Tonight’s DC United/Toronto match-up was evenly matched on paper. Both teams were in the middle of the Eastern Conference, rebuilding after disappointing seasons last year, and had new coaches building their team in their own image. Once the whistle blew, however, the discrepancy between the two teams on this night could not have been bigger. Chris Pontius scored in the fifth minute for DC and with Ty Harden’s dismissal early in the second half the Black-and-Red were able to easily cruise to a 3-0 victory over the home-team Reds.
Toronto’s problems began early when Chris Pontius collected a loose ball in the TFC half of the field, had a good run and shot a laser past keeper Stefan Frei into the far post for the first goal. The second goal was scored ten minutes later, when Danleigh Borman had a lazy pass intercepted by Charlie Davies once again in the TFC half of the field. Davies laid the ball out for Josh Wolff, whose shot was saved by Frei but left a big rebound for Davies to slot home. It was Davies’ fifth goal and as of this writing a league high. Those two goals summarized the first half for Toronto – poor passing and an inability to create quality chances. Even with de Guzman healthy on the pitch and part of Winter’s newest starting XI for his 4-3-3, the team simply couldn’t control possession like a total football team nor could they stop DC doing exactly that – controlling possession and creating quality chances.
The second half hinged on a single play. In the 49th minute, Ty Harden made a hard sliding tackle on Chris Pontius as he was collecting a loose ball and advancing unimpeded to the goal. The official immediately pulled out his red card for fouling as the last man back and Toronto was reduced to ten men. Despite being a man down, Toronto had their best run of play for the first twenty minutes of the second half. Unlike the first, they held possession, created chances in the DC half, and had the fluid passing that Winter hoped for from the beginning. DC showed some of its most glaring weaknesses: defending free kicks, holding possession, and preventing chances off long throw-ins. Jacob Peterson had a golden chance in the 62nd minute off a corner that Bill Hamid cleared off the line, then again in the 77th minute when Ethan White cleared a Peterson header that Hamid slightly deflected. A second Pontius goal in the 73rd minute finished the match and gave DC a hard-earned three points.
So despite the Fox Soccer Channel’s broadcast team’s attempt to call for an immediate halt to the 4-3-3, tonight’s match showed the problem of introducing a new system into a club and rebuilding a team from scratch. When you have a total rebuild, some nights your team will fall flat, and that’s what happened tonight. Toronto was playing their second match this week and their current roster is not ready for 180 minutes of total football in four days. But there will be better nights for Reds fans. For DC, they had 10 of their 11 starters on the pitch and it showed. Charlie Davies, earning his first start of the year, looked like he has his speed back and was a threat throughout. Pontius, who was injured pretty much all of last year, showed DC fans what he can bring to the club with his touch and soccer sense. But most tellingly was the fact that DC had three rookie fullbacks in the game in the second half; the future of this team is bright and the younger players at some positions are more trustworthy than the older ones.