D.C. United and Real Salt Lake huffed and puffed to no avail throughout an uncomfortably sultry summer evening in the nation’s capital on Saturday, laboring to a 0-0 draw as United outplayed the defending MLS Cup champions but could not produce the final touch to break down a determined RSL defense.
Though both sides showed willingness to get forward, missed chances and capable goalkeeping ruled the day and Jason Kreis’ injury-plagued squad will be happy to fly home with a road point after their six-day stint in Washington.
D.C. coach Curt Onalfo ran out essentially the same starting lineup that has played well over the last two weeks, but with one major wrinkle: center back Dejan Jakovic made a shock return from a broken clavicle – weeks ahead of schedule – and looked comfortable over 90 minutes.
United started the match on the front foot, with Andy Najar a live wire down the right flank. First the teen phenom found Jordan Graye on the overlap, and Graye's low cross was nearly turned into his own net by RSL’s Nat Borchers. Then Najar dribbled at Tony Beltran menacingly before laying the ball off to Clyde Simms, setting the veteran up to smash a low daisy-cutter that Real goalkeeper Nick Rimando could only palm wide of his right-hand post.
The home side carved out another good chance in the 15th minute when Stephen King roamed forward from his holding midfield spot, carving out a bit of space with some deft touches at the top of the RSL penalty box. He lashed a shot that stung Rimando’s palms as the goalkeeper flung himself to his left to make the save.
King tested the former United netminder again just before the break, clipping a low, angled shot from 10 yards out that skipped awkwardly but was nonetheless cleanly taken by Rimando as the first half ended scoreless.
King remained active in the offensive end in the second stanza, finding clear looks at goal after Robbie Russell’s blunder in his own penalty box and later when a cross pinged around in the Real box and fell invitingly for him near the six-yard box. However, on both occasions his finishing touch let him down and he missed the target, much to the chagrin of his teammates.
United had invested plenty of hard work and quality play in the match, but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard and their visitors threatened to punish that wastefulness on several occasions, mainly on set pieces. Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio both flashed corner-kick headers wide of net and when Jamaican veteran Andy Williams entered the match, the defending champs showed signs of the rapid-fire passing they’ve used to such good effect this season.
Real were thus able to take some pressure off Rimando and their back line, but remained unable to find a way past D.C. ‘keeper Troy Perkins. Meanwhile, United striker Santino Quaranta smacked an off-balance bid a few feet beyond the right post in the late going, but neither he nor his teammates could get the best of Rimando as the game petered out to a 0-0 draw that looked like a far more satisfying result for Salt Lake.
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Will Johnson, Javier Morales, Jean Alexandre (Ned Grabavoy 46), Collen Warner (Andy Williams 61), Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio (Pablo Campos 84).
Substitutes Not Used: Rauwshan McKenzie, Luis Gil, Chris Schuler, Kyle Reynish.
D.C. United -- Troy Perkins, Jordan Graye, Dejan Jakovic, Juan Manuel Pena (Julius James 62), Rodney Wallace (Devon McTavish 24), Andy Najar, Stephen King, Clyde Simms, Chris Pontius, Santino Quaranta, Danny Allsopp (Adam Cristman 81).
Substitutes Not Used: Christian Castillo, Luciano Emilio, Kurt Morsink, Bill Hamid.
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Referee's Assistants: Cameron Blair; Anthony Vasoli
4th Official: Alex Prus
Time of Game: 1:50
Weather: Cloudy, 87 degrees