By PABLO MAURER
BOYDS, MD – Don’t look now, but D.C. United are slowly gathering a head of steam.
The club that had put itself on a steady course towards the wrong side of the MLS record books, but D.C. United have begun to turn things around, stringing together a few positive league results and doing exceedingly well in the U.S. Open Cup.
That recent form held true in Wednesday night’s Open Cup quarterfinal encounter with New England, as D.C. rode goals from Chris Pontius, Dwayne De Rosario and Lionard Pajoy to a 3-1 victory over the Revolution at Maryland Soccerplex.
The victory sets up a U.S. Open Cup semifinal meeting on August 7th at Toyota Park between D.C. United and the Chicago Fire, which defeated Orlando City, 5-1, in their quarterfinal match-up.
Playing a full-strength starting XI, United made short work of the Revs, who played a mix of reserves and starters.
“I’m excited about the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen the team moving in the right direction,” said United head coach Ben Olsen after the match. “These guys deserve a little bit of joy right now. It’s been a tough time.”
D.C. came out of the gate on the front foot, pushing for an early goal and dominating the game’s opening stanza. They’d come close to pulling ahead three times in the first 40 minutes – Chris Pontius would miss narrowly from distance in the 14th minute, while Dwayne De Rosario found Nick Deleon at the top of the box some 15 minutes later, but New England keeper Matt Reis pushed his attempt just wide.
Pontius found another chance in the 38th minute, muscling off New England defender Jose Goncalves at the top of the box and finding himself in alone on goal, but he’d strike that opportunity well wide. Just minutes later, however, Pontius found his sec0nd goal in two matches. Deleon played a dangerous cross into the box, which caromed off of New England midfielder Scott Caldwell. The resulting deflection ended up in the path of an onrushing Pontius, who struck the ball low and right past a diving Reis, giving United a 1-0 lead at the half.
After an opening half that saw United dominant on both sides of the ball, New England dictated play in the opening 20 minutes of the game’s second act. The Revolution equalized just seven minutes into the half. Juan Toja struck a rising, venomous free kick from 25 yards out which deflected off the crossbar and took an unlucky bounce off of United keeper Joe Willis and ended up in the back of the net.
United climbed ahead once again in the 69th minute, on a rare set piece goal. Pontius played a bending corner kick to an unmarked De Rosario at the far post, and the veteran made no mistake, putting United up for good.
“The first couple plays I was telling Conor [Shanosky] to drive in to the first post,” De Rosario revealed to the media post-game. “A couple times he did it and Chris [Pontius] kind of hit it more to the middle, so I said ‘Listen, look for me back post. Wait for them to make a run and then look for me back post.’ He played a good ball and I was able to finish it.”
New England had several chances to equalize – Juan Agudelo nearly leveled the match in the 85th minute, striking the post from ten yards out – but would watch the game slip completely away just minutes from the final whistle, as Lionard Pajoy would draw and convert a late penalty to ice the game for United.
There were several positives to take from the match for United. The relatively untested center back pairing of Daniel Woolard and Conor Shanosky did well to neutralize Agudelo and Dimitry Imbongo, who did his best to outmuscle the much smaller Woolard throughout both halves.
The forward pairing of Pontius and De Rosario was a success as well, with both veterans feeding off of each other and creating dangerous opportunities throughout the evening.
Perhaps most important of all was the return of a bit of swagger and confidence to United’s style of play, something that’s been missing all year.
“It was a tough two months,” Olsen reflected after the match. “The spirit was still there, though. There was still a sense of belief that we could kind of at least flatten out and start to go the other way. The spirit hasn’t changed that much. I would say the belief right now is there more than it was, and in this League, belief is a very important thing. If you lose it, you can go the wrong way.”
“You look at last year – we went the other way with just pure belief and hopefully we can get that back.”