- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

It was bound to happen sooner or later: D.C. United finally won a game last night.

Goals by Marco Etcheverry and Dema Kovalenko propelled United to a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire before 11,807 at RFK Stadium, the smallest home crowd of the season.

Perhaps United was motivated by the Los Angeles Galaxy’s defeat of the Colorado Rapids yesterday, because if United had a loss or tie against the Fire, it would have been the only winless team in Major League Soccer.

“This is what heaven feels like,” said United coach Ray Hudson, perhaps overstating the moment. “This is what heaven looks like.”

While United (1-3-4) hadn’t won a game until last night, it remained unbeaten at home this season (1-0-3).

Hudson juggled his lineup once again, and his maneuvers finally paid dividends. Hudson started forward Ali Curtis for the first time this season and the forward line actually looked dangerous.

“He [Curtis] was the hero of the night,” Hudson said. “I don’t know how to describe him. This was the best game in Ali Curtis’ career since he was a little boy. He just went ballistic. Tonight we had a forward that was an antagonist. He was the rallying cry.”

United outshot (10-4) and outclassed the Fire (3-2-3) in this one. Curtis’ speed kept the defenders busy for the full 90 minutes and constantly was a menace. Curtis recorded an assist in the 45th minute, and his presence seemed to give United new life. Curtis held balls up at the top of the 18-yard box and let his teammates run on before going further with the attack.

“As a forward I want to take advantage of a mental lapse or a team not coming in to play right away,” Curtis said. “I think the team would like to use my speed as much as possible. I want to win. As much as I want to play, and I want to start, and I want to play decent minutes, the only thing I’m concerned about is winning.”

Until last night, Curtis had played just 29 minutes all season. He got the start because of forward Santino Quaranta’s groin injury, the absence of Earnie Stewart on national team duty and the ineffectiveness of United’s other forwards. Before last night, they had scored just one goal.

United’s poor start apparently was wearing thin on its fans. Before the game, two of them unfurled a banner that read “Fire the Coach and KP.” K.P. are the initials of Kevin Payne, senior vice president of Anschutz Entertainment Group that owns and operates United and five other MLS teams.

The banner was paraded around the stadium and was still prominently displayed behind the north goal when Etcheverry snapped a 337-minute goal drought — a span of almost 3 games — between the teams when referee Jair Marrufo awarded United a penalty kick in the 36th minute for a deliberate handball by Fire defender Orlando Perez.

The play started when Curtis played a long ball into the box. United midfielder Ben Olsen headed the ball downward from about 8 yards out. Then Kovalenko executed a bicycle kick off Olsen’s bounce inside the 6-yard box, but his right-footed shot went wide of the near post and off Perez’s right elbow.

Perez, who played in eight games with United last season, was protecting the near post at the end line. Etcheverry easily converted the penalty kick by beating goalkeeper Zach Thornton to the right corner for his third goal of the season.

Seconds before halftime, Kovalenko scored his first United goal to send D.C. into the locker room with a 2-0 lead. Olsen played a high cross into the box from the right side. Kovalenko, acquired in a December trade from the Fire for midfielder Justin Mapp, chested Olsen’s bending cross down to the ground, picked his spot, and from 13 yards out sent his shot high into the right corner of the net.

“I care about three points, that’s the most important thing,” Kovalenko said. “When I play [the Fire], I always want to show them that they made a mistake. They did make a mistake. They traded me to get rid of me. [Mapp] didn’t do anything. That’s what drives me.”

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