United Stumbles In Listless Opener
K Rapids 2, United 1
COMMERCE CITY, Colo., April 7 — D.C. United arrived in this wintry setting as MLS’s preseason favorite, its roster enhanced by a pair of skilled Brazilians and its preparations well ahead of most of the league following four difficult international matches.
But in a performance that was as frigid as the conditions, United was badly outplayed in its MLS opener by the middling Colorado Rapids and dropped a 2-1 decision Saturday before an announced sellout of 18,086 at newly christened Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The club yielded both goals in the first 35 minutes, never established an attacking rhythm and, except for Brazilian Luciano Emilio’s late header and a few desperate bids for an equalizer, the debut was dull and disappointing.
“We were flat,” said goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who was not at fault on either goal. “The first 60 minutes, we were struggling. Our possession was bad and our touches were off. It wasn’t us.”
United did not expect this, not after a Champions’ Cup campaign that included nine goals in four matches, not after nearly two weeks of altitude training, not after revamping its roster with vibrant attacking players. The Rapids, enjoying a cozy home field after 11 seasons in cavernous NFL stadiums, simply took advantage of the wide surface to stretch United and create an abundance of
Herculez Gomez scored in the 19th minute and Roberto Brown added another 16 minutes later, extending the Rapids’ unbeaten streak at home against United to eight games (6-0-2). Both goals came from new players, both came from short distance and both were set up nicely by right wing Terry Cooke.
“We just weren’t good enough on the ball,” said Tom Soehn, United’s rookie coach. “We pride ourselves on possession and today we did a really poor job.”
It wasn’t just the possession. United played the ball too slowly and failed to time its runs, prompting several players to gesture in frustration throughout the gray, 29-degree afternoon. The vaunted combination of Emilio, veteran Jaime Moreno and 2006 league MVP Christian Gomez failed to materialize, and even the addition of Brazilian midfielder Fred early in the second half could not change D.C.’s fortunes.
United’s flank play, so vital on a big field, was also a problem. With the newly acquired Fred not ready to start and Josh Gros sidelined with a concussion, Soehn turned to a pair of second-year players, Stephen deRoux and Justin Moose. Neither was very influential, leaving United essentially with no effective wide play until reserve Kasali Yinka Casal set up Emilio’s goal.
Soehn declined to use the field size — between five and 10 yards wider than most MLS playing surfaces — as an excuse, saying, “When you’re not good with the ball, you can have a small field and you’re [still] not going to do well.”
The lack of possession and influence on the flanks allowed the Rapids to dictate pace and create more serious scoring opportunities than high-powered United.
Marking was an issue on both Colorado goals. On the first strike, Gomez shook away from deRoux on Cooke’s corner kick and snapped a seven-yard header into the lower left corner. Later, Kyle Beckerman infiltrated the left side and crossed through the box to Cooke, who left the ball for Brown. The unmarked Panamanian forward had time to settle it and slot an eight-yard shot into the left side.
“We were a bit slow in reacting to a lot of the plays, especially in the first half, and that gave them momentum to move the ball a little quicker than we were ready for and left us susceptible in the back,” defender Bryan Namoff said. “We weren’t marking tight enough on our man and they countered on it.”
United took the initiative after the break, with Christian Gomez testing goal- ie Bouna Coundoul twice, but the attack mysteriously disappeared again and barely threatened the Rapids until Emilio nodded in Casal’s head-high cross in the 79th minute for his fifth goal in five overall appearances.
Midfielder Ben Olsen, who had launched Casal’s left-side run with an excellent through ball, had a chance to tie it in the closing seconds, but his one-timer from 20 yards was smothered by Coun- doul. Olsen swung his arms and looked skyward, his club’s final opportunity to steal a tie extinguished.
When the final whistle sounded, the players escaped the plunging temperature and blowing snow only to find one more indignity: no hot water in the locker room.
“It’s the first game, let’s not freak out,” Olsen said. “Although we would have liked to have started on the right foot, we’ll move on.”
The Rapids’ Herculez Gomez barrels past United’s sprawling Jaime Moreno. Colorado is 6-0-2 in its last eight home games against D.C.