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Cautious D.C. United satisfied with shutout

Back line taking shape, though offense still lacking firepower

D.C. United did not notch a shutout in 2010 league play until their 11th game of the season, so it’s understandable that they would welcome their second clean sheet of the year in the form of Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Eastern Conference pack leaders New York at atmospheric Red Bull Arena.

Showing precious little inclination to do anything that might leave them exposed at the back, the visitors calmly withstood periods of urgent attacking pressure from the Red Bulls, allowing only three shots on goal and frustrating the imposing strike duo of Juan Pablo Angel and Salou Ibrahim. Anchoring that resistance was center back Julius James, who produced another bruising, defiant display in his fourth league start and gave further proof of a solid alliance with Dejan Jakovic.

“Yeah, we did some work this week, working on how New York plays, and we executed pretty well,” James said afterward. “As a defender, as a back line, goalkeepers, you always want shutouts and we’re pretty satisfied with that. All we needed was a goal but we still can be happy with the point.”

Head coach Curt Onalfo has shown a consistent preference for partnering Jakovic with experienced heads Carey Talley or Juan Manuel Pena in central defense. But both veterans have proved injury-prone and with performances like Saturday’s, James is making it difficult for his boss to leave him out in the weeks ahead.

“Well, Dejan and I played together for like, ten games last year, or maybe even more,” the 26-year-old Trinidadian said. “We’ve had this partnership since last year, and I’m now finally getting a chance to play with him, and we’ve kept up that chemistry from since last year. It was [always] there, you know?”

But anyone wondering why United, with a negative-14 goal differential and statistically the second-worst defense in their league, just signed two pricey attacking players from overseas need only look at the evening’s anemic offensive display.

Led by Santino Quaranta, DC looked lively in the opening stages and RBNY goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul had to make a sharp save to keep United’s Baltimore-born veteran from snatching a very early lead. But such moments came few and far between as the match played out. Despite the fact that multiple goals were needed in order to prevent the Atlantic Cup trophy from moving north for only the second time ever, United’s obvious satisfaction with a scoreless draw said much about their lack of menace up front.

After the game, James stood up for his attacking counterparts, noting that, “We had our chances, I think we had more clear-cut chances than they did” – but just as their hated New York rivals can hardly wait to lay eyes on Thierry Henry in a Red Bulls uniform, DC fans now have further reason to look to the debut of Pablo Hernandez and Branko Boskovic.

For the second straight week, United secured a road point, a quantity of perennial value in Major League Soccer – especially in the heat of midsummer. Yet the Black-and-Red continue to lag far off the pace in the race to the playoffs and they’re unlikely to close that gap by settling for results like this one.