Luck, grit lead United to draw with Sporting KC

Luck, grit lead United to draw with Sporting KC
May 19, 2013, 11:00 pm
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D.C. United-Sporting KC highlights

Sometimes it just takes a little bounce or a call to go your way --ok, a bad call to go your way-- to turn things around. An offsides call on a goal scored in the 29th minute tonight prevented D.C. United from falling into a first period deficit for the sixth time this season. Though luck would turn against DCU in the second half, the handout kept things close enough for the Black and Red to battle back to a draw and pick up their first point since a 0-0 draw in New York on March 16. 

The tie put an end to a horrific seven-game losing streak, the longest in club history, during which United was shut out four times. But still firmly rooted in last place in the league, D.C.'s head coach was careful after the match to keep things in perspective. 

"I don't want to be too positive about a tie but that's who we are right now," said Ben Olsen. "The soccer side, there were some times where it was OK. On the counter we have to be cleaner and simpler and be more threatening. But I thought overall it was a gutsy performance.

"There's a lot to work on. I'm not sugar-coating this tie, but it beats losing."

Though United kept pace with KC through the first half, Graham Zusi and crew turned up the heat in the second, doubling up in attempts on DCU at 14 to seven, dominating possession and forcing a few uncomfortably close saves from United keeper Bill Hamid. In addition, KC was able to test DCU on 12 corner kicks (three times as many as United won), and finally cashed in on one of those corners in the 60th minute when the send in took an unlucky bounce off defender Ethan White for United's second own goal of the season. 

Hamid quickly gathered the ball and began shouting out commands to rally his troops, sparking an offensive surge from his teammates, who were not about to go down without a fight. 

"He's an animated guy, but you want that in your goalkeeper," said Chris Pontius, who returned after missing three straight games. "You want someone who is going to hold you responsible and that needs to go on a bit more around this team."

Nick DeLeon, in for his first full 90-minute performance in seven games, battled in the corner with Sporting defender Ike Opara to maintain possession and allow his teammates to set up in the box. DeLeon played the ball back to Pontius who delivered a perfect service to Kyle Porter on the weak side for a sliding tally. 

KC continued to press and nearly took the lead in the 77th minute on yet another corner that forced Hamid to make a pair of point-blank saves. Hamid would make five saves on the night in his first start after giving up four goals to Houston at home on May 8.

"He made a couple big saves for us down the stretch when we were under the gun," said Olsen. "These are games we've lost this year where a little luck here or there and a little bounce didn't go our way and today it went our way, added with a gutsy performance from every guy. Everybody was committed and connected and doing what they could for the group." 

What DCU has lacked in luck this season was certainly made up for on a blown offsides call in the first half that cost Kansas City an early lead and ultimately the win. A little tic-tac-toe passing in United's box found Opara wide open at the edge of the net for an early tap-in that was immediately disallowed when assistant referee Matthew Nelson called Opara offside despite the presence of several United players keeping him on. 

"It’s a big mistake. It’s a major mistake," said Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes. "There’s at least three guys that keep him onside, right? I don’t know what [the assistant referee] is thinking then. I just don’t know. So, it’s a big mistake, but what are you going to do?"

"That changes the game big time," said Opara. "We would’ve [gone] into the half with the lead and we go from there. Then [we] go about the second half in a different way.”

Nelson would own up to the miscall after the match.

“I misjudged the play at the time the ball was kicked, leading me to believe the player was in an offside position.”

"When I saw that flag go up I took a huge sigh and kept playing," said White. 

Just as Olsen refused to sugar-coat the draw in his press conference, his players also recognized the flaws in their game tonight. 

“It was another set piece goal, so no," said Pontius. "It was better. It’s a step in the right direction again, but these steps in the right direction need to start coming out with a complete performance from us. One too many mistakes.” 

"Let's not get away from it: they dominated us at home," said Dwayne De Rosario, who had two shots on the night. "I'm happy that we came out with a tie. It's something that we can build off of but mostly I'm happy with the fight the guys showed. I still think we're not playing with confidence through the midfield. Lobbing balls up to the forwards is not going to work against a team like that so I'm frustrated in that respect. 

"Playing well is one thing and showing fight and heart is another. We showed fight and heart. Whether we played well, I don't think we've played that well in terms of possession and moving the ball around but playing with a lot of fight and heart kept us in the game."

While United is still 13 points out of playoff contention and continues to search for their second win of the season, the draw was a baby step in the right direction for a club that just two weeks ago, appeared to be unraveling. 

"It's not easy to lose this many games and not have doubt," said Olsen. "This gives them a chance to exhale and maybe smile for a day or two and understand that here's an opportunity to really change things next week against Portland."

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