A sparse crowd at chilly RFK Stadium (2,804 announced) wednesday evening witnessed the pieces finally fall into place for a struggling DC United. On a night when the cold weather, local playoff hockey and having an Open Cup match midweek brought only the most hardcore of fans out, those who did make the journey were pleasantly rewarded.
DC United finally started to resemble the fluid passing team that we’re used to seeing. The night was far from perfect for the Black and Red, but when you line it up next to the previous four performances, United came up spades.
It was the Andy Najar, Adam Cristman, Troy Perkins show last night in the district. While United had several notable performances, these three seemed to stand out from the rest.
For Najar, United’s 17 year old prospect who was only recently playing high school soccer, it was something of a coming out party.
The youth from Honduras played the furthest up the pitch of his young career. After seeing Najar start both on the wing and in the center of midfield, we saw him play for the first time as sort of a withdrawn striker.
Najar seemed to effect the match in a positive way almost immediately. His ball control and ability to beat defenders were impeccable. He was also not afraid to shoot, something that has been plaguing United a bit.
Curt Onalfo said he felt Najar was more effective the further he was placed on the pitch.
“The biggest thing I took away from that last game was can we get him farther up the field? And if we can, he’s gonna cause issues. He was dangerous all night. That’s a 17 year old kid that put on a pretty darn good show and that’s very, very impressive.”
Najar and Cristman got things started early on what I guess you could call a “combination chip”. Najar used the outside of his foot to chip the ball over a defender to Adam Cristman, who promptly chipped the ball over the keeper.
This was the club’s first lead in a competitive match this year. United wanted to get off to a good start, that was a point of focus from Onalfo to his club :
“We had a really good start to the game. We talked about that. We wanted to come out and kind of take the game to them, set the tone, get that first goal and we did that.”
Santino Quaranta also felt a good early start was critical :
“I think we came out of the gates well. We finished our chances. I think once you get that first goal it kind of the gets the wind out of the guys. It helped us a lot. I thought that we took our chances well and we were dynamic.”
United controlled the early goings and dominated possession for the first third of the half.
FC Dallas was limited to an occasional counterattack during this time. In the 9th minute, Brek Shea did get a one on one chance with the keeper after an aerial through ball. However, Perkins made his first of many excellent saves on the evening. Perkins in fact, probably had his best match since returning to the nation’s capital.
Towards the middle of the opening half, play began to become bogged down a bit. A lot of sloppy passes were made by both teams as less space was awarded. FC Dallas enjoyed the better possession for a chunk of this middle portion.
Shea was clearly the best player for FCD this occasion. He was key in Dallas getting there offense started on breaks. Also, he was roaming freely around the pitch, making darting runs from the middle and both flanks.
In the 32nd minute, Onalfo was sent off for arguing a foul that was 50 yards from goal. It was not initially clear what the coach did to be sent off :
“I’ve never been ejected before. I feel like I’m very fair and I just objected to the call. And I feel like that’s something I should be able to do in my home stadium. The referees thought otherwise and it is what it is.”
As the half moved along though, DCU began to again dictate the flow of the match. They went up 2 – 0 on something of a strange goal.
Cristian Castillo took a free kick from distance and his curling ball nearly found Cristman’s head. FCD keeper, Kevin Hartman, started shifting his body for the redirect that never came. Instead the ball bounced inside the post past an already committed keeper.
United nearly went up by three just minutes later, as Andy Najar displayed some fancy footwork to get past a defender into the box. However, he was stifled immediately after by defending help. The ball rolled right to Cristman who one-timed it over the bar.
Shea managed one more Dallas chance, but the half ended 2 – 0 United.
The second half started much the same way as the first half, with United scoring and Najar being involved.
United took a 3 – 0 lead on a beautiful combination of passes. After receiving the ball deep in the center, Brandon Barklage one touched a beautiful through ball releasing Cristman on the right. The lead striker then layed a perfect low cross right to Najar, who slotted into a gaping net.
The two nearly teamed up again moments later for another tally. Again, Cristman found himself free on the right flank. This time he chose to loft his cross in. Najar in the same general area as before, headed the ball, but Hartman made a save from close range. Najar then picked up the loose ball and aimed for the upper 90, just
Moments later FC Dallas were on the board thanks to Bruno Guarda. The rally continued as a foul in the box led to a penalty, which Dax McCarty calmy converted.
With Dallas putting the pressure on and only down a goal, Clyde Simms was inserted for Kurt Morsink after FCD’s first goal. Having their best defensive midfielder and some needed grit in the center helped shift the momentum back to United.
For Simms, who had been playing on the backline at times, it was nice to be playing in his true position. Asked about whether we’d see him again at right back, Simms joked :
“We’ll see, we’ll see. I hope all our defenders stay healthy. I like the midfield much better.”
Simms helped set up Cristman, who earned a brace on yet another chip shot over Hartman.
With the two goal lead reestablished, Santino Quaranta was brought on for Barklage and eventually Jaime Moreno came on for Cristian Castillo.
United played a possesion game, knocking the ball around the field, keeping the ball away from Dallas for long stretches of the final moments. The additions of Quaranta and Moreno offered veteran leadership and a stabilizing influence on the pitch.
The lineups of both teams were a mixture of starters and youthful reserves, however in Najar’s performance, United got a glimpse of what could become a special talent.
As for the young star, it hasn’t even settled in for him yet. Asked if he was amazed to be scoring goals in high school one minute, then for a professional club the next :
“Yes, I’m a little suprised.”
In the end, United held on for a much needed 4 – 2 victory. Last year’s run also started against FC Dallas. This Open Cup tournament has been kind to the club the last two years, with the exception of last year’s final.
It seemed like United wanted it more, because they needed something to give them confidence. They finally got the monkey off their back. Onalfo acknowledged the fact that winning helps breed confidence :
“Every game you play, you play to win and it makes it even more important when we’ve started the way we’ve started. So for us, getting points and a victory is important for self confidence. They come hand in hand.”
Now the question is, can this momentum and morale lift carry on to Saturday against rival Red Bull New York?