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D.C. United held to scoreless draw in MLS opener by Sporting KC

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Marcelo Sarvas had a penalty saved in the first half as United couldn’t create much without Luciano Acosta

On a night when D.C. United celebrated their last home opener at RFK Stadium, the play on the field couldn’t match the excitement in the stands as the Black-and-Red settled with a 0-0 draw against Sporting Kansas City. Luciano Acosta, who was a game-time decision all week, was not part of the 18 against Sporting. Julian Buescher took his spot in attacking midfield.

Marcelo Sarvas had a chance from the penalty spot in the first half, but Tim Melia made the save on the Brazilian midfielder. A follow up chance for Patrick Mullins was also saved by Melia. United then were denied twice by goal-line clearances in the second half, with Melia denying Jared Jeffrey on the third attempt following a corner kick.

Other than Acosta, head coach Ben Olsen trotted out an unsurprising starting 11. Steve Birnbaum was the new captain of the team, with Nick DeLeon at right back, Sean Franklin as Birnbaum’s partner, and Taylor Kemp and Bill Hamid in their usual spots. Marcelo started in the midfield alongside Buescher, Jeffrey, Lloyd Sam, and Patrick Nyarko, with Mullins the lone striker.

United looked to make the most of a Matt Besler mistake early on, as Jeffrey forced a turnover in Sporting’s half. Jeffrey centered the ball for Mullins, who laid a pass back for Buescher. Buescher’s shot was goal bound, but it was headed away by Ilie Sanchez before Melia was tested.

Mullins was involved again in the 9th minute, as he and Nyarko exchanged several passes in the middle of the field. Going towards goal, Mullins collected the final pass from Nyarko, and took aim from the top of the box, but Melia got down well to hold the shot.

Sporting’s first chance came a minute later, with Dom Dwyer causing trouble for United’s back line. KC got the ball out wide to Gerso Fernandes, with room to cross into the middle. Dwyer rose up highest to win the header on the cross, but from just outside the six yard box, headed over.

Fernandes then combined with Seth Sinovic down the left before being denied Hamid in the 13th minute. Benny Feilhaber brought out the best in Hamid a minute later, with an expertly placed free kick just outside the box. The shot from Feilhaber was destined for the back of the goal, but Hamid flew up to the top corner to deny the US international with a spectacular save.

Melia had a reply though. The penalty was conceded after nifty work by Nyarko down the left. That opened up a pass to Buescher, who then tried to chip the ball into the middle. As Buescher completed the motion of his pass, Melia slid through, catching the former Syracuse midfielder. Referee Robert Sibiga waited to see how the play turned out before pointing to the spot.

Marcelo, who converted his only penalty last year in a 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls, stepped up to the spot. But Melia guessed correctly to stop Marcelo’s poorly-placed efford, and was able to recover in time as Mullins came crashing in to pounce on the rebound. A resulting corner came to naught for the Black-and-Red.

From there, the first half petered out from United’s perspective. Sam just missed getting onto the end of a dangerous pass from Nyarko in the box, and DeLeon’s teasing cross wasn’t met with a final touch. The Black-and-Red still managed to keep Sporting Kansas City at bay, at least. Jimmy Medranda had the best look just before the end of the half, but his effort from range was saved by Hamid.

The second half started much the same way the first half ended, with the only shot in the first 10 minutes of the half coming by way of a blocked shot on Medranda. Buescher and Sam finally combined for United’s first shot of the second half in the 57th minute, but Sam’s diving header from a Buescher free kick was over the goal.

In the 67th minute, United were denied three times in the space of a couple of seconds. A corner from Sam was accidentally glanced goalward by Roger Espinoza, with Ike Opara clearing the ball off the line. Birnbaum headed back towards goal, with DeLeon settling, and somehow getting an effort on target in traffic. Dwyer had just stepped back in time to head that goal-bound shot away, with Marcelo playing the bouncing ball back into the box. Jeffrey had stayed just onside, but had to twist himself to head towards goal despite facing the wrong way. Melia laid out to his left, again preventing United from taking a lead.

Two minutes later, Medranda went close for Sporting, collecting a pass on the right, and then moving towards the middle of the field. When the opportunity arose, Medranda rifled a shot with his left foot, but it whizzed past the near post.

Dwyer had two opportunities in the final 15 minutes, but had to settle for shots from outside the box on both occasions. One the first, Dwyer was able to turn Marcelo in the midfield, and race away from Jeffrey. His shot from outside the box had some zip on it, but Hamid had no trouble in making the save. In the final minute of the game, Dwyer muscled off Franklin on a long ball, but once again, his shot from the top of the box was saved by Hamid.

Jose Ortiz made his team debut as a substitute in the second half, coming on for Mullins. Ortiz had United’s only shot in the final 20 minutes of the game, but he drew the ire of his coach when the Costa Rican took aim from distance, sending a slow dribbler towards goal with two options to his left.

United, with one point, return to action next Sunday, taking on New York City FC at Yankee Stadium.