D.C. United coach Ben Olsen noted this week how he was impressed with the effort of speedy midfielder Lewis Neal and wanted the newcomer from England to make more crosses from the left flank.
Neal, earning only his second start, did just that Wednesday night as United downed the Colorado Rapids 2-0 at RFK Stadium before 11,593. Neal helped set up goals for Dwayne De Rosario and Hamdi Salihi, with two fine passes as United got back to their winning ways after wilting in the Texas heat last Saturday to the Houston Dynamo in 1-0 loss.
"You could tell we had some soccer players out there that really know how to control the ball," Olsen said. "It could have been even better I think."
It was United's (6-4-3) fourth win at RFK, equaling the total number of home wins from last season.
Due to injuries, Olsen had to juggle the lineup. Missing was Maicon Santos, the team's leading goal scorer, who was out with a sore calf. He was replaced by Salihi. Midfielder Branko Boskovic played center midfield, allowing De Rosario to act as a forward.
"It's never easy to go away from your quote, unquote, 'starting eleven,'" Olsen said. We built depth and we talked about it and we have to trust in it. Today they did a very good job to the man out there. I thought it was a complete performance. "
The well-rested Rapids, who hadn't played in ten days, looked like the more adventurous team in the early going with Tony Cascio, Brian Mullen and Conor Casey all seeing efforts go wide.
United, playing the first of a three-game home stretch in 11 days, finally responded in the 25th minute. On a speedy counter-attack, Neal split the Rapids (5-0-6) backline with a delightful pass to De Rosario from the left flank. The United captain fired a right-footed shot from 12 yards out to give United the lead and earn his third goal of the campaign. It was Neal's first assist in Major League Soccer.
The pressure from United then was unrelenting. In a three-minute span, United forced Rapids goalie Matt Pickens to pull of three huge saves, stopping shots from De Rosario and Boskovic and a Robbie Russell header.
Just before the break, midfielder Andy Najar dribbled through the Colorado defense and saw an excellent shot off the outside of his foot get stopped by Pickens for a corner kick.
United started the second half where they left off. Salihi saw his pinpoint header from a corner kick get saved by Pickens, who kept his team in the game with eight saves.
United got their insurance goal by Salihi on the hour-mark, and it was again created from a Neal cross.
The injury-plagued Boskovic, playing his best game in a long time, connected with the cross and fired a shot that was stopped by Pickens. But the goal-poaching Salihi converted the rebound to make for his third goal.
"Lewis was dangerous," Olsen said. He's a guy who can pass not just centrally, as you saw on the goal, but he is a threat on his left foot whipping balls in. With Hamdi in there, we wanted to get a lot of crosses in. I thought we did that and that opened up some stuff underneath."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.