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United defense stifles Henry, Cooper

Emiliano Dudar's return keyed a dominant defensive performance

Emiliano Dudar

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On a night where D.C. United's attack explodedin a 4-1 victory over the visiting New York Red Bulls, it was theBlack-and-Red's defense that had the most thorough impact on Sunday night'sAtlantic Cup clash at RFK. Operating against a Red Bull offense that had scored fifteen times inits previous four matches, D.C.'s back line was simply dominant. New York managed just four shots ongoal, and three of those efforts came with United comfortably ahead in the secondhalf.

"The whole back four was solid," D.C.head coach Ben Olsen said after the match. "They were connected. We didn't get caught in behind too many times. We defended the box very well. I was very pleased with how they arecoming along."

For the first time since United's lastappearance on national television - a 4-1 win over Dallas on March 30 - D.C.fielded its preferred back four. Emiliano Dudar's recovery from a hamstring strain allowed for RobbieRussell - who had filled in admirably in a central role - to return to hisusual spot at right back. WithDudar joining Brandon McDonald in the middle of defense, the Black-and-Red hadthe perfect pairing to deal with New York's lethal forward duo of Thierry Henry andKenny Cooper.

Of equal importance, D.C. also had the perfectgame plan for shutting down Major League Soccer's most dangerous man.

"We just wanted to be physical withhim," goalkeeper Joe Willis said of United's strategy forminimizing Henry's impact. "We were trying to keep him off the ball as much as possible, butthe biggest thing was being physical and Brandon and Emiliano did a good jobof that."

While United's back four deserve much of thecredit for stifling New York's attack, the defenders themselves were quick tocompliment those playing further up field for helping in the effort. Even Chris Pontius, the night's offensive hero, aided in D.C.'s defensive work.  In the eighth minute, Pontius - while help-defending from his spot as aforward - stripped Henry on the way to scoring a beautiful goal that would ultimately change the match.

"To be honest it came from the guys infront of us," McDonald noted. "The personnel that we have now is blue-collar, so it makes our joba lot easier."

The dominant performance seemed to leavelittle to be desired, but one moment of brilliance did deny D.C.'s shutoutbid. In the 72nd minute, Henrycurled a free kick over United's wall and past Willis for New York's lonegoal. The score had no impact onthe outcome, but it did not sit well with a back line looking to set anambitious standard.

"They still got one," Russell lamented afterwards. "As a defensive unit we want toshow pride in ourselves in getting [shutouts], so that's something that we haveto look to improve on … I want to get [shutouts]. It's one of the goals we set at the beginning of the seasonand I want us to remember that."