D.C. United opens final full season at RFK with a 0-0 draw with Sporting KC.
With playmaker Luciano Acosta sidelined for Saturday’s season opener, D.C. United labored to find a rhythm and create a steady flow of scoring opportunities during a 0-0 draw with Sporting Kansas City
Nevertheless, United had two delightful chances to crack open the match before 18,268 at RFK Stadium.
The first came in the 17th minute when Marcelo Sarvas failed to convert a penalty kick.
The second came in a 13-second flurry midway through the second half when two Kansas City players cleared certain goals off the line and goalkeeper Tim Melia made a terrific save.
“Crazy little span of events right there,” defender Nick DeLeon said. “We could’ve nicked a goal, for sure.”
Instead, United needed to absorb pressure from Kansas City the remainder of the bone-chilling night to secure one point.
Without much to say about his attack, Coach Ben Olsen saved his compliments for goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who made a sterling save in the first half and controlled the penalty area from start to finish. He also lauded the back line, which included DeLeon and Sean Franklin embracing new positions.
“It was a pretty gutsy performance from us, and we defended more than we would’ve liked — or thought we would have [had to] against them,” Olsen said. “But from a defensive exercise, it was pretty impressive.”
Hamid’s soaring stop on Benny Feilhaber’s 14th-minute free kick from 25 yards was the only genuine threat. United yielded possession but, aside from a few frightening moments around the box, was not in serious danger.
Acosta, the Argentine maestro, did not practice all week because of an undisclosed leg injury and wasn’t in uniform. Olsen turned to Julian Buescher, a second-year attacking midfielder who had showed flashes of promise as a rookie.
Buescher wasn’t bad, but he’s no Acosta, a clever, darting, quick-footed attacker who sets the tempo and unlocks defenses.
“Lucho would’ve certainly have helped, but he wasn’t out there,” Olsen said. “Julian, for a while, was very good. He started to get a little fatigued [after an injury-plagued preseason]. He’s a nice young player.”
Acosta will be listed as day-today, Olsen said, with the hope that he’s able to rejoin training and travel with the team for next Sunday’s match against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium.
“We’ll have a better feel Tuesday” when the team resumes workouts, Olsen said.
Aside from Buescher’s entrance, Olsen selected a lineup consistent with his preseason decisions. DeLeon, a longtime midfielder, lined up at right back, and Franklin, a longtime right back, was at center back in place of Bobby Boswell.
DeLeon’s attacking strengths surfaced with overlapping runs and collaboration wing Lloyd Sam.
“Nicky was fantastic,” Olsen said. “He was born for that position. He just needs to finetune some things. If we’re a little bit better in the center of the park, he gets involved the attack more. Sean was great. I don’t think he did much wrong all night.”
Patrick Nyarko’s creative work on the left side led to the early penalty kick, awarded when Melia undercut Buescher deep in the box. But Melia redeemed himself by guessing correctly on Sarvas’s attempt, sliding to his right to stop the low bid.
In the 67th minute, United looked certain to take the lead. Sam served a corner kick. At the near post, Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza appeared to flick the ball toward the back corner. Teammate Jimmy Medranda headed it off the line. DeLeon volleyed from close range toward the far left side, but Dom Dwyer nodded the ball out.
From near the top of the penalty area, Sarvas lifted the ball over the defense to Jared Jeffrey behind the defense and onside for a six-yard header that Melia thwarted.
Costa Rican forward Jose Guillermo Ortiz made his United debut, and Lamar Neagle, last year’s leading scorer, entered the match for the last 15 minutes. But without Acosta, United could not sustain meaningful possession.
“It’s a start,” forward Patrick Mullins said. “We have a lot of things we can be pleased about for a first game. We didn’t allow much, and we had chances.” with right