- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

The big veteran at the back got the job done for D.C. United only to see a speedy rookie spoil the party and steal two points for the Chicago Fire last night at RFK Stadium.

The 6-foot-2 Mike Petke, an eight-year Major League Soccer veteran, gave United a first-half lead, but Chris Rolfe tied it with a second-half goal in his first pro game. United’s home opener attracted 19,052 compared to 24,603 last season for 14-year-old Freddy Adu’s debut.

“We didn’t finish our opportunities, obviously, and we are a little fatigued with so many games we’ve played, but it’s no excuse,” Petke said. “We are professionals. We couldn’t control the ball, and the opportunities they had came from our mistakes. That cost us the game and two points.”

Chicago (0-1-1) put early pressure on United goalie Nick Rimando, who had to make a big save on a shot by Rolfe in the fourth minute. The third-round draft pick also came close a minute later, giving the MLS defending champions some early scares.

United (1-0-1) finally saw positive action in the 14th minute when Fire goalie Zach Thornton nearly spilled Jaime Moreno’s shot into his own net.

In the 25th minute Josh Gros breezed past two defenders from the right and blasted a fine shot from the edge of the box only to see Thornton tip it over the bar. The big Chicago goalie strained an arm and was replaced at the break by Matt Pickens.

But United’s pressure paid off. In the 40th minute, Christian Gomez floated over a free kick from 25 yards out on the left. The ball sailed over a crowd of players, took a dangerous bounce in the box and was toe-poked home by Petke, who was unmarked at the back post. It was Petke’s fourth all-time goal for United and “the easiest of my career,” he said.

Three minutes after the break, Rimando pulled off an excellent save, running out off his line to confront charging Andy Herron and palming the Costa Rican’s shot wide. But two minutes later, he could do nothing to stop Rolfe, who beat the offside trap, controlled a high ball with his chest from Ivan Guerrero and sent a low shot past Rimando to make it 1-1 at the 50-minute mark.

Petke admitted he was partly to blame for the goal but thought Rolfe was offside.

“I took my eye off the play to keep two guys in order, and I look over and [Rolfe is] so far ahead of me, like Carl Lewis, that [I thought] he had to be offside.”

Moreno came close to giving United the lead when his shot came off the bar at the one-hour mark.

Adu came in for Gomez in the 62nd minute and immediately started to cause trouble for the Fire with some nifty footwork.

Throughout the night, English veteran Steve Guppy sprayed good crosses from both flanks. On a short corner in the 37th minute, Guppy’s cross from the right found United striker Alecko Eskandarian in the box, but he headed the ball straight into Thornton’s arms.

Apart from that and another missed chance late in the game, Eskandarian — United’s top forward in 2004 with 10 goals — had a quiet and frustrating night. He was replaced by Santino Quaranta in the 69th minute.

“I’m not where I want to be because of the layoff,” said Eskandarian who had some knee problems in the preseason, “but I’m getting in the right spots. I’m frustrated that I’m not finishing.”

Jamil Walker replaced the hard-working Guppy with three minutes left.

“I thought the service was amazing from Steve,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “He produced two great balls to Alecko.”

Notes — Before last night’s kickoff, United players were presented with their rings for winning the 2004 MLS Cup, and the team’s fourth championship banner was hung up at RFK. …

United has a tough week ahead. On Wednesday, it visits UNAM Pumas of Mexico City in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals. United tied Pumas 1-1 at RFK last week and must earn a win to advance. The team then flies directly from Mexico to Columbus, Ohio, for a Friday kickoff against the Crew.

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