Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — Threatening for an equalizer early in the second half against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, D.C. United seemed poised to draw even one way or another, despite the loss of forwards Charlie Davies and Josh Wolff to first-half injuries.
Sure enough United got one — and it had wildly inconsistent referee Terry Vaughn to thank for it.
Midfielder Chris Pontius drew and converted a questionable 62nd minute penalty kick to negate Drew Moor's first-half tally for Colorado as the two sides played to a 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium.
"We didn't start the second half very well," Colorado coach Gary Smith said. "D.C., with a little bit of help from the officials, took advantage of it."
United thought it had earned a prime opportunity to tie the match in the 56th minute when Joseph Ngwenya was taken down in the penalty area by a clumsy tackle from Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. But Vaughn waved play on.
Five minutes later, he found an excuse to get United a penalty kick after all. As Pontius attacked down the left flank, he initiated a collision with Colorado right back Kosuke Kimura and fell to the turf on the edge of the penalty area. Vaughn pointed to the spot, and Pontius promptly converted.
"I think out of all the calls, mine was the one where it could go either way," Pontius said.
Although those two decisions seemingly canceled out, United players felt they should have been playing up a man for most of the match after Moor fouled D.C. midfielder Dax McCarty on what could have been a breakaway in the first half. Vaughn showed Moor a yellow card.
"I think he had a very bad night," United coach Ben Olsen said of Vaughn. "I've had bad nights as a player. That's about it."
Colorado went ahead in the 23rd minute when Moor poked a shot home amid a scramble for Jamie Smith's long-range free kick. The Rapids enjoyed the better of the play in the first half despite missing strikers Omar Cummings and Caleb Folan as United struggled to jell in midfield.
"To a man, we weren't sharp enough from the get-go," Olsen said. "We started off in an unacceptable manner."
United found a rhythm coming out of the locker room, using quick touches and improved off-the-ball movement to quality create scoring opportunities until Pontius' penalty knotted the score.
"At the start of the second half, I think D.C. came out with a little bit more energy," Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni said. "We were on our heels a little bit. We couldn't get near the ball and couldn't get any pressure, and I think [United's] goal was just a matter of time."
Davies had a less-than-stellar audition as U.S. coach Bob Bradley watched the striker play in person a week before the Gold Cup roster deadline. Davies drifted offside on one dangerous scoring opportunity and lost his touch on another before exiting in the 34th minute with a hamstring injury.
Wolff, Davies' partner up top, was swapped out in the first half as well when he picked up a groin injury. Colorado's Conor Casey, on the other hand, returned to the field as a 67th minute substitute after missing several weeks with a hamstring strain.
With the tie, United ended its three-game homestand with a 1-0-2 mark. Colorado, meanwhile, wrapped up three consecutive road matches with the same five points.
"Three away games on the spin are not easy, and they're made even more difficult when you're traveling to the East Coast," Smith said. "The players have shown spirit and determination and adapted extremely well to wherever they've gone."