It had almost been two months since D.C. United tasted the sweet, sweet success of victory in MLS, but a laughable own goal from Jared Watts handed the Black-and-Red a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids. United made the goal stand up despite a Rapids surge in the second half, while the Black-and-Red failed to capitalize on several promising counters going in the opposite direction.
United were facing a team that had recently fired Pablo Mastroeni as their head coach, replacing him with long-time assistant, Steve Cooke. But not for the stellar play of Bill Hamid and the woodwork, Cooke might have won on his debut. Instead, United got their first win since June 21st, and their first shutout since June 3rd.
Ben Olsen made three changes to the side that lost 1-0 to Real Salt Lake last weekend. Russell Canouse made his debut for the club, starting in place of Jared Jeffrey. Patrick Mullins replaced the concussed Deshorn Brown up top, while Lloyd Sam returned from suspension, replacing Chris Odoi-Atsem. Nick DeLeon moved to left back as a result, with Sam starting on the left wing.
During a miserable summer, United came into this one having lost seven out of eight, crashed out of the US Open Cup, and only picking up a single point, a surprising draw with the best team in the league, Toronto FC.
Against the lowly Rapids, United nearly got off to an early lead thanks to a turnover created by Marcelo Sarvas. After picking off a pass in the Colorado half, Marcelo quickly found Luciano Acosta, who in turn played in the box for Paul Arriola. Arriola was denied by his USMNT teammate, as Tim Howard did well to save in the 12th minute.
Howard was called upon again two minutes later, this time to deny Acosta. Acosta and Sam exchanged passes from a throw-in deep in Colorado’s half. A fortunate bounce for Acosta popped the ball up, and United’s #10 improvised with a looping shot that nearly caught Howard out. The veteran goalkeeper did just enough to leap back and tip the ball wide.
Colorado looked to have an opportunity in the 24th minute, as the ball found Dominique Badji with his back towards goal six yards out. Badji tried to turn and shoot, but Sean Franklin dove in to knock the ball away.
Then came the own goal. Watts was under no pressure 40 yards out from goal as Colorado knocked the ball around the back. Lacking options, he tried to pass back to Howard. Watts didn’t look up before attempting the pass, and the ball was sent wide of Howard’s position. Howard, on his back foot, couldn’t spring forward to intercept the pass, which rolled into the net to give United an utterly bizarre 1-0 lead.
Shkelzen Gashi pushed a shot wide in the 33rd minute, before Arriola had a shot from distance held by Howard a minute later. Hamid’s first real action of the game came in the 36th minute, as a dipping shot from Bismarck Boateng was destined for the goal. Hamid did well to push the shot over, and United defended the resulting corner successfully.
The Black-and-Red started the second half slowly, as Colorado came out pushing for an early equalizer. A cross from Badji found Kevin Doyle in the box in the 50th minute, as the Irishman cut in front of DeLeon. But Doyle hit the crossbar when he should have scored, and Micheal Azira’s 25 yard follow-up was stopped by Hamid.
A long ball played through the middle from Boateng found Gashi on the run three minutes later. Gashi quickly fired a shot, but Hamid acrobatically pushed the shot out for a corner, and Doyle’s glancing header seconds later on the set piece was sent wide.
United had three huge opportunities in the second half to score a second goal, but each time, hesitancy and indecision cost them. The first came in the 57th minute, as Franklin made his way down the right. United had an advantage in numbers after Axel Sjoberg slipped, but a pass to Sam delayed the attack just outside the box. Sam then fed Arriola, who eventually lofted a cross to the back post, but Sam - with half the goal to aim at - snapped down too early, sending his attempt into the ground and wide.
Three minutes later, Badji was the recipient of a ball from Doyle, who tackled the ball towards goal. Badji tried to beat Hamid from the top of the box, but the USMNT hopeful was again up to the challenge.
United carved out their best chance of the night soon thereafter. Arriola, leading a three-on-two break, passed across the two Rapids defenders to find Acosta in a promising spot. The same urge to pass the ball into the net struck, though, with Acosta choosing an extra pass over taking a shot from a great position, and the chance disappeared.
Olsen brought on Chris Korb and Jeffrey for Mullins and Acosta, leaving United with DeLeon to play as a forward late on as United went all-in on preserving their 1-0 advantage. Colorado, meanwhile, brought in Luis Gil, Alan Gordon, and Josh Gatt, all moves designed to boost their attack.
The Rapids continued to push numbers forward in search of an equalizer, and they came close several times late on. First, Badji had a shot blocked in the box in the 81st minute by Canouse, who likely saved a goal. Then, a minute later, a corner bounced around in the box, but the Rapids could never get a shot way.
Steve Birnbaum then had to go off in the 87th minute for an apparent head injury suffered several minutes before. His replacement, Jalen Robinson was nearly caught out in the 88th minute, as a ball from Doyle got past him, and to Badji in the box. But Badji’s one-timer hit off the post, and a second chance was skied over on the volley.
Alan Gordon got the ball in the back of the net in the second minute of stoppage time for the Rapids. A shot from Axel Sjoberg - finishing the game as another forward - was flicked past Hamid by Gordon, but replays showed Gordon clearly a yard offside when he made contact with the ball. United still had to sweat through four more minutes of stoppage time, but held on to break an interminable losing streak.