Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON – It may have taken enduring three months of disappointment and waiting until the league's worst team came to town, but D.C. United finally treated its fans to another win at RFK Stadium.
And considering the show the club put on Saturday, the D.C. faithful could almost say it was worth the wait.
Chris Pontius notched two goals, Andy Najar and Stephen King found the score sheet as well, and rookie Joe Willis registered a shutout in his first start as United ended its winless drought at home with a 4-0 triumph over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
"We've had a rough run of form at home, so it's good to give our fans something to cheer about," Pontius said. "And it's good for our team morale."
United improved to 7-6-9 with the win, moving to within one point of the final playoff slot. Vancouver, which is yet to win an away match, dropped to 3-12-9 with an erratic performance that will dim much of the optimism gained in a 4-2 win over Chicago last weekend.
"We spent a lot of time this week talking about the job we did against Chicago at home and how we did the little things," Vancouver interim coach Tom Soehn said. "I thought today we let ourselves down in that category."
Since picking up a 2-1 win over Seattle in early May, D.C. had gone 0-2-5 in Washington — a record made all the more bewildering by United's stellar 3-0-3 mark on the road during that stretch.
In the early going, United dictated possession for long stretches while flowing play through Pontius and Najar on the wings but created few quality opportunities. As the half wore on, Vancouver used some dynamic play from Camilo to take control and put United on its heels.
In first-half stoppage time, however, Pontius put D.C. ahead. Dwayne De Rosario split a double team on the edge of the penalty area, slipping past Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit to hit a far-post cross that the third-year midfielder poked home.
"That's the part of this game that we've been lacking this year — those defining moments to see out halves or to see out games," DeMerit said.
It was the first of two assists on the night for De Rosario, who continued his strong play after earning back-to-back MLS Player of the Week honors.
Three minutes after halftime, a goalkeeping gaffe complicated matters for Vancouver. Najar doubled the D.C. advantage with his third goal of 2011, pegging an angled shot that slipped through the legs of Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly, a former United backup.
The goal proved to be a pivotal moment in the match. Down two, Soehn swapped playmaker Davide Chiumiento in for DeMerit, throwing caution to the wind in search of a strike to get his side back in the game.
The move backfired. United immediately began creating chance after chance against an out-manned Vancouver back line. In the 70th minute, Pontius scored his seventh goal of the season by hammering King's deflected shot off the crossbar and in. King then wrapped up the scoring nine minutes from full time, slotting a low bid past Nolly.
"It feels like it has been a long time coming," said United assistant coach Chad Ashton, who filled in for the suspended Ben Olsen. "I think we have been knocking on the door for a performance like that for a while, and to put it all together is a good feeling."
Securing the clean sheet was Willis, who won a weeklong competition in training against veteran Steve Cronin to make his professional debut in place of the suspended Bill Hamid.
The rookie came up big late in the first half with the match still scoreless, parrying a Camilo free kick off the crossbar and eventually snaring a rebound attempt amid a scrum in front of goal. In the second half, he moved across his goal to confidently deny a one-time effort from Eric Hassli that would have pulled Vancouver within one.
"Most of the day, in the early part, I was pretty nervous," Willis said. "A lot of the older guys talked me through it and were very supportive. By the time I got through warmups, I was ready to go."