- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

CARSON, Calif. | D.C. United‘s season opener included the return of two fan favorites, a rookie’s first goal, freak plays, contentious officiating… nearly everything but a victory.

The Los Angeles Galaxy‘s Landon Donovan scored twice in the final 10 minutes to force a 2-2 tie Sunday at Home Depot Center.

Christian Gomez and Ben Olsen returned to United’s starting lineup, which featured six members who played elsewhere 12 months ago.

For Olsen, Sunday’s game was his first since June 29 - his lone appearance of 2008 - because of a slow recovery from ankle surgery.

“Overall, I’d give myself a D-plus,” said Olsen, who wore the captain’s armband until he was replaced in the 72nd minute. “Physically, I got through it; I really wasn’t expected to go 90 [minutes]. But I really enjoyed being back out there.”

Joining Olsen and Gomez were two rookies - forward Chris Pontius and midfielder Rodney Wallace - and two players signed in the past three weeks: defender Dejan Jakovic and goalkeeper Josh Wicks.

Wicks replaced Louis Crayton, who is recovering from a strained hip flexor and did not travel with the team.

Though Los Angeles dominated possession early, United used an unusual play to force a successful penalty kick.

Luciano Emilio headed Wicks’ goal kick to Pontius, who headed it to Gomez, whom Galaxy midfielder Dema Kovalenko dragged down by the left arm in the penalty area in the 43rd minute.

Gomez took the penalty kick one minute later and drilled it inside the left post for his first goal for United since Nov. 1, 2007.

In the 62nd minute, Wallace and Pontius combined to give United a 2-0 lead. Pontius took Wallace’s pass, dribbled to open space and curved an 18-yard shot into the upper-right corner of the net for his first professional goal.

“I was actually pretty surprised; I thought somebody was going to close me down,” said Pontius, who had about 130 friends and family members attending. “I was able to pick up my head and pick out the spot I wanted to put it in.”

But in the 73rd minute, United’s fortunes began to shift.

While covering the Galaxy’s Jovan Kirovski on a disputed ball, United’s Devon McTavish plowed into teammate Greg Janicki. Both players fell to the ground with bleeding heads.

“You could hear that clash where I was,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “They both have cuts, deep gashes.”

Both received treatment on the bench. McTavish needed seven staples to close the head cuts before Marc Burch replaced him in the 80th minute. Janicki returned with a bandage swathed around his head.

“I feel all right other than the bump on the back of the head and, I guess, the blood running down my face,” McTavish said after the game.

As both players received aid, referee Jair Maruffo allowed play to continue with United’s eight remaining field players.

“They talk about it being referee’s discretion when to stop a game,” Soehn said. “You’ve got to use common sense and stop a game when you’ve got two guys lying on the field with bleeding heads.”

With United briefly short-handed, Maruffo charged Wallace with committing a handball in the penalty area in the 79th minute.

“I haven’t seen the replays, but everybody on the field told me it wasn’t a handball,” Soehn said. “It hit Rodney in the thigh.”

Donovan converted the penalty kick past a frozen Wicks in the 80th minute, then tied the score six minutes later.

The veteran of two World Cups beat three defenders as Kyle Patterson sent a cross from the left flank. Donovan stationed himself at the edge of the 6-yard goal crease and headed the ball past Wicks.

“We played a good 80 minutes,” McTavish said. “But there’s a lot out there we could’ve gotten.”

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