By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON – Resolute defending controlled the proceedings as D.C. United and FC Dallas played to a scoreless draw Saturday that was largely devoid of risks in the attacking third and, concurrently, legitimate scoring opportunities for either side.
"I thought it was kind of a sloppy game from both parts," Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman said. "There really wasn't a lot of quality possession."
It was the second straight steady defensive performance from United (3-4-2), which has allowed a league-leading 17 goals but just one in its last two contests. Dallas (3-3-2), meanwhile, clogged the midfield with its 4-5-1 formation and counted on the late heroics of goalkeeper Kevin Hartman to preserve the draw on the road.
"We as an organization don't like to tie at home," United coach Ben Olsen said. "But if we're going to tie at home, I can live with the way we played tonight. I thought the commitment was there, the concentration was there."
United nearly won the contest in the 89th minute when Hartman denied substitute Fred's point-blank header at the far post with a stellar reaction save.
"I just tried to get as big as I possibly could and go directly at the ball," Hartman said. "And luckily, I was able to get a hand to it."
Added United captain Dax McCarty, Hartman's former teammate with Dallas: "What can you say about him? He's a guy who comes up with big save after big save."
With Jair Benitez out due to a knee strain, Dallas continued to experiment with Brek Shea at left back. The 21-year-old got forward well and looked steady in the back aside from a notable blunder in the 8th minute that almost gifted United an early lead.
Shea's failed clearance allowed D.C. striker Charlie Davies to pounce on a loose ball in the penalty area. But Hartman denied Davies, and Andy Najar's rebound attempt was cleared off the line by Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu.
"Brek Shea did a good job playing the left back position, but he helps us so much more as a left midfielder," Hyndman said.
The lack of creativity could be attributed to both sides losing an influential playmaker to long-term injury in recent weeks. An ankle injury sidelined Dallas midfielder David Ferreira, the reigning Most Valuable Player, and United's Branko Boskovic suffered a torn ACL.
One player who did provide a spark was United winger Andy Najar. The 2010 Rookie of the Year was an active force on the right flank, creating space for himself with clever footwork throughout the match until exiting in the 72nd minute after a collision with Shea.
"He was special tonight," Olsen said. "He looked like definitely the best player on the field, for my money."
Continuing his comeback from injuries suffered 18 months ago in a fatal car accident, Davies played the full 90 minutes for the third time in eight days. As the U.S. national team's Gold Cup roster selection nears, it would appear fitness is no longer a concern for the 24-year-old.
"It was good for me to play another 90 and I feel like I've taken another step in my way back to being the player I want to be," Davies said.