D.C. United's second preseason game was far more eventful than the first, as the Black-and-Red and Jonkopings Sodra IF played to an entertaining 2-2 draw in Bradenton, FL. Fabian Espindola gave United an early lead, while Miguel Aguilar scored with a ferocious shot just past the hour mark to draw United level after the Swedish side scored twice early in the second half.
Ben Olsen started a pretty strong starting lineup. Andrew Dykstra started in goal behind a back four of Sean Franklin, Jalen Robinson, Bobby Boswell, and Taylor Kemp. Patrick Nyarko, Markus Halsti - the Finn having arrived in Florida yesterday evening - Nick DeLeon, and trialist Rob Vincent made up the midfield, while Espindola was partnered up front by Lamar Neagle in a standard 442 formation.
Last Friday, United gave up a 4th minute goal, a mistake fans hope is left in 2015. Today, there was another 4th minute goal, but this time it was for DC rather than against. Neagle played a ball in over the top of Sodra's back four, and Espindola won the race to it but was brought down. Despite protests from the Swedish side - who appeared to think Espindola had exaggerated the contact - United's #10 stepped up to take the resulting spot kick himself. Espindola's penalty kicks have been shaky since coming to DC, but this one left goalkeeper Damir Mehic with no chance.
Sodra went very close to an instant reply, as a dangerous low shot from the right flank forced Dykstra into a solid diving save just a minute after the goal. That symbolized how much of the first half went, as both teams put together good attacking sequences and played with more energy and at a higher tempo than United or Elfsborg IF managed last week.
Dykstra was forced into two more good saves in the 14th and 16th minutes, the second of which came after DeLeon turned the ball over in a bad spot only for the active Robert Gojani to stumble as he attempted his shot. United replied in the 18th minute with a combination between Espindola and Franklin down the right flank. Franklin's cross caused a long spell of chaos inside the Sodra box, but after several attempts the Swedes managed to clear.
Espindola nearly made it two goals on the day in the 24th minute. A weaving run from Neagle across the top of the box eventually ended with a handball call on a Sodra defender as the ball popped up following a tackle on Vincent. Shooting left of center and from about 23 yards - a perfect spot for a right-footed player, in other words - Espindola curled a beautiful effort over the wall, leaving Mehic staring as the ball crashed off the underside of the crossbar. The rebound briefly appeared promising for Robinson, but the collapsing wall badly outnumbered him and Sodra managed to clear the threat.
The chances kept coming. A miscommunication between Dykstra and his center backs saw him eventually leap late and fail to claim a lofted ball. United was never able to fully clear after that, and eventually conceded a penalty kick of their own after Franklin's hard challenge got too much of Gojani. Winger Tommy Thelin's spot kick was saved well by Dykstra, however, and though a Sodra player did get to the rebound his eventual cross was cleared from the goalmouth by Halsti, who alertly filled Dykstra's spot after the save.
United's bench appeared to emphasize selecting moments to press high on Friday, and that effort bore out today. A 36th minute goal kick for the Swedes turned into a real threat for the Black-and-Red after high pressure eventually forced a miskick from the goalkeeper Mehic. Nyarko hustled down the right to keep the ball in play, and then found Espindola inside the box. Espindola fired a hard cross that Neagle steered on frame only for a Sodra defender to provide what may have been a goal-saving block.
The half ended with more chances being exchanged. Boswell's tackle on Daryl Smylie squirted to Gojani, who tested Dykstra again but was denied by another smart save. On the stroke of halftime, a long ball put Espindola in behind the defense, but a smart angle from Joakim Karlsson slowed him enough that Mehic could come off his line and snag the ball off Espindola's foot.
For the second half, Olsen rolled out an entirely new eleven as well as a new formation. Playing in a 4231, United started the half with Luke Mishu at right back, an unnamed academy player and Liam Doyle in central defense, and trialist Brayan Garcia on the left. Draft pick Paul Clowes and new acquisition Marcelo Sarvas - wearing #39, which is almost certainly a placeholder rather than what he'll wear for the season - were the holding midfielders underneath an attacking trio of Miguel Aguilar, Collin Martin, and Conor Doyle. Alvaro Saborio lead the line up top, while trialist GK Chris Konopka replaced Dykstra.
After that all-action first half, it's hardly a surprise that an equalizer came quickly. Garcia, who struggled against Elfsborg, made an interception in the 48th minute only to poke the ball straight to Pawel Cibicki. That was bad luck, but Garcia's hesitation made things worse; Cibicki used the time to size up a clinical first-time shot from edge of the penalty area and fired past Konopka with ease.
United received a gift of their own in the 54th minute, as a stray pass by a Sodra defender went straight to Conor Doyle. Doyle found Martin, who adroitly backheeled the ball for the slashing run of Aguilar, but the second year man's shot back across goal was blocked by a defender.
United would rue that block as Sodra took a 58th minute lead. The goal was an archetypal corner kick strike: Good near-post service found right back Tom Siwe, who rose earlier than a crowd of players from both teams to flick a header across the goal and into the far upper corner past Konopka, who was at full stretch.
The response was once again swift, and this time it was United notching a goal in the 61st minute. The entire front four got involved in a swift, left-to-right move. Conor Doyle chopped a pass inside for Martin, who took a touch and shuttled it on to Saborio. Saborio did much of the same to find Aguilar cutting in from the right. After a couple of shifty touches that froze the defense, Aguilar blazed a shot past substitute 'keeper Adam Cajtoft to level the scores.
As the half wore on, the rapid tempo of the game was maintained but the fitness levels were not. That meant a lot of midfield ping pong as the sides cancelled each other out and largely prevented chances. United made some subs that were not shown by the camera in the 73rd minute, one of which was trialist Ariel Rodriguez replacing Sarvas.
The final chance of the game fell to Sodra, as a switch to the right wing caught United's entire team shifted too far to the opposite flank. After a cutback across the scrambling United defense from Jesper Svensson, Liridon Silka probably should have scored but fired a powerful shot straight into the crossbar from a step beyond the penalty spot.
United will finish the Bradenton leg of their preseason with Friday's game against Norwegian top flight club SK Brann before returning to DC for a week of training. We will add the highlights from today's match when they become available.