August 8, 2020

D.C. United GAME 1 ANALYSIS: With perfection required, United fell short in opener

A tie in the season opener isn’t exactly what D.C. United would dreamed of from its Major League Soccer season opener Saturday night at the Houston Dynamo. In retrospect, however, a tie would have been a good result given the starting lineup and how the match played out. The Dynamo won the game, 2-0, on two goals in the final 10 minutes.

Saturday’s lineup featured Lionard Pajoy starring as the lone forward. Not that he was the only player with attacking capabilities, certainly, as midfielders Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon are capable of scoring goals and setting them up. United outnumbered Houston in the midfield, 5-4, but with star midfielder Dwayne De Rosario out (suspension), D.C. didn’t control the midfield, despite the numbers, leading to a 60%-40% discrepancy in ball possession in Houston’s favor.

With Pajoy alone up top, what often happened is either he wasn’t available for the midfielders to outlet to, or when he was on the ball, he was quickly surrounded by orange-clad Dynamo defenders, unable to distribute the ball because no one had joined the attack to support Pajoy. Pontius tried to help, but missed a header high in the second half after crashing a free kick off the crossbar late in the first half. When it was over, United hadn’t forced Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall to make a save; no shots on goal from seven attempts. United had but two corner kicks to Houston’s six.

All of this meant United had to be perfect defensively. For long stretches, they did well. Sure, the Dynamo generated chances, as home teams often do. Houston produced 17 total shots, seven of which were on goal. But, frustratingly for United supporters, D.C. could only hold out for 80 minutes rather than the required 90.

Let’s take a look at what happened on the two Dynamo goals.

First goal – James Riley Own Goal, 80th minute: This goal came from a Houston corner kick to United goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s left. United had defenders on each goal post, with Hamid leaning toward his right post. Brad Davis took the corner, and the Dynamo had seven players in the penalty area to try to meet it – feeling safe in leaving only two defenders back since United had shown little offensively.

Three Dynamo players bunched up about 15 yards from goal, to the left of the penalty spot, against three United defenders. The three Houston players formed a line, then two moved forward, splitting left and right. Ricardo Clark split left, with Riley on him. Originally, Riley played it well, keeping himself between Clark and the goal as Clark moved forward. Clark, however, was too quick for Riley, and as they reached the 6-yard box, Clark had turned Riley and gotten inside of him. Hamid was on his line, about the middle of the goal.

Once Davis’ well-taken corner flew toward the six, Clark leaped but didn’t time it right and missed the ball. Riley, now behind Clark and challenging for the header, met it flush and sent the ball screaming over Hamid’s head to give Houston the lead.

Second goal – Ricardo Clark from Warren Creavalle, 89th minute: This time, Houston scored off a throw-in deep in United territory. Warren Creavalle threw the ball into Will Bruin, who was quickly double-teamed (United had to pressure the ball down a goal so late), returned the ball to Creavalle, who worked a quick, neat give-and-go with Brian Ching to receive the ball near the end line to Hamid’s left.

Here, bad luck befell the men in black. Creavalle’s cross attempt (to only two attackers in the penalty box vs. five defenders) was blocked by Chris Korb, who had anticipated the whole play rather well and done what he should to shut down Creavalle. But the ball struck Korb, went past him, and somehow stayed in play, for Creavalle to leap past the diving Korb and continue on.

Clark, the goal scorer, had been tightly marked by Perry Kitchen until Creavalle played his pass to Ching. At that point, Kitchen left Clark to mark Ching, who quickly gave the ball back to Creavalle. Despite United forming a 4-man diamond around Clark at a perimeter of several yards, no one stepped up to him once Clark got the ball. Clark wandered toward the corner of the 6 to Hamid’s left when Creavalle passed Korb and found him with a pass. Clark quickly settled the ball with his left foot, then fired a right-footed shot high past Hamid and into the upper corner of the far post.

It was an excellent shot from short range, but it also shows how United will have to work on defensive communication and organization. It’s hard to blame Kitchen for moving toward Ching when he did, and Korb played it right against Creavalle, but was just unlucky. Hamid did his job, holding the near post such as to not be beat short-side from point-blank range. Yet, since no one else rotated to Clark when Kitchen moved, it turned into the insurance goal that allowed Houston to put the game away.

We All Learned Something Here, Week 1: The return of De Rosario for the Week 3 match at the New York Red Bulls will do far more than strengthen United’s midfield. It will allow the offense greater license to attack and it will give head coach Ben Olsen to be a bit more liberal in his lineup choice. It will also take some of the pressure off the defense, because a deeper, stronger midfield headed by a former MLS Most Valuable Player should possess the ball more and the defense won’t be under such tremendous pressure to get every play right, as well as having luck shine their way.

Ed Morgans is a contributor to District Sports Page, who covers D.C. United. Follow him on Twitter at @edmorgans.

About Ed Morgans

Ed Morgans is DC United Page Editor for District Sports Page. Ed worked for The Journal Newspapers (now The Examiner) and covered DC United from 1997-2002. He spent the 2003 season writing for the club’s website. Ed has covered All-Star Games, MLS Cups, CONCACAF Champions Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and international friendlies. He also worked as a blogger at, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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