D.C. United walked away from Saturday night’s 0-0 draw withReal Salt Lake ruing a string of missed opportunities, frustrated to have lettheir visitors off the hook after bossing the match for long periods.
Yet Curt Onalfo’s men have been through more than enoughhardship this season to recognize it was another sign of progress on theirlong road to recovery.
“I think tonight we were the better team,” ChrisPontius said. “We had the better opportunities and were unfortunate to come out witha 0-0 tie. That being said, it’s a shutout against the hottest team in MLSright now and the MLS reigning champions, so I think there’s a lot of positivesyou can take from that.”
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The mere idea of disappointment at sharing points with a teamof Real’s caliber would have been beyond United’s ken a month or two ago. D.C.have spent most of the year miles off the MLS pace, snakebit andself-destructive in almost every way imaginable. But the past two weeks havebrought a four-game unbeaten streak in all competitions and the side’scollective spirit has blossomed as a result.
“For one, we don’t hang our heads when stuff isn’t exactly going ourway,” said defender Devon McTavish of United’s growing self-belief.“When we missed our opportunities early on in the season, it seemed we’d letthem get one and really put a dagger in our heart. But we’re all keeping ourheads up and we’re all staying concentrated for the 90 minutes, which wasn’treally there in the first eight games of the season.”
Paced by the flair and aggression of rookie Andy Najar, whoearned another official Man of the Match nod, United forced RSL goalkeeper NickRimando to make five saves on the night. But wasteful finishing continues todog the Black-and-Red, a galling tendency that has nudged them into danger inmatch after match. Tonight’s main culprit was midfielder Stephen King, whomissed three excellent opportunities to drive his team into the lead onSaturday – but even so, it’s difficult to point too many fingers at a playerwhose insertion into the first XI has coincided precisely with the recentturnabout in form.
“I thought he performed extremely well,” said Onalfoafterwards. “He was just a little bit off on his finishing touch. He’s a realtechnical player and nine times out of 10, he gets his chance and puts itaway.”
The season’s first clean sheet offered noteworthyconsolation, however, and a long-awaited milestone for the beleagueredBlack-and-Red rearguard, which kept the red-hot RSL attack in check despite thepremature departures of Rodney Wallace and Juan Manuel Pena due to injury andfatigue, respectively.
“You know, one of the most offensive teams in theleague,” said McTavish of Real. “They’ve got a nice trifecta of guys up top whoknow how to play and know how to run off the ball. They’re a good team and forus to get a shutout is great, but obviously we wanted more out of the game. Ithink we deserved more. But at this point we need all the points we can get, sowe’ll take the one point.”