Dave Johnson: United Surprises AC Milan

Dave Johnson: United Surprises AC Milan
May 27, 2010, 2:14 am
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010 10:13 pm

By Dave Johnson
CSNWashington.com Washington -- DC Uniteds season of frustration was interrupted in the most unpredictable but in the end most pleasing of ways. Despite being reduced to ten-men for the final 25 minutes of the match United stunned Italian powerhouse AC Milan 3-2 before 30,367 fans at RFK Stadium.United had exhausted all their substitutes when Brandon Barklage suffered a leg injury as he tried to defend AC Milans Brazilian midfielder Mancini. Still United, while conceding two goals after Barklages injury, did not exhaust their effort as they defended a Milan side suddenly determined to get at least a tie.Aside from the Barklage injury, the script was close to perfect for United. While AC Milan, with its arsenal of stars even with national team absences, hoped to simply entertain, United was concerned not only with the show but the substance.With a 1-8 record in MLS play United needed the Milan encounter not only to bring joy but build confidence and serve as a potential spring board for the future. The mission was accomplished as United, with only 4 goals in 9 MLS games, scored three against Milan.It was also a night of redemption for three United players. Chris Pontius, Santino Quaranta, and Luciano Emilio had been slowed by injury, illness, and fitness, but returned to the starting lineup and were active and involved in giving United a 2-0 half-time lead.After AC Milan successfully defended a corner kick, midfielder Stephen King--making his first start in a United uniform--won the cleared ball and then served a ball from the right flank to the left side of the penalty area.Pontius, on the edge of the six yard box, headed the ball back across the goal where Emilio ran on to the bouncing ball and stabbed it with his right boot to give United a goal 20 minutes into the match.Emilios goal was the punctuation mark on a positive ten minutes of play for United. Understandably United was tentative early and almost conceded a goal barely a minute into the game.Pato was able to slip behind the United defense after a superb combination between Ronaldinho and Clarence Seedorf. After Seedorf returned a pass to Ronaldinho, the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year slotted a through ball to Pato but his shot from eight yards out was saved by Bill Hamid.In the 30th minute Pontius headed home a Quaranta corner kick, and United no longer looked like a team that has not scored a goal in its last 346 minutes of MLS play. In fact as the first half drew to a close the game became more chippy as Milans frustration grew.In the closing seconds of the opening 45 minutes Ronaldinho almost put AC Milan on the board but his deft touch from about six yards out on the left side of the box was cleared off the line by a sliding United defender Rodney Wallace before the ball slipped inside the far post.Stunned with a two goal deficit, Milan looked for the proper response in the second half and almost received it with a vintage Rondaldinho moment in the 53rd minute. After a cross from Pato, Ronaldinho delivered a shot with bicycle kick that just ricocheted off the far post to save United second half goalkeeper Troy Perkins from becoming a role player in a You Tube video.Danny Allsopp would make it 3-0 United in the 63rd minute when he pounced on a weak back pass from Milan defender Massimo Oddo who was dealing with pressure from United midfielder Christian Castillo.The game did turn on Barklages injury. The loss of a man for United only added to Milans resolve and the visitors were rewarded with a penalty kick five minutes after United was down a man.Kurt Moorsink was ruled to have handled the ball in the area as he was sliding to deny a Mancini cross. Milans Massimo Oddo converted the penalty kick and then grabbed his second goal on a 25-yard drive in the 72nd minute.The rest of the game was mostly one-way traffic in Milans direction, but United was able to fight through and now have some hope going forward. At the very least United would seem to have more options. King performed well in his role in central midfield next to Clyde Simms and Pontius looked comfortable on the left wing. Up front the pairing of Quaranta and Emilio did produce enough to give head coach Curt Onalfo decisions to make.Video: Russ Thaler reports on United's win over AC Milan.