The atmosphere was charged in historic RFK Stadium as two teams on opposite sides of the standings faced off in front of a national TV audience. DC United was winless in their first three matches and had scored one goal; the Black and Red were looking for an elusive home win to set their season straight. FC Dallas saw an up-and-down start to their season but with Brek Shea returning from international duty, the team looked to steal at least a point from the night and keep up with the leaders in the West.
The stadium and fans were electric from the outset. The small but incredibly loud DC fans were on their feet from the first kick, engaged and showing off for the NBC Sports cameras. On the pitch, the players brought their own emotions from the start, as four DC United players (including captain Dwayne De Rosario) came out for the introductions wearing hooded sweatshirts. Throughout the game, there were a number of aggressive fouls and at least two altercations that saw both teams needing to be separated. With the attention of the American soccer world focused on DC for the night, the teams channeled that big game atmosphere to make an entertaining and intense match.
It was the home team, however, that better bottled the energy and in the span of thirteen minutes in the second half crushed Dallas with three rapid goals. That sequence was unimaginable in the first half as both teams played a fairly even match. Dallas had the majority of possession early and, as has every other DC opponent this year, muddled the midfield enough to prevent the Black and Red from connecting the back line to the forwards. Starting as an attacking midfielder, DeRo was forced by the Dallas defense to fall back to collect the ball from a discombobulated Perry Kitchen early on. Despite controlling the pace, DC keeper Joe Willis kept the home team in the game with some impressive saves. It was former Dallas player Maicon Santos who broke the scoreless tie in the 28th minute; receiving a pass from DeRo and given space from the Dallas defense, the forward unleashed a bullet 25 yards out that beat Kevin Hartman.
Dallas would equalize toward the end of the first half on a controversial goal that forced pundits to dive into FIFA and MLS rules to determine its legitimacy. Daniel Hernandez chested down a Joe Willis clearance in the DC half and tried to thread a pass to Blas Perez, who was in an offside position. DC defender Emiliano Dudar hit the ball with his foot but instead of clearing the pass, it fell to Perez who was able to take Willis one-on-one and score. The referee in essence decided that Dudar had established possession with his contact and did not rule the play offside.
The controversy was rendered moot early in the second half as DC came out aggressively looking to reclaim the lead. Louisville rookie Nick DeLeon had looked good for DC, making plays on the right and winning the ball but failing to make good passes to create goal scoring opportunities. “We came out after halftime knowing we had no choice, we had to get a win,” DeLeon said after the game, and he started the onslaught of goals. Chesting down a Maicon Santos pass in the sixtieth minute, DeLeon coolly beat the defense and put the ball into the roof of the Dallas net. The next goal was DeLeon’s chance to earn an assist, again creating space before finding teammate Danny Cruz on the far post. The final goal was again the Cruz-DeLeon-Maicon Santos combination as Cruz began a counter off of a set piece, found DeLeon who put in a cross in front of net that Santos headed home. As Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman said after the game, “I think our defense gave some silly balls away, and I think they capitalized on it.”
The loss for Dallas was undoubtedly a tough one. This was their second consecutive road loss to an Eastern Conference team and what is considered the strength of their team (the defense) let them down today. George John was absent, but the backline should still be good enough to prevent four goals from going in. In addition, the wings (Shea and Rodriguez in the midfield, Loyd and Benitez as fullbacks) were owned by DC and that is not acceptable if Dallas wants to be a playoff team. Blas Perez was active and when he got the ball made a few nice plays, but essentially as the game unraveled for the visitors he became an afterthought. All of the attention throughout was on Brek Shea, who was returning from the U-23 team and played all 90 minutes tonight. Despite physically doing well, he was emotionally drained after the game: “It’s hard coming back, trying to flip the switch… it hasn’t been easy,” he said afterwards in the tunnel.
The win covers up some of DC warts, deficiencies that could be exposed even more with Seattle coming to town next week. The back line was shaky throughout (as seen by the Perez goal) and Perry Kitchen looked unsettled in the first half (potentially due to his returning to the midfield). But this was the offensive display MLS fans had expected to see from DC, the movement and the quick strike ability. Except it was the rookie, veteran who had been castoff in the offseason, and traded backup who were the major offensive sparks in this game. De Rosario played very well and almost scored himself, but again the designated players were not the catalysts for this team. These critiques do divert attention away from what was a dominant and entertaining win for DC.