WASHINGTON, March 28, 2015 — With a dramatic goal in the dying seconds from Chris Pontius, D.C. United downed the Los Angeles Galaxy in bitter cold conditions at RFK Stadium on Saturday night. Nick DeLeon set up the goal with a fine cross from the right flank that Pontius headed past Galaxy goalie Brian Rowe. The reigning MLS champions were missing star strikers Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardis and starting goalie Jamie Penedo, who were all on national team duty.
It looked like the game was certain to end in a scoreless tie until the speedy DeLeon made some neat moves to beat Galaxy defender Robbie Rogers and set up the goal for United’s longest serving player in the 93rd minute. It was United’s first win over the Galaxy since 2008 and a cruel blow for the L.A. team, who thought they had escaped RFK with a vital point.
“I thought Chris [Pontius] was working too hard last week on the defensive end,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “Tonight he was in good spots and constantly threatening the back line. As the season goes he will start to do better with those other opportunities.”
The game started lively for United (2-1-0, 6 points) with Steve Birnbaum seeing his header from a Chris Rolfe corner saved off the line in the third minute. But it was costly. Birnbaum injured his left ankle on the play and was stretchered off, forcing United to make an early substitution and send on Kofi Opare. The Galaxy (1-1-2, 5pts.) responded with Mika Vayrynen shooting wide.
In the 17th minute, United nearly got a lucky break when Rowe failed to hold onto a cross from Pontius. The ball bounced off the back of a defender and rolled towards the Galaxy goal line before Rowe finally rescued it.
DeLeon had chance to put United in the lead in the 23rd minute when he beat Rowe to ball, but he then ran out of space and couldn’t convert. Rolfe had a difficult angle with the follow up shot that sailed across the Galaxy’s six-yard box. When he was next called into action, Rowe made sure he held onto Rolfe’s curling free kick from the left-flank. But it was turning out to be a nightmare for the backup Galaxy goalie, who nearly let a direct shot from United striker Jairo Arrieta slip through his hands.
In the 43rd minute United goalie Bill Hamid did well to dive low and stop a close-range header from Alan Gordon who connected with Stefan Ishizaki’s excellent cross from the right flank. Galaxy’s striker Jose Villarreal then wasted a scoring opportunity placing a difficult shot too high. It was scoreless at the break, and United could thank Hamid for keeping them in the game.
The Galaxy were lucky not to take the lead shortly after the break, but Leonardo’s shot went wide. United appealed for a penalty when Pontius was pulled down by Baggio Husidic in the 59th minute, but the referee waved it off.
The Galaxy responded when Ishizaki, probably the liveliest player on the field, saw his shot rebound off the United post.
Pontius and DeLeon combined for a number of attacking moves throughout the game with no luck, but it all paid off in the final seconds with Pontius earning his first goal of the season. It was a redeeming moment for the striker who glaringly missed a penalty kick in the team’s 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls last week.
“Not only this game but past games, you know you just have to have short-term memory and leave that stuff and keep yourself alive,” Pontius said. “That penalty kick didn’t feel good, obviously. Like I said, short-term memory. I was just focused on the team today. Throughout the game today we were breaking out in the second half, and we just weren’t clean enough. You need to take care of yourself, that’s rustiness of early in the season, but it’s nice to get one at the end of the game and get a win.”
The victory for United ended a streak of 10 games without a win (five losses, five draws) over the five-time champions.
United next travel to face expansion club Orlando City S.C. on Friday.
John Haydon covered soccer for the Washington Times for over 20 years