Black-and-Red pass early test vs. Houston
By Charles Boehm / MLSnet.comWASHINGTON -- The season is young and a great many challenges lie ahead, but D.C. United feel they passed a noteworthy test on Saturday night.Despite looking disjointed for long stretches, Tom Soehn's evolving squad adapted to the scrappy nature of the evening and found a way to grind out a 1-0 win against a battle-tested Houston Dynamo side at RFK Stadium.United striker Luciano Emilio snatched an opportunistic goal out of nowhere, taking advantage of a brief misstep by his old teammate Bobby Boswell just two minutes into the second stanza, and his more defensive-minded teammates did the heavy lifting from there, confidently weathering a late storm of Houston pressure after Jaime Moreno's surprising ejection left them with 10 men for the final 19 minutes."I'm kind of glad Jaime got a red card," said D.C. midfielder Ben Olsen, only partially in jest. "Obviously it put us in a bad spot ... but it's good to be tested early and come out with three points. I think it shows that we've got some men out there and we stepped up in a difficult situation against a good team. They're still Houston, they still have a lot of weapons and to fight like that as a team and get out with three points is a great first win for us."Both teams were frustrated by a grim first half where their main attacking weapons were blunted by sloppy touches and hectic midfield play. United playmaker Christian Gomez found himself shackled by the close attentions of Ricardo Clark and his mates, who used a tactical tweak to deny D.C. space and clog up the center of the park."They threw us off a little bit, they really pulled Stuart [Holden], who started out wide, inside and just left that whole side for [left back] Wade Barrett," said Clyde Simms. "It was tough for us to push our outside mid to Barrett a lot of times, because all of us were marked up. So I thought that was good on their part. ... It really threw a wrench in there and we couldn't play through Christian as much as we wanted to."The first victory of any campaign is always welcomed, but Soehn and his charges can take particular heart from the manner in which they responded to another unexpected bit of adversity. After a promising debut performance from Congolese newcomer Ange N'Silu, Moreno entered the match in his stead to help United maintain possession and salt away the result.But the 35-year-old Bolivian's late challenge on Brad Davis did just the opposite, provoking the harshest of punishments from referee Baldomero Toledo in the form of a straight red card."The foul that happened that caused the red, I probably wouldn't have played many games in my career if that was the case," said Soehn, a hard-nosed defender during his MLS playing days. "So it's unfortunate, but you have to deal with the circumstances and the guys gutted it out."Soehn's introduction of tall defender Greg Janicki saw D.C. switch to a four-man back line that held firm down the stretch amid Houston's barrage of crosses and high balls in the final 20 minutes. Luck also played its part, though, when Davis' late screamer stung netminder Louis Crayton's fingertips and clanked off the woodwork."I got in the game and coming off a concussion, I think I headed the ball three times in five minutes right when I got in," noted a smiling Janicki, who sustained a head injury in the season opener. "But it felt good, felt fine. It was pretty much full-out pressure the whole time I was in and I thought we handled it pretty well. They had one chance off the crossbar but other than that, we did pretty well."United's progress will be tested again next weekend as they fly west for a date with Real Salt Lake: The Black-and-Red are 1-3 all-time in Utah.