Greeted with everything from guttural yells to wacky dances, finishing is the most difficult thing to do in soccer. During Wednesday night's 3-1 win over the Charleston Battery, D.C. United did it as well as they have at any time in recent memory.
A trio of tallies, coming from three different forwards on just five shots, showed off the depth and efficiency of the Black-and-Red's new-look front line.
"It's huge," goalkeeper Joe Willis said of the output from D.C.'s forwards. "Especially tonight you could see it. We gave up the goal and then scored immediately after and it's a huge relief and a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that I have players that are capable of doing that in front of me."
The goals were as different as they were in important. First, Maicon Santos opened the scoring with a left-footed blast following Branko Boskovic's precise 13th minute through-ball. Next, Trialist Ryan Richter helped his case to make the team by nodding home Jose Burciaga's 31st minute cross. United saved the best for last, as designated player Hamdi Salihi added the finishing touch to one of the best build-ups D.C. has put together in quite some time.
After Chris Korb slipped a ball to Andy Najar deep in United's own end, the 18-year-old went on a dazzling run. Darting through the Charleston defense, Najar changed direction at full speed multiple times, shaking at least five would-be tacklers. A give-and-go with Josh Wolff gave Najar time and space in the box and the United academy product delivered a perfect ball to a streaking Salihi. The Albanian, who had exquisitely timed his run, tapped the ball into an open net.
"This is a beautiful, beautiful goal," said Salihi, who has run his strike total to two in as many appearances for United. "With a double-pass, with everything inside. This is how we are trying to do it."
"Hamdi knows what to do and he was in a good spot and just tucked it away," Wolff said of the 88th minute strike. "[It was] pretty good timing and good orchestration and those are the ones you like to see." [Full interview]
United head coach Ben Olsen had a slightly different take on goal.
"I drew that up," Olsen said afterwards with a sarcastic smile. "I told Andy to beat five guys and hit Hamdi for an open net. Yeah, I'm a genius."
Genius or not, Olsen can all but claim the 2012 Carolina Challenge Cup as his own. Thanks to Wednesday's victory United - barring a strange shift in goal-differential - will leave Charleston as tournament champions for the third consecutive season. The Black-and-Red close out their final preseason trip on Saturday with a 5:00 p.m. kickoff against the Columbus Crew.