Saturday, March 19, 2011

DC United Wins 2011 Opener in Style

There was something hanging over DC United, prior to their season opener. There were many questions that needed to be answered. How would this team react to so many new faces? How would the team react to the start of a new season after what was an embarrassing effort in 2010? Would Andy Najar still have his mojo? Would McCarty's leadership translate to DC? Would Charlie Davies deliver the goals and excitement that the fans hoped he would? DC's opening match answered all of these and more.

The first half of tonight's game was painfully even. Neither DC nor Columbus was especially sharp, despite a coupe of great efforts by Andy Najar (M), Chris Pontius (M) and Joseph Ngwenya (F). Josh Wolff started the route in the 51st minute, beating a defender, positioning the ball with his left foot then putting it in the back of the net with his right. In the 52nd minute, Ngwenya was subbed off and Charlie Davies entered the game. His speed and touch clearly changed how Columbus tried to defend. Davies played further back, and nearer the wing than Ngwenya had, giving the defense trouble the rest of the game. Davies converted a free kick in the box in the 53rd minute and then scored again in the 77th minute. On opening night, DC lived up to the off-season hype.

There were a few surprises on Saturday night. Woolard, Boskovic and Davies did not start. Instead, it was Josh Wolff, not Davies who coupled with Ngwenya up front. Mark Burch started at left back and Pontius started on the wing instead of Boskovic. Burch did not feature at preseason games, and Wolff had not played at all. This lineup was clearly difficult to predict and it will be exciting to see how the line-up will shake out over the next couple of months.

It is difficult to know what this success means so early in the season, but there are a few things worth mentioning at this stage. Perry Kitchen's performance was outstanding; his communication with the players made them more effective. Santino Quaranta came on late in the second half and I will expect that to continue for regular-season MLS games. The expanded roster and number of experienced players on the bench, will allow DC to compete in Open Cup this year. Andy Najar picked up where he left off last year, although he is a little taller and stronger-looking this season. One final note: Pat Onstad played better tonight than anyone expected him to play. He was in the air and on the ground many times; until we get Bill Hamid back and in form, Pat Onstad will be a fine goalkeeper.

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