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Samuel Chamberlain hands out the marks for each D.C. United player after Saturday night's 2-2 draw with Houston.
Brian Ching's 89th-minute headed goal denied D.C. United a victory that would have vaulted the Black-and-Red to 4th place in the Eastern Conference as the Houston Dynamo rallied twice to come away with a 2-2 draw.
From a D.C. United perspective, Ching's goal was infuriatingly easy, resulting from a simple cross from the left wing by Colin Clark. Ching, left isolated in the 18-yard box, rose to nod a downward header that was deflected by Perry Kitchen and bounced past a lunging Bill Hamid, who saw the ball much too late.
United thought that they'd won the match through Charlie Davies' 73rd minute goal, which wouldn't have been possible without a sublime piece of dribbling skill from Andy Najar, who controlled a long pass from substitute midfielder Fred on the right side of Houston's penalty area, tiptoed past Clark along the end line, and forced goalkeeper Tally Hall to come off his line and try to corral the ball. However, Hall could only manage to palm the ball to the waiting Davies, who slammed his 8th goal of the season into the net past the prone forms of Hall and defender Mike Chabala to celebrate his 25th birthday in style.
United didn't have it all their own way in the second half, however. Houston could have gone in front in the 59th minute, when Danny Cruz hit the bar with a speculative shot from outside the box that was the result of a half-cleared corner. It was only a mad scramble by Perry Kitchen that prevented Will Bruin from tapping into an open net.
Houston should have gone in front in the 64th minute when another Clark cross from the left wing eluded everyone except Cruz, who rolled the ball off the post instead of into the open net.
D.C. United won't like the scoreline at halftime, but they'll have no choice but to accept it. The Black-and-Red and Houston Dynamo are level at a goal apiece after 45 minutes at RFK Stadium.
D.C. United took the lead in the 31st minute with a beautiful right-footed strike from 25 yards away by Chris Pontius, who took a pass from Josh Wolff, took two strides, and sent the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of Tally Hall's net. The goal was a fitting capstone to the sustained United pressure that had kept the ball in Houston's half since essentially the opening kick-off. Charlie Davies, making his return to the starting lineup, shot wide of Hall's right post in the 7th minute and put a beautiful centering ball from Wolff wide of Hall's left post in the 16th minute. Pontius could easily have two goals right now, but he sent a free kick just wide of Hall's right post in the 13th minute. Just before halftime, Dax McCarty had a shot cleared off the line by Houston defender Kofi Sarkodie, while Davies had a diving point-blank header deflected over the bar after a great reaction save by Hall.
In what some might call karmic justice for last week's controversial equalizing penalty won by Davies against Real Salt Lake, Houston equalized with the help of a soft penalty won by veteran Brian Ching. The former U.S. international dribbled deep into United's penalty area, where he went down after a very slight touch by United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who had raced off his line to half his progress. Referee Mark Kadlecik awarded the visitors a penalty, which was dispatched low to Hamid's left by Brad Davis in the 41st minute.
D.C. United's two biggest offseason acquisitions will play together for the first time since May 14, as Charlie Davies and Dax McCarty make their return to the Black-and-Red starting XI tonight against the Houston Dynamo. Davies managed just 34 minutes against the Colorado Rapids back in May before leaving the game with a hamstring strain. The injury forced the striker to miss United's 3-2 win at Portland over Memorial Day weekend, but Davies made appearances as a second-half substitute in each of United's last three games. McCarty went the full 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw, but missed the next two games with a groin strain suffered in training. McCarty has played as a substitute in each of United's last two games. Those are the only two changes that Ben Olsen has made from the starting XI that drew 1-1 against Real Salt Lake last Saturday.
For Houston, Dominic Kinnear makes five changes from the squad that lost 2-0 at home to Columbus last weekend. Kofi Sarkodie and Jermaine Taylor replace Bobby Boswell and Hunter Freeman in defense, while Danny Cruz and Je-Vaughn Watson replace Colin Clark and the suspended Lovel Palmer in midfield. Brian Ching makes just his second start of the season, partnering rookie Will Bruin up top.
Full Houston Dynamo Starting Lineup: Tally Hall (GK), Kofi Sarkodie, Jermaine Taylor, Andre Hainault, Corey Ashe, Danny Cruz, Je-Vaughn Watson, Geoff Cameron, Brad Davis, Brian Ching (Captain), Will Bruin.
The Houston Dynamo sit one point ahead of D.C. United in MLS' Eastern Conference standings as the two prepare to meet on East Capitol Street Saturday night (Houston is in 4th and United are in 5th, though the Black-and-Red have two games in hand). Each team has won just one match in its last five, but Saturday night's combatants sit just three and four points behind the Columbus Crew for third place in the Eastern Conference standings and an automatic spot in the MLS playoffs. So, a lot's on the line on Saturday at RFK.
D.C. United (4-5-5) vs. Houston Dynamo (4-6-6)
When: 6:00 p.m., Saturday, June 25.
Where: RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
TV: Comcast SportsNet, Telefutura (Spanish).
Team News and Tactics
D.C. United: The injury situation remains unchanged from last week for D.C. United (Boskovic, Burch, Jakovic, McTavish, Ngwenya, and Quaranta are all still out with various ailments), so the gameday roster should remain the same as last week against Real Salt Lake. The big lineup question that Ben Olsen faces is in central midfield. Clyde Simms and Stephen King started there last Saturday, but were removed as the game went on in favor of Dax McCarty and Fred, respectively. It seems likely that McCarty will come back into the starting XI tonight, but whether Olsen keeps faith with one of Simms or King or hands Fred a start is very much an open question. Another question is whether Olsen keeps faith with the Josh Wolff/Blake Brettschneider partnership up front or if the United gaffer feels Charlie Davies has earned a renewed place in the starting lineup. All will be revealed tonight.
Houston: The Dynamo will have to make one enforced change to their lineup as Lovel Palmer serves a one-game suspension after being sent off in last weekend's 2-0 home loss to Columbus. The most likely adjustment for Dominic Kinnear would be to shift Geoff Cameron back into Palmer's central defensive midfield position while JeVaughn Watson, back from Gold Cup duty with Jamaica, slides into the central attacking role. It will be interesting to see what role Brian Ching plays for Houston, as he's started just one of Houston's 18 games this season. Jermaine Taylor, Houston's other Jamaica Gold Cup returnee, is likely to start this match on the bench.
Key to the Game
No repeat of San Jose: Houston has been shut out in three of their last four road games. To say their offense is struggling is to be polite. With a chance to leapfrog the Dynamo in the standings and a healthy Jed Zayner in the lineup, there's not a lot of excuses for the D.C. United back line to experience a repeat of their disappointing performance in their last home match, a disappointing 4-2 loss to San Jose June 11.