Early goal not enough as United draws again

Despite a commanding first-half performance, D.C. United had to share the points with the Chicago Fire in their 2009 home opener on Saturday night, drawing 1-1 in wet, foggy conditions at RFK Stadium. Rallying impressively after halftime, the visitors used a 53rd-minute goal from Patrick Nyarko to cancel out Luciano Emilio’s well-taken opener in front of 15,895 fans.Both teams had to alter their rearguards due to injuries and international absences. Chicago fielded a foursome of Tim Ward, Wilman Conde, Daniel Woolard and, wearing the captain’s armband, C.J. Brown, while the home side used the threesome of Bryan Namoff, Dejan Jakovic and Marc Burch, backed by Josh Wicks in the nets.Two days of steady rain had thoroughly soaked the RFK pitch and with a light mist continuing to fall as the game got underway, both sides struggled for purchase at the outset. Five minutes in, Fire midfielder Marco Pappa tried to race on to Patrick Nyarko’s deflected pass into the United penalty box, but Wicks was quick off his line to smother the loose ball.D.C. hitman Luciano Emilio looked lively in the early going and struck paydirt after just seven minutes, taking advantage of some slack defending to push United into a 1-0 lead. Turning towards goal some 20 yards out, the Brazilian found himself all alone in space in front of the Fire back line and with Conde slow to step forward, Emilio stroked a low left-footed finish just inside the right post past a diving Jon Busch.United’s leading scorer for the past two seasons, Emilio wheeled away to celebrate the opening of his 2009 account as the soggy home fans screamed their approval. To make matters worse for the Fire back line, a grimacing Brown limped off with a quadriceps injury just minutes later, forcing head coach Dennis Hamlett to make an early change with Dasan Robinson entering the fray at center back. With United’s 3-5-2 formation effectively clogging space in the center of the park, the visitors were finding it difficult to string together sustained attacking possession and had to craft their most promising openings on set pieces. Wicks ventured into heavy traffic to punch away Thorrington’s delivery on one such sequence in the 24th minute, but the clearance fell straight to Pappa – only for the Guatemalan to crack his shot just high of the target.The action switched to the other end barely a minute later, where D.C. rookie Chris Pontius wasted a golden opportunity to double the lead, firing over the crossbar after Namoff made a bold overlapping run to tee him up with an endline cutback. United carved out another great chance on the half-hour mark as Olsen contorted himself to nod Christian Gomez’s deep cross towards net, but Busch was on hand to produce a sharp reaction save.Chicago had failed to make use of their talented wide men during the first half and looked to rectify that in the second stanza, seeking out Pappa and Mapp right from the outset.Yet United’s own slip-ups proved even more influential. In the 52nd minute a comedy of errors in the D.C. defense should have allowed Chicago to draw level: Jakovic lost possession deep in his own end just moments before Wicks fumbled Patrick Nyarko’s soft cross between his legs at the front post, forcing the netminder to fling himself backwards before the ball trickled over the goal line.But the Fire would get on the board mere seconds later, thanks to a nifty play by Nyarko. The Ghanaian-born striker, who spent his college career at nearby Virginia Tech, ran onto Pappa’s through ball and, spotting Wicks acres off his line, slipped an early shot past the D.C. ‘keeper – who could only turn and watch as the soft, angled finish rolled into an unguarded net to tie the match at 1-1. The sudden turn of events stunned both the home side and their fans, but the Black-and-Red continued to enjoy more of the ball and used that possession to fashion a response. Nimbly receiving Moreno’s crossfield pass with his chest, Pontius burst in on Busch despite close marking from Mapp in the 55th minute. The United rookie’s finish was not quite as assured, however, as he slammed his close-range shot right into Busch’s midsection.Then it was Mapp’s turn to spurn a clear chance as the left winger picked Namoff’s pocket and dribbled in alone on Wicks, only to cuff his shot over the bar with the goal at his mercy. Pontius presented a constant threat along the D.C. right flank and not long after the hour mark his curling cross set up Emilio for a header inside Chicago’s six-yard box, but the Brazilian’s effort was blocked by close marking from Conde.D.C. boss Tom Soehn injected his attack with some extra pace as he replaced Moreno with Francis Doe in the __ minute. Conversely, Hamlett added the veteran wiles of Cuauhtemoc Blanco in place of Pappa – immediately inducing a torrent of boos from the RFK faithful. The Mexican legend is no stranger to drama and he did not take long to incite the crowd, jousting with Ben Olsen near midfield and flopping to the turf in search of a foul call – an attempt which was impatiently waved off by referee Mark Geiger.Momentum had nonetheless swung in the Fire’s direction and they came within inches of stealing a late winner on a rapid-fire sequence in the 89th minute. First Wicks fumbled Tim Ward’s long-range blast right into the path of McBride, sparking a desperate goalmouth scramble as Wicks deflected the Fire target man’s point-blank attempt over the bar. Then on the ensuing corner kick, Wallace’s half-clearance fell to second-half sub Chris Rolfe, who whipped a shot toward the upper corner that drew an excellent leaping save from Wicks.Geiger’s final whistle was met with relief by United, who will look for an improved result when Houston Dynamo visit RFK in a week’s time. Chicago Fire (1-0-1) vs. D.C. United (0-0-2) March 28, 2009 -- RFK Stadium Scoring Summary: DC -- Luciano Emilio 1 (unassisted) 7CHI -- Patrick Nyarko 1 (Marco Pappa 1) 53Chicago Fire -- Jon Busch, Tim Ward, C.J. Brown (Dasan Robinson 14), Wilman Conde, Daniel Woolard, Marco Pappa (Cuauhtemoc Blanco 70), Logan Pause, John Thorrington, Justin Mapp (Chris Rolfe 80), Brian McBride, Patrick Nyarko,Substitutes Not Used: Mike Banner, Stefan Dimitrov, Nick Noble, Brandon PrideauxD.C. United -- Josh Wicks, Bryan Namoff, Dejan Jakovic, Marc Burch, Chris Pontius, Christian Gomez (Brandon Barklage 86), Ben Olsen, Clyde Simms, Rodney Wallace, Luciano Emilio, Jaime Moreno (Francis Doe 65),Substitutes Not Used: Andrew Jacobson, Thabiso Khumalo, Milos Kocic, Ange N'Silu, Anthony PetersMisconduct Summary: DC -- Ben Olsen (caution; Reckless Foul) 30DC -- Dejan Jakovic (caution; Reckless Tackle) 79DC -- Marc Burch (caution; Dissent) 91+Referee: Mark GeigerReferee's Assistants: Thomas Supple; Bill Dittmar4th official: Andrew ChapinTime of game: 1:50Attendance: 15,895Weather: Cloudy -and- 51 degrees