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D.C. United battles in rain to slide past Sporting Kansas City 1-0

What started as a misty Sunday evening in the nation’s capital quickly deteriorated into a downpour, but D.C. United held on for a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City. 

May 12, 2019; Washington, D.C., USA; D.C. United forward Paul Arriola (7) shoots by Sporting Kansas City defender Botond Barath (2) to score during the second half at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — What started as a misty Sunday evening in the nation’s capital quickly deteriorated into a downpour, but D.C. United held on for a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City. 

“They are tough to score on. It was always going to take something a little special tonight to get the goal,” D.C. coach Ben Olsen said. “These were very important points to pick up, especially after we weren’t the sharpest here leading up to these last two home games.”

United pressured a depleted Sporting side early, but it could not find a way past goalkeeper Tim Melia in the first half. Kansas City came to town with just four substitutes due to a severe injury bug plaguing the team. 

Playing out of the back, United was able to dominate possession in the first half and recorded 10 shots to Sporting’s four. The closest chance of the half came in the 14th minute on a 25-yard free kick from United captain Wayne Rooney. The 2017 goalkeeper of the year, Melia, read the shot perfectly and made a diving save.

“I thought the first half we played well. We got in a dangerous position and the final passes weren’t quite there,” Rooney said. “We pressed pretty well.” 

For the second game in a row, United defender Leonardo Jara made a major impact on the right flank. With Jara manning the right, Olsen slotted his newest addition, Marquinhos Pedroso, into the left back spot. This was the first time in five matches that United had a natural left back in the back four. 

“It was a really great performance from our defense, a shutout,” Olsen said. “Steve [Birnbaum] and Fred [Brillant] were great. Leo Jara had a very good game and Pedroso, for his first game, I certainly enjoyed watching him.”

With the addition of Pedroso, Olsen switched back to the 4-2-3-1 formation that United is most comfortable playing. Midfielder Paul Arriola, who is one of United’s most versatile players, was able to take up a more attacking role in Sunday’s formation.

“It allows me to be in a more attacking starting position, constantly around Lucho, around Wayne,” Arriola said. “Being able to give the team some width and some depth when it comes to runs in behind and stretching the defense. I think that is one of the greatest things I can bring to this team.”

While Sporting locked down midfielder Luciano Acosta and Rooney, Arriola found freedom on both sides of the field. 

“Paul is a bit better than a ‘third option,’” Rooney said. “He is a fantastic player for us. What he gives us is great energy.”

In the final 10 minutes of the match, he found a hole on the opposite side of the field from his starting position.

Arriola snuck between Sporting’s midfield and defense on the left. Rooney fed him the ball wide, giving Arriola enough time to cut back and curl a long shot into the back of the net.

Arriola sprinted toward the sideline, knelt down and untied his shoe. In an interesting choice of celebration, he lifted the shoe to his ear like a telephone and pointed skyward. It was call to his father, who passed away last year.

“I had it planned,” Arriola said of the celebration. “After last week, I said, ‘Next time I score, that is going to be for him.’ … I know he is looking down so happy.”

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid made two crucial saves to to keep United in the game. The first was a one-handed save against forward Krisztián Nemeth. Nemeth took advantage of his close positioning in front of goal. He launched a shot toward Hamid, who deflected the shot with his outstretched right hand.  

Hamid came up again 15 minutes later with a save against defender Graham Smith off of a Sporting set piece.

As the clock ticked toward the final 20 minutes, conditions at Audi Field worsened. The rain, which was originally predicted to start at 10 p.m., arrived early, causing a mess on the field. United’s crisp passes turned desperate with less control of the wet ball, but the team held onto the lead.

United secured an important three points at home ahead of a tough road stretch that starts Wednesday against Toronto FC.

“There is only two days rest in between, which I think is ridiculous. It is silly silly scheduling, but it is what it is,” Olsen said. “It will be tough, but certainly a challenge the group is looking forward to. We will need a bunch of bodies to get through this.”

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