Down three goals and just minutes away from going scoreless for a second straight match to open the 2012 season, things were bleak for D.C. United as the Black-and-Red played out the final moments of Sunday night's defeat to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
But while hope of rescuing a point had all but faded, rookie Nick DeLeon was still in desperation mode. Disappointed to be left off United's bench during D.C.'s season-opener, the first-round draft pick was pushing to get the most out of a well-earned 16-minute shift.
"I guess I expected it to be handed to me," DeLeon admitted when talking about his omission from the First Kick lineup. "Really I just used it to push myself to work harder in practice every day to hopefully end up in the eighteen and I did. It ended up being a very good move [by the coaches]."
After just thirteen minutes, DeLeon broke through. This year's seventh overall draft pick took a pass from Marcelo Saragosa and, after a perfect first touch, curled his right-footed shot around Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders. The expertly-taken strike is sure to do wonders for DeLeon's confidence, which the rookie admits was in need of a boost.
"That has probably been my biggest struggle with myself, is confidence," DeLeon said late Sunday night. "When you play with confidence the sky is really the limit."
With Andy Najar's impending departure for the Olympic qualifying tournament, DeLeon could see a sharp uptick in his playing time over the coming weeks. According to his teammates, the rookie is more than ready for the added responsibility.
"It just shows his character and the type of player he is," De Rosario said of DeLeon's quick ascension into Ben Olsen's rotation. "After not making the eighteen, he had a great week. He worked hard and once he got minutes he made the most of them. That was a great finish."
"A player's first goal is always special," added Robbie Russell. "I think it was good for him, he showed well. He has definitely given the coaches something to think about."