By PABLO MAURER
WASHINGTON- It took an outstanding goalkeeping performance, a goal from an unexpected contributor and one massive stroke of luck, but D.C. United finally snapped their seven-match losing streak Sunday evening, grinding out a 1-1 draw against Sporting KC at RFK Stadium.
The result gives the black and red their first point in more than two months.
In a season where the ball has more often than not bounced in favor of their opponents, D.C. United found themselves on the other end of a lucky break Sunday evening, benefitting from an atrocious offside call.
In the 30th minute, with Sporting firmly in control of the match, Matt Besler and Jacob Peterson combined with Sporting KC defender Ike Opara, who cooly tapped it in from inside United’s six yard box. The goal was disallowed, with Assistant Referee Matthew Nelson indicating that Opara had been in an offside position – though replays clearly showed that he was most certainly onside, by a good two to three yards.
“It’s a big mistake. I mean, it’s a major mistake,” a bemused Peter Vermes said after the match. The Sporting KC head coach continued: ”There’s actually three guys that keep him onside, right? He’s not offside. I don’t know what [the ref] is thinking there. I just don’t know. It’s a big mistake, but what are you going to do?”
Even Nelson himself was quick to acknowledge his error, telling media members that he “misjudged the play.”
The fortunate break was part of a first half that saw Sporting enjoy the lion’s share of possession, though both teams managed to carve out their share of scoring opportunities. United midfielder Nick DeLeon challenged SKC keeper Jimmy Nielsen from 30 yards out in the 10th minute; Sporting nearly pulled ahead in the 39th, as Graham Zusi pounced on a poor pass from United defender Dejan Jakovic, forcing a kick save from his USMNT teammate Bill Hamid. United captain Dwayne De Rosario headed a Chris Korb cross just wide seconds from the halftime whistle.
Hamid, back in goal after a brief spell on the bench, seemed bolstered by the time off – and a somewhat unexpected national team call-up. If that was indeed true, Hamid was keeping his cards close to his chest after the match. “Our place in the standings right now – that’s where my confidence is at. As a team, we need to move up the ladder.”
Sporting KC would finally pull ahead on a 60th minute corner kick, benefitting from a favorable bounce of their own. Zusi’s corner found Opara in the middle of the box – his header deflected off of United defender Ethan White and found the back of the net for an own goal. It was an unfortunate turn of events for White, who’s looked solid at center back since replacing Brandon McDonald last weekend.
United would strike back minutes later, as Canadian international Kyle Porter would find an equalizer for United in the 65th minute, volleying in a Chris Pontius cross that found him at the outside edge of the six yard box. The finish was Porter’s first MLS goal, an apt response to United head coach Ben Olsen’s pre-game request that he “step his game up.”
“We asked Kyle to step it up this week and start producing,” Olsen told SBI after the match. “Whether it’s assists or goals – don’t be OK with just being a starter now and getting minutes. Push yourself. Get your name out there now.”
Both teams traded blows all the way up to the matches final whistle, with Hamid and Sporting keeper Jimmy Nielsen both coming up huge for their respective sides. A 77th minute scrum in the box nearly saw Lawrence Olum claim the winner for Sporting; Porter did his best to net his second of the evening and put the game away for United just a minute later, forcing a kick save from Nielsen in the 78th.
The result doesn’t even come close to moving United out of the Eastern Conference basement, but a decent performance against a very strong KC side should certainly help their spirits heading in a difficult encounter with Portland next Saturday. Perhaps Olsen himself summed it up best after the match:
“Hey. It beats losing.”
Here are the match highlights: