfield. Diaz again had a shot from outside of the box, but this one went straight into the hands of Hamid.
Hamid came up with a more difficult save two minutes later. The Black-and-Red conceded a corner kick, and the delivery from Diaz fell into a crowd where a leaping Hollingshead got decent power on his improvised volley. Hamid was quick to dive low to his left to make a top-notch save, because that's what Bill Hamid does.
The Hoops seemed to respond to that save by stepping up their attack. A couple of dangerous Michel free kicks nearly fell for FCD, and soon thereafter a Castillo shot flew just over the bar after United scrambled a cross from substitute Moises Hernandez away. At the other end, United's ability to possess the ball dried up as Espindola and Pontius were deprived of support.
United slowed the game down to take Dallas out of their stride, but through an odd series of bounces the Texans nearly took the lead. The ball found its way to Castillo in acres of space along the left wing, and he entered the box 1v1 with Halsti. Halsti managed to slow Castillo down, but the livewire Colombian eventually found an opening for a low shot across goal. Fortunately for United, his effort was too close to Hamid, who managed to smother it and prevent a rebound. Halftime came in short order, and it must be said that United probably welcomed the opportunity to sort some things out.
Just like Friday's win over Austin, United would take the lead via a spectacular goal. Following a half-cleared 54th minute free kick, Rolfe collected the ball under pressure from Zimmerman around 23 yards from goal. A nasty cutback sent Zimmerman sprawling to the grass, giving Rolfe the window to fire a perfectly placed shot past Kennedy and into the upper corner.
United produced a promising counterattack a few minutes later that nearly became a fluky second goal. Espindola sparked the attack out on the left before switching the play to Franklin, who joined the move forward. Eventually Pontius teed up a shot from Arnaud outside the box that deflected towards Franklin, whose run had carried him to the penalty spot. Franklin's header under pressure looked like it would bobble wide by yards, but had enough spin on it that it skipped much closer to trickling inside the post than it had any business doing.
Despite those moments, Dallas was seeing more of the ball in United's half than vice-versa. Nonetheless, they seemed to run out of ideas once Mauro Diaz was subbed off just past the hour mark, and in fact their largest threat in the 15 minutes following the goal came after David Texeira got within a couple yards of intercepting a backpass after a slight miscommunication between Halsti and Kemp. United put a couple balls into the box, but the game was largely bogged down in the midfield.
United's starters all went well over 70 minutes before a two-part line change. Michael Farfan and Miguel Aguilar came in three minutes before the rest of the field players were swapped out. The team on the field after the subs were finished consisted of Hamid still in goa;, a back four of Alexander Robinson, Kofi Opare, Rauwshan McKenzie, and Luke Mishu; a midfield of Aguilar, Jared Jeffrey, Farfan, and David Estrada (rocking a cleanly shaved head); and a forward duo of Conor Doyle and Jairo Arrieta.
That second group seemed more comfortable in possession than Dallas, who similarly swapped out every player who had started the match. Still, FCD forced Hamid into one last save in the 90th minute. A cross from the right fell to Dallas homegrown product Danny Garcia cutting in from the left, but Hamid was able to preserve United's lead with a strong hand blocking the volley.
Opare was called for a stoppage time foul inches outside the penalty area gave Dallas an excellent opportunity to tie things up, but Kyle Bekker's free kick went into the wall at stomach height. Full time came moments later - though the mysterious trialist Robinson had time to get booked for time-wasting after lingering for half a second over a free kick - and Boswell ended up holding the amazing ATX Pro Challenge trophy.
United's next match will be against FC Dallas, which is sort of awkward but what are you going to do? That game will take place in Dallas this coming Friday. With the trip to Costa Rica looming six days later, I would expect United's starting eleven to play fewer minutes than today.
We will add highlights of today's game when/if they become available here.