D.C. United's U-23 team found themselves in the middle of a dogfight last week, as one of five teams separated by two points in a battle for first (and a playoff spot) in the USL-PDL Mid-Atlantic Division. The difficult circumstances - three games in five days, and the last two on the road within a 24 hour span - were going to require a mighty push.
Last Wednesday's game at Evergreen Sportsplex saw D.C. start late against the Baltimore Bohs (and coach/former D.C. player Santino Quaranta) due to lightning strikes in the area that moved the game back one hour. An entertaining first half which saw a Bohs goal from Tommy Quaranta disallowed for offside, and a Colin Bonner chance moments later cleared off the Bohs goal kick line led to a scoreless halftime. In the 65th minute, Bohs player Dominic Marshall, already on a yellow card, came in studs up on D.C.’s Matthew Ledder (Georgetown), giving him a straight red and D.C. a man advantage for the balance of the match.
In the 69th minute, D.C. midfielder Jacori Hayes (Wake Forest) was taken down in the box and a penalty kick was awarded. Bonner put the ball in past the keeper’s left in the 70th to get the first D.C. goal. Collin Bonner (UNC Wilmington) ran past a tired Bohs right back to win a ball in the Bohs end, and carried to the goal line near the net, where he passed to Ryan Harmouche (George Mason) in the middle of the box, securing the brace and the three points.
The team headed out on the road Saturday, playing a Westchester Flames side who had yet to earn points at home. Things started out well for the Black and Red, as Jeremy Ebobisse (Duke) got a ball to Bonner that he put home for a 1-0 D.C. lead in the 61st minute. That kicked off an entertaining period where Westchester evened the score in the 63rd, and Ebobisse finished a corner kick from Liam Robley (American University) in the 65th for a 2-1 lead.
In the 73rd, Dario Redondo (Radford University) was ejected for a tackle, leaving D.C. to finish the game with 10 men. They held off the Flames as long as they could, but a late tackle in the box led to a Westchester penalty kick, which Brian Paredes slotted past D.C. keeper Casey Beyers (University of Wisconsin) to seal a 2-2 draw.
The team headed from Westchester to their last road game of the season, in New Jersey against the Ocean City No'easters. The team got in late and spent some of Sunday relaxing and visiting the beach. The departure from thinking about the game was welcome to some, and seemed to buoy spirits heading into Sunday.
Like Saturday's game, Sunday's started with another goal from Ebobisse to Bonner, albeit with a bit more happenstance. Ebobisse was dispossessed in the box, and Bonner was there to pick it up and score in the 10th minute for a 1-0 D.C. lead. The goal, Bonner's 8th in the season, put him into a tie for 7th amongst PDL teams. Ocean City would come back, with goals from Khesanio Hall in the 26th minute past keeper Steffen Kraus (George Mason), and again in the 53rd.
The Black and Red players loudly questioned the officiating, and in the 76th minute, Harmouche, who had been subbed off 20 minutes earlier, was shown a red on the bench. D.C. threatened but could not break the Nor'easters, ultimately losing 2-1. The loss was D.C.'s first in almost two months since losing to the New York Red Bulls U23 squad, and also saw the Nor'easters pass them in the standings to fifth. At four points out of first with one game to play, the defeat effectively ended any playoff homes for D.C. in the process.
On his work with Bonner, Ebobisse said, "We did spend a couple practices working on our movement in the final third but I'd say we play pretty naturally together. He's a quality player who gets himself in the right areas and makes it easy to find him and then he is very clinical as well in front of goal. Its very easy to play with him, for all of us. He brings energy to the field and raises everyone's level."
Ebobisse was a tad more melancholic about the end of the season, saying, "I don't think it has really settled in that the seasons almost over. Nonetheless it has been a rewarding experience for all of us. Not only were we able to incorporate all of the top talent from the area, but we were able to gel together in such a short period of time which allowed us to play a quality brand of football. PDL is a different game of football than the college game and I know that some of my teammates are not quite ready to go back to school."
D.C. returns home to play their season finale Sunday at Evergreen Sportsplex at 3:00pm against F.A. Euro.