United's back four responds to challenge

In D.C. United's first two contests of 2012,there was really only one choice to take home man of the match honors. Unfortunately for the Black-and-Red, it was their goalie.

Under siege against both Kansas City and LosAngeles, United's field players took a back seat to the club's netminders. That changed dramatically on Saturdaynight, as goalkeeper Joe Willis earned a shutout in Vancouver without making asingle save.

"I didn't have to face one shottonight," Willis said after posting a blank sheet for the second time inhis MLS career. "Our centralbacks were great. Every set piece,[Eric] Hassli was marked up tight and never got a look. Our outside backs did great. The team as a whole defended reallywell."

After allowing eight shots on net in each oftheir first two matches, the D.C. defense faced the daunting task of shuttingdown Vancouver's dangerous front four. While some may have looked to pack defenders behind the ball in hopes ofslowing the Whitecaps, Ben Olsen challenged his group to be moreaggressive. In front of 19,334rowdy fans at BC Place, United's back four responded.

"Teams weren't afraid to play us,"admitted defender Brandon McDonald from United's locker room. "Coming into this game we weretalking about having that bite and grit and I think we brought that today.

"It was a real group effort, I thought theback line was so steady," added Olsen. "[Vancouver] has a little bit of everything andthey can hurt you in so many ways, so to keep them off the board was a credit toour defense."

As key as D.C.'s attitude shift may have beenin earning the club's first point of 2012, Olsen also deserves some credit forpersonnel moves along the backline. The second-year coach inserted Emiliano Dudar next to McDonald at theheart of United's defense and the Argentine turned in an impressiveeffort. Vancouver pumped ballafter ball towards Hassli only to see the 6-foot-4 Dudar deny him atall angles. With their targetforward essentially locked down, the Whitecaps took their attack out wide. It was there that Olsen's second back-fourswap paid off.

After being replaced by Chris Korb in LosAngeles, Daniel Woolard returned to the starting eleven with the unenviable assignment of shutting down Vancouver's wings. Time and time again, the under-appreciated defender emerged victoriousfrom one-on-one battles with David Chiumiento and Camilo Sanvezzo. None of Woolard’s triumphs was biggerthan in the 68th minute, when the defender bullied Sanvezzo off the ball deepin United's box.

"Daniel is Mr. Consistent," saidWillis. "He shut down both ofthose guys all night. There are severalone-on-one situations I can think of where they were threatening and Daniel wasthere to shut it down. He's a goodleft back and I was glad he was there to help me out today."

With the tie, United escapes the EasternConference cellar ahead of a stretch where the Black-and-Red will play five ofsix matches at RFK Stadium. D.C.returns to action next Friday against FC Dallas with kickoff scheduled for 7:30p.m.

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