United under pressure to win at home

United under pressure to win at home
May 18, 2013, 10:45 pm
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D.C. United is partnering with a local brewing company on a limited edition club beer. Now the Black and Red needs something to toast, but the focus remains on points and not pints for Sunday’s home game against Sporting Kansas City.

United is desperate to stop a club record seven-game losing streak. Desperate is a strong word, but it applies to a team in last place in the Eastern Conference and with only 4 points from ten matches. United has managed only five goals this season and has not earned a point since a 0-0 draw on the road March 16 against New York.

That is the bleak reality, but there were encouraging signs in United 2-1 loss Saturday in Dallas. Dwayne De Rosario opened his 2013 scoring account with his 101st career goal on a free kick in the first half. Sadly United conceded a goal in the second half on a corner kick to prevent points from begin taken, but the approach was encouraging from a lineup that had five changes.

 "They looked like a team that cared and wanted to dig themselves out of the situation they were in,” said head coach Ben Olsen. “That’s important. But it’s also important to make teams earn goals. We’re still slipping at the key moments. We’re still giving up set pieces. These have to stop.”

What the changes mean going forward for United is not clear. Bill Hamid was just called up by the US Men’s National Team for the friendly against Germany on June 2md, but it was Joe Willis who started last week in goal. In front of Willis, James Riley replaced Daniel Woolard at left back and in the middle struggling Brandon McDonald was replaced by Ethan White.

Against Dallas Nick De Leon made his first start since March 23rd after missing four games with a hamstring injury. Maryland grad Casey Townsend started and appeared in his first match with United after spending his rookie 2012 season with Chivas USA.  Townsend hit the post in the first half for his best opportunity.

It is hoped that Chris Pontius will be ready for Sunday’s match against Sporting Kansas City. Pontius has missed the last three matches with a groin injury. It actually looked as if Pontius might be part of the 18 in Dallas, but he suffered a setback in training. Things have gone well for Pontius this week in training and United needs him back on the field.

To be clear one of the bright spots for United this season has been the play on the right flank of newcomer Kyle Porter. The need to get Pontius and DeLeon back to last year’s form should not be considered a criticism of Porter. Still it cannot be denied that Pontius and De Leon were a big part of last year’s winning script.

By this time last year Pontius had already netted five of the 12 goals he would go on to score in 2012. De Leon had exploded into his rookie season with three of the six goals he would go on to score. Their 2013 seasons have been curtailed by injuries and United is struggling to find the right connection at forward.

Townsend replaced designated player Rafael at striker in United’s 4-2-3-1 alignment against Dallas. Lionard Pajoy leads United with two goals, but he has not been convincing as the answer up front. It is easy to blame United’s lack of scoring on the forwards, but the forwards have struggled to receive the right service.

Kansas City will have to make changes for the match against United after a 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo lifted them to third place with 20 points from 12 matches. Defender Collin Aurelien scored the winning goal against the Dynamo, but along with defensive midfielder Oriol Rosell is out because of yellow card accumulations.

Argentine Claudio Bieler plays at the top of Kansas City’s 4-5-1 and has delivered six goals to lead Sporting. Former Maryland star and USMNT member Graham Zusi operates from the right flanks and has produced three goals and four assists. Kei Kamara is back from a loan spell with England’s Norwich City. Kamara has scored 31 goals in 100 appearances for Sporting and has been used twice so far as a substitute.

In many ways United’s free fall started after their last meeting with Sporting. In Kansas City United was close to getting a point, but gave up a goal in the 89th minute for their second straight defeat. The next four matches were marked by poor starts by United before a better showing last week in Dallas that has given the Black and red some measure of confidence.

“The way we played was encouraging,” De Rosario said. “We were unlucky to hit the post, but we showed some resilience and that’s a plus going forward. We have two big games at home so it’s a must, must, must win.”