United Stum­bles In List­less Opener

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Steven Goff

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.

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