By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON — Prior to the start of the season, D.C. United planned on having Dwayne De Rosario and Hamdi Salihi paired up top as a dynamic duo. While that hasn't been the way the season has played out, the two showed they are capable of creating some fireworks together nonetheless.
De Rosario and Salihi each scored, and D.C. was able to overcome a standout performance in goal by Colorado Rapids keeper Matt Pickens to deliver a 2-0 victory in front of 11,593 at RFK Stadium Wednesday night.
With Maicon Santos and Chris Pontius, who have become United's go-to strike tandem, both nursing injuries, De Rosario moved forward from his usual place in the midfield and Salihi, a Designated Player making his first start in six games, assisted in shouldering the load up top.
"I think Dwayne’s had a lot of games where we’ve pushed him," D.C. coach Ben Olsen said. "It was good to move him up, maybe give him a little less of a workout today. It looked good. It’s definitely a good option to have.”
De Rosario opened the scoring in the 25th minute, running onto a curling, low pass from Lewis Neal that split the Colorado defense. The reigning league MVP waltzed into the area and beat Pickens for his third goal of the season.
Pickens, who made eight saves on the night, then kept the Rapids in the game with a series of high-quality saves. He robbed De Rosario of his second goal off a blast from outside the area, touching it over the bar in the 27th minute. On the ensuing corner kick, Pickens made a reaction save to stuff Robbie Russell's free header from the center of the box and then punched away a Branko Boskovic blast on the following sequence.
Pickens robbed Salihi of a header off a corner kick in the 47th minute with another reaction save. In the 60th minute Pickens made yet another major stop to parry Boskovic's free header from point-blank range off a cross from Neal, but the keeper yielded a rebound right to Salihi, who finished into an empty net for his third goal in four games.
"Hamdi stuck with the play and was able to capitalize on the rebound," De Rosario said. "Great goal by him. The more we can get guys scoring and confident in terms of service, scoring goals, the better of we'll be long term."
While Salihi, one of D.C.'s Designated Players is starting to find his groove, perhaps the same could be said for Boskovic, a DP whose minutes have come at a premium and whose contract is up this summer. For him, the match marked his third start of the season in the midfield and his top performance in eight appearances.
"You see him on the field today, he brought nice composure, played the ball wide, kept us in possession," said De Rosario, whose shifted forward allowed for Boskovic to get the start in central midfield. "He's very good on the ball,and that's what we need in that position."
Boskovic was not the only player on the field being reintegrated into the starting lineup. Colorado striker Conor Casey made his first start since rupturing his Achilles 10 months ago. While still in "preseason mode" according to Rapids coach Oscar Pareja, Casey had one of Colorado's best chances in the 22nd minute, firing just high from 25 yards out. Casey gave way in the 65th minute for Brazilian striker Edu, who made his MLS debut.
"It felt good to be out there, get a good run in. Physically it's all positive. The minutes were good," Casey said. "I thought we played OK in the first half. Had a couple of half chances that we didn't put away, they got a counter goal, we made a mistake, and sometimes that's how the games go. We didn't really find our footing in the second half, and it just kind of got away from us a little bit."
The plan for Pareja was to play Casey for a half or a little bit more to build on the 45 minutes he played as a halftime substitute 10 days ago in Dallas.
"You always have his presence up top, and that's important for the group," Pareja said. "In the end you want to keep him on the field, but we're thinking that we have a quick turnaround. We have to be progressive with Conor. It's a process for him, and he's going to need a couple games to get match fit."
The match was the first of a three-game, 10-day homestand for D.C. (6-4-3), which welcomes winless Toronto FC to the nation's capital on Saturday before facing the New England Revolution next weekend. Colorado (5-6-0) returns home to host Sporting Kansas City at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday.
NOTES: Perry Kitchen, who D.C. feared would have to miss time with a knee injury suffered over the weekend, started and played all 90 minutes…Bill Hamid made two saves to earn his second clean sheet of the season…Colorado midfielder Harrison Henao made the bench for the first time since being officially added to the Rapids' roster but did not play…Brian Mullan exited the match at halftime with an apparent ankle injury and was limping in the Rapids locker room after the match, though he said he was OK. Kamani Hill replaced him at the break.