By PABLO MAURER
RICHMOND – As D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen made his way over to the press assembled under the far side bleachers at City Stadium in Richmond, his body language was one of a man who, for the time being, could finally exhale.
“Overtime. PK’s. Of course.” Olsen said while chuckling. “The good thing is that we scored some goals here tonight. Right? Baby steps.”
It’s been a long time since anybody’s seen Olsen do any laughing, his elevated mood the result of a win—albeit a narrow one—in United’s third round U.S. Open Cup matchup with the third-tier Richmond Kickers.
Riding a stellar shoot-out performance from United goalkeeper Joe Willis, the Black and Red escaped Richmond with the narrowest of victories, defeating their USL-PRO affiliate 4-2 in penalty kicks after 120 minutes of scoreless play.
Willis, who saved Richmond’s first two PK attempts, gave full credit to United assistant coach Preston Burpo.
“Preston told me where they were going,” Willis quipped after the match. “You gotta credit the coach – he told me where Joe [Ngwenya] was going, and he also told me where [Sascha Gorres] was going too. He said he went back seven years to find the last PK that [Gorres] took. I’m just lucky he was able to do that scouting for me.”
The two sides arrived at PK’s after an uneventful first 90 minutes. United saw the lion’s share of the ball and could have put the game away in the first half, with oft-maligned forward Lionard Pajoy managing to strike the post midway through the first stanza and Dwayne De Rosario doing the same later in the half.
Aside from those bright spots, however, United displayed much of the same behavior that’s plagued them during their abysmal 2013 MLS campaign—a lack of creativity, a tendency to give the ball away carelessly in the center of the park, and a general nonchalance about the encounter in general.
Richmond, on the other hand, played the full 120 minutes with energy, though they also seemed content to sit back and occasionally attack on the counter. Midway through the second half of added time, United defender Chris Korb saw his second yellow of the match after a careless challenge. Carlos Ruiz took things a step further and drew a straight red for a terrible, two-footed tackle from behind just minutes from the death.
The shootout was an anomaly to say the least. Joe Willis and Andrew Dykstra, D.C. United teammates, faced each other as opponents. Dykstra, who practices with United during the week and spends his weekends with the Kickers, was obviously familiar with most of United’s penalty takers.
“We had a little chuckle about that,” Olsen commented. “That maybe he knew our guys a little bit better than we knew theirs.”
If Dykstra gained a competitive edge from that experience, however, he wasn’t showing it on Tuesday night, failing to save a single United attempt.
“We walked past each other [during the shootout] and I wanted to talk a little smack,” Willis joked after the match. “He just kept walking, though, with his head down.”
United will next face the Philadelphia Union, who advanced to fourth round Open Cup play after dispatching of the Ocean City Nor’Easters. The match, slated for June 12th, will be played at the Maryland SoccerPlex.