Sunday, September 14, 2003

D.C. United coach Ray Hudson has been waiting all season for the Ben Olsen of old to reappear, but maybe he won’t have to wait much longer.

Last night Olsen took charge just when his club needed him most, scoring a late game-winner as United beat the San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 at RFK Stadium before 15,502.

Olsen’s winning strike came seconds after it looked as though United had thrown away three precious points despite controlling most of the game against the best team in Major League Soccer. United is unbeaten in the regular season when Olsen scores.

After taking an early lead nine minutes into the match, United (9-8-6, 33 points) allowed San Jose (12-5-7, 43 points) to tie 1-1 in the 80th minute on Jamil Walker’s goal. United’s sloppy marking at the back looked like the club had ruined a great night of soccer.

But Olsen immediately responded seconds after the restart, running into the San Jose half and unleashing a 25-yard low drive that found San Jose goalie Pat Onstad sleeping. It was Olsen’s third goal of the season and his second game-winner in two games. Last week he delivered in a 2-1 home win over Los Angeles.

“I was so proud of Benny [Olsen] and Marco [Etcheverry] performing so well as they have taken a lot of criticism this season,” Hudson said.

Olsen, once a regular on the U.S. national team before he missed nearly two years with an ankle injury, has played in every game for United this season and looks to be finding his form.

“Coaches are always trying to get the best out of you — that’s their job,” Olsen said. “Maybe I’m biased, but I think I’m back to my old game.”

United’s opening goal in the ninth minute came after a period of sustained pressure by the home team. A minute earlier, Ronald Cerritos had a point-blank shot saved by San Jose goalie Onstad. Before he could get his breath back, Onstad again was called on to make a great save from a powerful header by United captain Ryan Nelsen.

But United’s early flowing attack was too much for San Jose, the only team in MLS to clinch a playoff spot. Seeing an opening on the left flank, Etcheverry set Cerritos free with a nice pass. The El Salvadoran star made room for himself on the wing and sent over a perfect left-foot cross to Earnie Stewart, who headed the ball home from seven yards out while unmarked.

After 15 games, it was Stewart’s first goal for the club.

“It’s always good for your confidence to get that first goal,” Stewart said. “Since Ronald’s arrival, I have really teamed up with him and found a player I can play with.”

Stewart joined United this season as a star allocation player after scoring 111 goals in 14 years playing in Holland’s top league.

United is now one point behind the MetroStars for second place in the Eastern Division.

“I think we are the best kept secret in Major League Soccer,” Hudson said.

Cerritos, playing in his third game for United, caused the San Jose defense problems and nearly made it 2-0 in the 28th minute when he headed a Eliseo Quintanilla cross, but the ball skimmed over the bar. He also came close in the early stages of the second half, but his header from Etcheverry’s pass went wide.

Midfielder Bobby Convey replaced Etcheverry, who was suffering from a right calf injury, in the 51st minute. Convey missed a chance from a Stewart pass 20 minutes later, but with only Onstad to beat, he fired directly at the goalie.

The United backline did a good job keeping World Cup star Landon Donovan quiet most of the night. But the defense failed in the 80th minute when Richard Mulrooney’s free kick was headed on to Walker, who tapped in the ball from two yards out to give San Jose life.

Last night’s win gave United its best points total (33) since its 1999 championship season with seven games left. United failed to reach the playoffs the last three seasons, earning 32 points last year, 26 in 2001 and 30 in 2000.

Notes — Hudson went with the same starting lineup that defeated the defending champion Galaxy last week at RFK. The club had started with the same lineup in back-to-back games once earlier this season. …

For the second straight week since he was denied a work permit to join English club Tottenham Hotspur, Convey came off the bench. Brazilian forward Thiago Martins, who joined the club this week from the A-League’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds, remained on the bench. … Olsen and Nick Rimando are the only D.C. players to have appeared in every game this season.

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