By THOMAS FLOYD
After D.C. United and the Chicago Fire had their fair share of defensive struggles throughout the 2011 MLS campaign, the two teams both had a notable silver lining to take away from their friendly Sunday: no goals allowed.
United and the Fire kicked off their respective preseason match slates with a scoreless draw in Fort Myers, Fla. Both clubs opened the contest with largely first-choice lineups before mixing in a heavy dose of reserves and trialists as the game wore on.
Despite the experimental nature of the friendly, United coach Ben Olsen was still pleased to see a stout defensive effort from a United squad that finished 15th in the league in goals allowed in 2011. (Chicago was 12th.)
"First and foremost, we've been preaching clean sheets and not giving up as many goals as we did last year," Olsen said to DCUnited.com. "To get out of there without them scoring is a big positive. Overall, it was a really good exercise today."
With goalkeeper Bill Hamid just joining camp after spending the past month with the U.S. national team, United gave second-year player Joe Willis the start in goal in front of right back Robbie Russell, centerbacks Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald, and left back Daniel Woolard.
With left-sided midfielders Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon out because of injury, Olsen slid Branko Boskovic from his usual central post to the left flank. Boskovic, D.C.'s captain for the match, played 30 minutes in his first game action since tearing his ACL in April.
The move opened up a starting slot in the middle for trialist Ryan Richter, formerly of the Philadelphia Union, alongside Perry Kichen, while Andy Najar took his usual spot on the right wing. With MLS Most Valuable Player Dwayne De Rosario resting with a minor calf injury, second-year player Blake Brettschneider and new signing Maicon Santos started up top for United.
Chicago coach Frank Klopas, meanwhile, went with unsigned supplemental draft pick Carl Woszczynski in goal after incumbent Sean Johnson, like Hamid, spent most of January in U.S. camp. Jalil Anibaba and Cory Gibbs partnered in central defense, with Dan Gargan at right back and Gonzalo Segares on the left.
In midfield, the Fire deployed Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo, Patrick Nyarko and Sebastian Grazzini behind strikers Orr Barouch and Dominic Oduro. Having arrived late to camp after acquiring visas, Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa and Uruguayan forward Federico Puppo were held out of the match.
Chicago made wholesale changes at the 30- and 60-minute marks, using 33 players in all. United, on the other hand, interspersed their substitutions throughout the match.
Perhaps the best chance of the contest came in the 38th minute, when Chicago's Brazilian trialist Alex carved his way through the United defense before laying off a pass that midfielder Corben Bone pushed just wide of Willis' far post.
"It was a different mixture through the game," Klopas told Chicago-Fire.com. "More than anything, I wanted to see some of the stuff we've been focusing on in training and see guys we're looking at in a match environment."
NOTES: Recently acquired centerback Emiliano Dudar made his United debut, starting the second half and playing 35 minutes. … Marcelo Saragosa played the second half for United while Ivan Guerrero played from the 30th minute to the 60th minute for Chicago. The veterans are both on trial. … United return to action Thursday against Swedish club FC Malmo. Chicago will play Florida Gulf Coast University on Wednesday.