It wasn’t pretty, but they showed up and “did the business” as Ben Olsen said earlier this week. D.C. United is moving on to the next round of the playoffs after a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution. The home side really took note of the desperation and intensity that Columbus played with in their last match, and played similarly against the Revs. It was a total team effort, but the man of the match was United’s last line of defense. Bill Hamid. Olsen payed the keeper a huge compliment after the game, “some teams have Giovincos, we got a Bill.” It was simple, but very true. Hamid is United’s star power, he just happens to be a keeper. As always, he came up big for his team. United was able to rally and beat a very talented New England side that had multiple chances to take control of the game. There was a bit of controversy towards the end of full time, but all in all, it was a very exciting Knockout Round match. United lives to play another day, they play next on Sunday. Their opponent? They’ll have to wait, it’ll either be the New York Red Bulls or the Columbus Crew.
For a team that’s struggled with it’s starts, United didn’t do too bad. At least for the first 14 minutes, that’s when Juan Agudelo made his bid for one of the better goals of the year and depening on how the postseason turns out, the second season as well. Kevin Alston got free on the right flank before putting a soft ball into the box, Agudelo for whatever reason was being loosley marked as he was stanging between Boswell and Birnbaum. The youngster left his feet, turned to his side and completed the bicycle kick into very close to the right corner of the goal. Just shy of the upper 90, it was an incredible goal and seemed to inject life into the visitors. For the next three mintues it was a full out assault as D.C. struggled to sustain possession, mostly due to sloppy passes and poor clearance attempts. It certainly could have been three-nil very quickly if it weren’t for the wall known as Bill Hamid. He made back-to-back incredibly difficult reflex saves to keep the score at 1-0.
As United seemed to settle down a bit, they were able to sustain possession and start putting pressure on New England’s backline. The home team’s midfield did a great job of settling on the ball and than dispersing it as needed. Perry Kitchen and Markus Halsti did a great job of controlling the middle, well enough that they Pontius and DeLeon were able to stay out wide. That allowed Rolfe and Espindola to make runs underneath and behind the backline of New England. There were a couple of sequences in which D.C. showed how dangerous they could be, but the result was just a bit off. Rolfe had a play where he trapped the ball off a service from midfield, as he played it off his chest he then put the ball over the outside shoulder of the defender that was marking him before spinning and getting the ball on his outside foot and firing a shot. The shot was a bit wide, but it definitely put the Revolution back line on alert. Then DeLeon put a nice searching cross into the box, but no one was there on the initial run. Sean Franklin came running in and got his head on it before it left the box, but he couldn’t get enough on it. United had definitely started to change the tide. All the action in terms of United’s attack seemed to be happening on one wing (DeLeon’s), so Pontius who had been hot as of late didn’t get much time on the ball. That would change in the 45th minute as United scored off a set piece. Fabi played a soft service into the box and Pontius came in hard running towards Fabi almost away from the goal, he got his head on it and it was a brilliant touch. The ball went far post and fell in right before Shuttlesworth could get a hand on it. Getting the equalizer before the half was pivotal for the Black-and-Red.
The home team seemed to gain confidence during the latter part of the first half, it was very clear as the second stanza began. Steven Birnbaum and Bobby Boswell did a good job on Agudelo for most of the night, but there were several instances where the youngster showed just how tough a cover he can be. He uses his physical gifts well and has a great feel for creating space in the box, specifically setting shop up on the goal mouth. He had several point blank looks in which he surely regrets his touch, he definitely could have left this match with three goals. Instead, those touches went awry and New England definitely could have used them. Pontius came out of the game early in the half as it appeared his hamstring was acting up, Alvaro Saborio replaced him. Sabo joined Espindola up top with Rolfe dropping back out wide to play in Pontius’ place.
It was clear that angry D.C. showed up to play, they weren’t reckless, but extremely focused and they really left it all out on the field. United would create a couple of great chances a few minute later as DeLeon got behind the defense on a long run and Halsti hit him with a beautiful pass, but Nick’s shot would fall just wide of the far post. Fabi ripped one from about 40 yards out that Shuttlesworth had to deflect, it was a powerful blast that had eyes for the near post. Rolfe wasn’t the only one with a bit of magic up his sleeve, as Espindola got the ball out wide in the 63rd minute and evaded two defenders in the box with a great spin move, like Rolfe his shot didn’t find the back of the net.
As both teams continued to trade blows, creating chances. United’s pressure helped them earn a penalty kick in the 74th minute, a handball was called on Scott Caldwell. Rolfe would step up to take the kick, he’d converted every similar chance this season. Rolfe went for the lower right corner, but the ball had a bit too much pace on it and struck the post, caroming to the sideline. The air let out of the crowd a bit, the fans were ready to go crazy.
As the game went on, the play became more physical which was expected with postseason fates on the line. Several cards were issued to players on both teams. Entering the 83rd minute, that missed pk loomed large for United. Several close misses had haunted the Revolution, but it was D.C. that broke the tie. DeLeon got the ball out wide, found his way inside the top corner of the box. Rather than force things, Nick calmly kept possession until Fabi overran him. DeLeon played a clever backheel to the running Espindola who found himself a few feet way from the near post. Fabi could have taken the shot, but the defense had shifted towards him, including Shuttlesworth. The veteran striker played the ball back across the box to the charging Rolfe who calmly placed a shot far post. There was nothing the keeper could do about it, it was a very nice sequence.
From there United did what they do best, hunker down and defend. There was a bit of controversy late as a similar situation to the handball called on Caldwell happened with Jermaine Jones and Franklin. In this scenario, in the 88th minute mind you, the official decided that it was a no call. That caused a heck of a demonstrative response from New England, but Jones took it to a whole new level. The veteran midfielder bumped the official, than slapped the yellow card out his hand, before being restrained by members of both teams. That was a huge sequence, but the call stood and United was able to waste what little time was left before the whistle blew three times to end an exciting game.
While New England fell short, the highlight of the game was still the young Agudelo’s goal. Check it out below: