Deleon’s MLS de­but good first im­pres­sion

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY THOMAS FLOYD

If noth­ing else, D.C. United rookie Nick Deleon knows how to make a first im­pres­sion.

Mak­ing his pro­fes­sional de­but Sun­day in United’s 3-1 loss at the Los An­ge­les Gal­axy, the mid­fielder en­tered as a 74th-minute sub­sti­tute for Chris Pon­tius on the left flank. Thir­teen min­utes later, he made a di­ag­o­nal run be­hind the Gal­axy de­fense, latch­ing onto Marcelo Saragosa’s through ball be­fore curl­ing a shot off the far post and into the back of the net.

While the late goal was triv­ial in the con­text of a match that al­ready had been de­cided, the tally did end a frus­trat­ing score­less drought for United (0-2-0) to start the sea­son. And it showed a peek of what the club has in Deleon, a first-round pick out of Louisville in Jan­uary’s MLS Su­perDraft.

“He’s ac­cli­mated very well so far,” coach Ben Olsen said. “Ob­vi­ously, the last game was his first taste, and he passed with fly­ing colors. He gave just what we want from our subs: en­ergy. And he ends up get­ting a very good goal out of it.”

It was a wel­come re­sponse from Deleon af­ter the 21-year-old failed to make the 18-man game day ros­ter for United’s sea­son opener against Sport­ing Kansas City a week ear­lier. With Pon­tius and 2010 Rookie of the Year Andy Na­jar es­tab­lished on the wings, and for­mer Hous­ton Dy­namo mid­fielder Danny Cruz also com­pet­ing for min­utes out wide, Deleon was the odd man out for that con­test.

“I was up­set,” Deleon ac­knowl­edged. “But there’s not much you can do ex­cept just go back to work in prac­tice and push your­self even harder to prove to the coach that you de­serve to be out there. All in all, it turned out to be a good move be­cause it mo­ti­vated me.” UNITED AT VAN­COU­VER Satur­day: TV:

With Na­jar now join­ing the Hon­duras un­der-23 na­tional team for the CONCACAF Olympic qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment, which starts Thurs­day in Nashville, Tenn., and con­cludes April 2 in Kansas City, Kan., a door has opened for Deleon to earn more min­utes in the com­ing weeks, start­ing with United’s match Satur­day at the Van­cou­ver White­caps (2-0-0).

While Deleon prefers to play on the left side so he can cut in to­ward goal with his nat­u­ral right foot, he said he would have no qualms about step­ping in for Na­jar on the right if asked to do so, adding, “I’d fill in at any po­si­tion the coach would put me in. I just want play­ing time.”

Although Deleon still is raw in Olsen’s eyes, the sec­ond-year coach sees plenty of po­ten­tial in the Ari­zona na­tive, whose pre­sea­son progress was slowed by a quadri­ceps strain suf­fered at the MLS com­bine.

“He’s got a ways to go, but we’re very ex­cited,” Olsen said. “He’s got very good soc­cer in­stincts. He’s a guy who’s pretty fear­less. There are not too many weak spots in his game other than that he just needs to play and get min­utes and ac­cli­mate to all the things the pro level brings. It’s faster — faster play­ers, faster speed of thought and faster speed of play.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment shared by Deleon, who notes he still tends to take one touch too many, think­ing he has more time to op­er­ate on the ball than he re­ally does.

But con­sid­er­ing that Deleon has all of 16 pro­fes­sional min­utes un­der his belt, he re­al­izes he has plenty of time to ad­just.

“I still have a lot of work to do,” Deleon said. “But I feel like I’m mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

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