It was not pretty in the second half for D.C. United. After they had raced out to a 2-0 lead halfway through the first half against the Philadelphia Union, there was some white-knuckling in the second half. CJ Sapong, on as a substitute in the second half, got one back for Philly in the 71st minute.
And there were chances for United’s closest neighbors to earn a share of the spoils. But on a night in which the Black-and-Red finally scored their first goals of the season, they were able to do just enough at home to also pick up their first win of the campaign, a 2-1 decision over the Union.
Full time was a welcome relief after a rough first three games of the season.
“We found a way. That shows we still have the character we thought we had,” head coach Ben Olsen said after the game in his press conference.
The bounces that went against United to start the season finally went their way in the first half against the Union. First, Jose Ortiz, making his first start in place of the injured Patrick Mullins, had a shot take a fortunate deflection over Union keeper Andre Blake for the first goal.
Then, when a penalty was awarded halfway through the first stanza, Luciano Acosta dispatched it with confidence. A much better result than when Marcelo Sarvas had his spot kick saved in the season opening draw with Sporting Kansas City.
Though it got nervy in the second half, United made those two goals, their first of the season, stand up.
“Two things we wanted to get off of our back. One was scoring a goal, and we took care of that,” added Olsen. “The second to cross off the list was a win. It’s important, at home, picking up points early for confidence.”
But what a ride it was in the second half. After Ortiz had a shot in the 36th minute, United would not have another shot until Nick DeLeon curled one off target in the 93rd minute. In the meantime, the Union took 13 shots, one of which was turned in by Sapong in the 71st minute. There were other chances for United to drop the points, but goalkeeper Bill Hamid was at his best on several other occasions.
So instead of settling for one point, United ran out with all three.
“We didn’t do a good job of keeping the ball in the second half. They had most of the ball, and we were pinned back,” center back and team captain Steve Birnbaum said after the game. “We defended the box pretty well. We communicated well and stayed with a lot of the runners. Bill [Hamid] came up with some big saves.”
In addition to the forced change with Mullins out with a hamstring injury, Olsen made one other change to the team that lost 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC two weeks ago. Sean Franklin, who made the move to center back this offseason, went to the bench. Former regular Bobby Boswell got his first minutes of the season.
According to Olsen, that wasn’t to punish Franklin. Instead, the thought from the manager was that the shake up was necessary to bring in Boswell’s presence to the side.
“It had nothing to do negatively towards Sean,” Olsen said of his decision to sit Franklin, who came on as a substitute in the 80th minute. “Sean actually over the course of the three games was pretty good. I just thought the team needed Bobby out there. Sometimes it’s just a feel, and Bobby is a winner. He has a real personality. That was the reason.”
Whether it was that change, or Ortiz coming in, or just a good response after two weeks off, United came out of the gates quickly against the Union, and were rewarded with the two goals. The first goal specifically came as United forced the issue with their pressure. It helped that Blake made a poor decision with a pass. Vitally, United made sure to take advantage, with Ortiz netting a goal, with a little help from a deflection.
“It was a good first half, to get after them right away,” Ian Harkes told B&RU after the game. “We had some high pressure, turned them over, and put ourselves in good situations for those two goals. It was good to bring that energy at home, and start off strong.”
And the goal for Ortiz might have been what the doctor ordered, considering that Mullins looks set to miss a few more games in the immediate future.
“[Ortiz] scored a goal, so that’s the first thing you want to check off with your forward,” Olsen said of his Costa Rican striker. “He gets good ratings for that. He hasn’t had a lot of minutes with the first team, both in training and in real games. All that stuff will get better. All those little things he’ll get better at. But he’s a competitor, he’s courageous, and it’s a good starting point.”
United now have one more game before starting a three-game road trip to finish off the month of April. They’ll welcome in New York City FC, who just less than a month ago put a 4-0 beating on United up in the Big Apple.
That puts the onus on getting all points next week, and building upon the positives from this week, and improving on certain aspects of their game against the Union.
“It’s always good to get three points, especially at home, especially against Philly,” Lamar Neagle told B&RU after the game. “Hopefully we can get this next one at home, and get us closer back to even. We need to pick up as many points as we can early in the season.”