Photo by ISIphotos.com
By TRAVIS CLARK
WASHINGTON – Andrew Dykstra couldn't have asked for a better backdrop for his first win in Major League Soccer. Scores of friends and family members were on hand to watch Chicago's 2-0 against D.C. United last Saturday night.
"It couldn't have been more perfect, being in my hometown," he said after the game. "My mom brought somewhere between 80 and 100 people, more fans than Chicago came with."
The 24-year-old, who played soccer at nearby Osbourn Park High School, then in college at Virginia Commonwealth University, a two hour drive south of the nation's capital, enjoyed a relatively quiet Saturday evening between the posts at RFK Stadium. He looked more and more comfortable as the game progressed, and was only seriously challenged once, when he had to fist away a fierce Santino Quaranta free kick.
Dykstra's move to the starting lineup prior to the start of the season came as a shock, as the club let go veteran Jon Busch in favor of the inexperienced second-year man. Playing behind two veteran central defenders in Wilman Conde and C.J. Brown has eased Dykstra in the transition.
"Brown's somebody that I can learn from, he's kind of teaching me along the way," Dykstra said.
"Two guys like that are invaluable," midfielder Peter Lowry added. "Their experience, knowledge, that they pass down to him are really important."
Settling into such a pressure-packed role can be difficult for any player, particularly when he has to fill the shoes of such an accomplished MLS veteran like Busch. Prior to this past match against D.C., Dykstra struggled at times and looked shaky in previous outings.
Confidence can only come from wins and playing time, and that came closer with Marco Pappa's 79th minute goal against United. With under ten minutes to go, Chicago started to kill the clock — and ended up sealing the win when a Dykstra long ball into the box found the head of Brian McBride in the D.C. penalty area, and his glancing header went in off the right post.
"We were trying to the corner on the first [long ball], but that didn't work. [McBride] went in on the second one, and I trust the 36-year-old veteran," Dykstra said. "I just found his head and when it went in I was ecstatic."
The second goal put the contest out of reach, securing a happy ending in front of his supporters. United's lethargic attack failed to really trouble Dykstra's goal as the final whistle neared.
At this early juncture of the season and his playing career, experience is immense. Andrew's teammates took note of his progress after Saturday night's win.
"Andrew's doing better and better each game," McBride said. "I think he's starting to trust himself, and that's important for him, because he's a very good shot-stopper. Experience is a big deal, especially for goalkeepers, and I'm sure that he'll continue to grow."
"He's doing well — there was some pressure on him and he's dealt with it really well and been a great pro," Lowry said. "It's hard for young players to come in and do well, especially in a huge position such as that one. It's a week by week process, and this was a good week."
The shutout and win were huge for both the Fire and their young goalkeeper, but it did come against a D.C. United attack bereft of ideas that failed to seriously test the inexperienced goalie.
In the end, it was a nice environment for Dykstra to celebrate the win, but he's got a long road ahead of him. Four games into the season is far too early to determine if the Busch-for-Dykstra swap was the right move. The added scrutiny will keep the pressure on, and Chicago can only hope that a confidence-building first win and clean sheet will translate to big performances from Dykstra when he is tested by a more dangerous offense.