D.C. United wants to be more than opening act

D.C. United wants to be more than opening act
May 11, 2012, 7:23 pm

It doesnt matter that perhaps more than any other MLS franchise D.C. United can appreciate the hard work needed to secure a new stadium. Uniteds goal is to spoil to party and grab three points Saturday in Houston against the Dynamo in the first-ever game at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Its brilliant for the team in orange that it joins now a long list of American professional soccer teams with their own stadium. By all accounts from its location downtown to its layout on the inside, 22,000- seat BBVA Compass Stadium is destined to be a winner. The fanfare surrounding its opening will only add to Uniteds challenge.

In six trips to Houston the Black and Red have never won. Over the years players have changed for the Dynamo, but the head coach Dominic Kinnear has maintained a remarkable consistency. It is a team that won MLS Cups with Dwayne De Rosario and was still competing for one last November without him.

De Rosario is now the central figure both in position and in leadership for United. De Rosario scored 16 goals to win Golden Boot and MVP last year and helped put United back in the conversation for playoffs. With a league-leading 7 assists, De Rosario has helped United to within three points of first place Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference.

Winning against former teams has become something of a specialty for De Rosario. That trend was interrupted ten days ago in a 5-3 loss to the Earthquakes against San Jose. It then made Uniteds response against Toronto FC, another former De Rosario club, even more impressive.

United blanked Toronto FC 2-0.

We were not happy with the five goals we gave up in San Jose and even the two we gave up against Houston the game before that, said Uniteds Chris Pontius. We went in there with a mindset that we were going to get a shutout no matter what and then we would let the offense take care of itself.

Pontius was right. He opened the scoring against Toronto with a left-footed rocket in the 55th minute. Pontius goal broke a scoreless tie against a desperate winless team. With a midweek game and a nightmarish travel experience getting from San Jose to Toronto, this was a trap game for United. They survived and did so with a make shift back line.

Defense will again be a focal point for United. Central defenders Dejan Jakovic and Emiliano Dudar are making progress in their recovery from injuries, but are not expected to be involved on Saturday. Robbie Russell is expected back from a one-game absence because of a hamstring injury and he could slot in the middle next to Brandon McDonald.

With Russells return, Daniel Woolard could switch back from central defense to outside back on the left. Andy Najar might again be the first choice option at right back. That would allow former Dynamo player Danny Cruz to remain in the starting eleven in midfield where he has been for seven of the last eight games.

Najar has excelled in his brief time in the position, although it has now been revealed he played right back for D.C Uniteds academy team. In fact, Najar never actually played his current position until he joined Uniteds senior team. Najars ability to defend and yet go forward adds to an attack that is gaining in confidence and goals.

D.C. United comes into Saturdays game having scored 20 goals through 11 games. With one more tally, the club will match its 2010 goal total, when the team scored 21 goals in 30 games. At the moment, the Black-and-Red are on pace to beat the 2011 mark of 49 goals in 34 games and it all seems to start with leading scorer Maicon Santos.

First and foremost Maicon is giving us a real presence that certainly we lacked last year and the first couple of games this year, said veteran forward Josh Wolff. He has given us a point of reference to play off of and hold balls. Whether it is Pontius or Hamdi (Salihi) with him, it allows those guys to get turned and face goal a bit more. It is big part of the reason we are having success

Head coach Ben Olsen does have options among the front five in Uniteds attack. Rookie Nick De Leon was given a break against Toronto FC, but he has proven himself to be more than capable at left flank. Pontius can play up top or on the flank and now Salihi looks confident after netting two goals in only 50 minutes of playing time last week.

Were starting to see what he (Salihi) is all about, Olsen said. He doesnt need many opportunities to score goals. Forwards are streaky and they go through runs. Theyre human; they go through confidence issues. He wants more. He wants to play more, and I dont blame him.

Though United scored three goals in their victory over the Dynamo two weeks ago at R.F.K. Stadium, chances are likely to limited. The Dynamo is a disciplined team that has survived playing its first seven games on the road while BBVA Compass Stadium was completed and sill managed 8 points and a record of 2-3-2.

The Dynamo lost on Wednesday 1-0 to the Red Bulls. Midfielder Brad Davis is back from a calf strain injury that reduced to a substitutes role in the 3-2, loss to United. Operating from the left flank Davis is still the trigger point for the Dynamo offense and he is particularly dangerous on set pieces.