It was far from the prettiest game, with both teams still shaking that early-season rust, but D.C. United were plenty happy Saturday night to claim a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake and walk away from Dwayne De Rosario’s two-game suspension with a split.
Next up is a trip next weekend to Harrison, N.J., to renew an Atlantic Cup rivalry with the New York Red Bulls that should be all the more passionate following last year’s dramatic playoff series. But before looking ahead, here are some observations from Saturday’s proceedings at RFK Stadium:
• Coach Ben Olsen isn’t straying from Lionard Pajoy anytime soon. The striker can be infuriating for D.C. fans thanks to his squandered chances, but he does wear defenses down with his work rate and seems to score just often enough to keep his name in the lineup. Also factor in Carlos Ruiz’s lack of match fitness and the time it’ll take Rafael to adjust to a new league, and Pajoy’s hold on that starting spot is even stronger. And within that United locker room, there seems to be a lot more respect for Pajoy than outside it.
• Losing John Thorrington, however long he is out, is a tough blow. United learned last fall that Perry Kitchen thrives when playing with another holding midfielder, and if healthy Thorrington should give United an upgrade next to Kitchen from the solid but unspectacular Marcelo Saragosa. Amid a fine performance that included a game-high 14 recoveries and the shot than set up Pajoy’s goal, he went down with a knee injury and exited in the 75th minute.
“We don’t think it’s anything season ending, but there’s probably something in there, maybe an MCL, but we’ll wait,” Olsen said. “We’ll wait until we hear what’s going on.”
Added Thorrington: “We’re getting an MRI Monday. It’s unfortunate obviously, I don’t want to speculate, and set any expectations — no expectations, no disappointment, so we’ll see, it’s heartbreaking for me. I was really enjoying myself out there and, you know, it’s just one of those things. I went to block a shot and it’s a freak thing and it happens.”
• In addition to Thorrington, newcomers Marcos Sanchez, Kyle Porter and Ruiz all showed glimpses of promise. Sanchez in his 58 minutes drifted in and out of the game but enjoyed some clever sequences, passed at a high percentage and won a few second balls. Porter tracked back as United held on but also took the opportunity to counter and set up Ruiz for a would-be clincher. And “El Pescadito” did well to get onto the end of that chance but was stoned by Nick Rimando.
Here are Olsen’s thoughts on the trio:
On Sanchez: “I think it was good to get him in this game so he can feel the pace of this game and the physicality of this game and the speed in which he has to play. You can see his technical ability is very good and he understands how to play. But it’s a physical league and there [are] times when he got caught on the ball that could’ve cost us, but he’ll clean it up and as this team moves along he’ll understand, that in this league, of what he can get away with and what he can’t.”
On Porter: “You didn’t see Porter’s true strengths tonight because he’s an offensive guy and he gets after you. But I give him a lot of credit because he dug in there defensively and helped.”
On Ruiz: “I thought it was nice to see him out there and I thought he did well and you can see what type of influence he has.”
• United’s back line lacked cohesiveness in a 2-0 loss at Houston last week, but the unit (James Riley, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic and Chris Korb) was strong against Salt Lake, keeping the visitors from putting together any real chances despite having more possession.
“When we were still in Houston, it didn’t really feel like the season starting,” Jakovic said. “There’s something obviously about playing at home in front of your fans that gets you pumped up, and it kind of hit us.”