Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySoccer World DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America ClassifiedsGame Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
D.C. United gets back to basics
by Ridge Mahoney, May 22nd, 2007 7AM

TAGS:  mls


Former D.C. United coach Peter Nowak doesn't dwell on style points. During his rookie season as a head coach, his mantra for success was, "soccer is about running and fighting." That approach earned United its fourth MLS Cup in 2004. Jaime Moreno, Christian Gomez and then-rookie Freddy Adu brought grace and skill, but another rookie, Josh Gros, thrilled the RFK crowds with his energy and courage, Alecko Eskandarian crashed through opposing defenses to score 10 goals, demonic midfielder Dema Kovalenko was second on the team with 10 assists, and Kiwi defender Ryan Nelsen epitomized the ruggedness and determination Nowak praised. (Nelsen could also hit a nice ball out of the back, which is another element a lot of MLS teams have lacked.)

Despite posting a 31-17-16 regular-season record in 2005 and 2006 while playing the most skillful soccer in MLS, United hasn't returned to MLS Cup. Nelsen is starting in the English Premier League for Blackburn, Eskandarian plays for Toronto, Kovalenko is in New York, and Gros has been converted to left back in the 4-4-2 formation D.C. favors instead of the 3-5-2 it operated under Nowak.

About the only player to draw consistent praise this season is Ben Olsen, whose persistence and spirit - not to mention fewer tirades at referees -- has kept him in the lineup while Coach Tom Soehn shuttles players in and out looking for solutions.

United 2007 again features a glittering array of attackers - Gomez, Moreno, Fred, Luciano Emilio - yet last Saturday it beat Toronto, 2-1, with the bedrock basics it had drifted away from: hard tackles, tenacious defending, fierce marking.

Like Nowak, TFC coach Mo Johnston wants more battlers than ballerinas. He values skillful play but his first demand is commitment. Roared on by another sellout crowd, Toronto charged into challenges and scrapped for every ball before the fatigue of playing a third match in eight days took its toll. Gradually United fought its way back into the game even though it trailed at halftime.

In the first half, Facundo Erpen raced full-speed with Eskandarian for a long ball played over the top and shielded him from it until keeper Troy Perkins could collect. The crowd howled for a penalty but this was simply a case of a defender using his strength and pace and smarts. Eskandarian scored during a goalmouth scramble a minute before halftime yet United came out of the locker room determined, not discouraged, and eventually took advantage of a tiring opponent.
Just like the not-so-old days.

United equalized with a swerving Gomez free kick that defender Kevin Goldthwaite headed into his own net. Lucky? Yes, except that Erpen was right there and might have scored himself, or it could have gone in anyway, since Gomez directed it on frame as a group of players stormed the net.

United's skill won the match; after a poor TFC clearance, slack marking allowed D.C. to knock the ball around until Guy Roland Kpene hit a crossfield ball that Emilio controlled at full stretch. When he pulled it back, Marvell Wynne's late lunge uprooted his legs. Moreno's penalty earned the three points.

Soehn can tinker with personnel and formations as needed yet United's midfield pressure, defensive resiliency, and depth will determine its success. On Tuesday it learns its draw in the Copa Sudamericana, the SuperLiga beckons in July, and Saturday it hosts Houston, which has lost two in a row by shutout.


No comments yet.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now



Recent Soccer America Daily
What They're Saying: Bruce Arena    
"For the most part, the competition part of it is somewhat useless. I guess the part ...
Business Report: Michael Bradley signs with Puma    
U.S. national team midfielder Michael Bradley signed a long-term contract with Puma to wear its latest ...
USA-Mexico: Who's got the edge at each position    
Soccer is a team game, a collective test of 11-v-11, and in one of the biggest ...
NBC Deportes will air all 52 Under-17 World Cup games    
NBC Deportes will air all 52 games from the Under-17 World Cup, which kicks off Oct. ...
What They're Saying: Jason Kreis    
"I think that this is a tremendous challenge that we've embarked on and I'm not ready ...
What They're Saying: Stephen Flamhaft    
"They have not in any shape or form condemned Blazer. That's offensive to me. I'm a ...
Fox Sports and Univision ready for Concacaf Cup    
Saturday's USA-Mexico for the Concacaf Cup, on the docket for more than two months, will draw ...
Honduras stands in way of U.S. Olympic berth    
The USA, which failed to qualify for two of the last three men's Olympic soccer tournaments, ...
Video Pick: How the U.S. U-19s lost 8-1 to Germany    
It was a rough outing indeed for the U.S. defense and goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann in the ...
Video Pick: England coach impresses with ball puncture    
During England's preparations for Friday's European Championship qualifier against Estonia, goalkeeper coach Dave Watson impressed Joe ...
>> Soccer America Daily Archives