April 21, 2021

D.C. United Game 10 Analysis: United falls despite changed lineup

D.C. United lost again. They are remarkably consistent at that, having done so now seven times in a row. At 1-8-1, United stand on just four points in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, already 11 points behind the Philadelphia Union for fifth place and the final playoff spot in the East.

Saturday’s 2-1 loss at FC Dallas wasn’t exactly the same as some of the others. After all, United scored a goal away from RFK Stadium for the first time this season thanks to Dwayne De Rosario’s goal that drew United level just a couple minutes before halftime. It also had a different look, with several changes to the lineup producing starts for defenders Ethan White and James Riley, midfielder Nick DeLeon, goalkeeper Joe Willis, and forward Casey Townsend.Townsend replaced Lionard Pajoy in the lineup, and while he didn’t score, the change did provide some evidence of what Townsend is capable of. Townsend went the whole 90 minutes, and had 1 shot, which wasn’t credited as on goal (though it actually hit the goal, bouncing off the post). Townsend was offside twice and committed four fouls.

Now, on first glance, those might not look like impressive statistics. But what it does show is involvement. Townsend was “in” the game, as it were, something that maybe wasn’t always true for Pajoy. In the end, Townsend wasn’t necessarily dangerous, but he tried to make smart runs, he got a shot off on a good chance, and he played defense in such a way that even if it wasn’t completely effective, the fouls stopped FC Dallas’ attack and allowed United’s defense to re-settle, rather than be the victim of a quick counterattack.

More would need to be seen of Townsend to determine how he can contribute to this United club. But they were 1-7-1 without him. So things basically couldn’t have gone much worse. Will Townsend be a tremendous downgrade from Pajoy (two goals and four shots on goal in 736 minutes)? Probably not. Given the team’s record, there’s no reason not to give Townsend an extended look. If it doesn’t work, it’s unlikely anything would be lost that wouldn’t have been lost anyway.

Despite giving up two goals, Willis had a decent game, making a couple quality saves (3 total) and keeping his side in the match. DeLeon went just 45 minutes before being replaced, as he continues his return from injury. White struggled staying with Jackson on FC Dallas’ first goal (detailed below), and was replaced after 79 minutes by Pajoy (11 minutes, 0 shots), while Riley was in an unfortunate spot on the winning goal, though while it’s true his man (Je-Vaughn Watson) scored, the corner kick that started the play was allowed to bounce in the penalty area and wasn’t dealt with by any of Riley’s teammates, either.

Looking ahead, however, there may be more of a chance to see what some of the other players can do. After upcoming matches against Sporting Kansas City (3rd, East) and the Portland Timbers (2nd, West), United has three straight matches against teams also out of the playoff spots for now (New England, Chicago, and Toronto FC). While United only has five goals this season, New England and Chicago have but six. Toronto has 11, but have conceded 15 (as has Chicago).

That stretch will tell a lot about whether United indeed can back into the race, and the opening schedule was just brutal (all but two matches vs. current playoff teams), or whether or not this is just a sub-par team that is going to struggle regardless of the opponent.

Before looking ahead, however, let’s look back at Saturday’s three goals:

Dallas 1-0 United (Jackson, from Hassli), 11th min.: Eric Hassli started this play, taking a long lead pass and fighting off the physical challenge of United defender Dejan Jakovic. As three United players converged on Hassli, he played a ball forward and to the left for Jackson, who had entered the United penalty area. Jackson had found open space between two United defenders (White and Chris Korb). As White slid in to try and tackle the ball, Jackson beat him to the punch and fired a shot that beat Willis to the goalkeeper’s right and high into the back of the net.

As the play developed, White had been right on Jackson, even making contact with him prior to Jackson receiving the pass. But Jackson managed to slip past him, finding the opening that allowed him to put FC Dallas in front. It was one of those plays where everyone in a black shirt was close to making the play that would stop the goal – but none of them did.

Dallas 1-1 United (De Rosario, from DeLeon & White), 43rd min.: This goal came from a free kick – something United need more of if they aren’t going to be as successful creating chances in the run of play. On the free kick, Kyle Porter and Nick DeLeon each took quick touches before De Rosario blasted a shot from about 23 yards and to the right of Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz.

De Rosario’s shot never got more than about 3 feet above the ground, and one-hopped past Seitz to his left, producing United’s first away goal of the season. It was De Rosario’s first goal of the season and the 101st of his career. It also gave United a boost entering halftime, at which time the score remained 1-1.

Dallas 2-1 United (Watson, from Michel), 77th min.: This goal came from a corner kick that Michel took from Willis’ left. Oddly, the corner kick bounced down right in the middle of the 6-yard box, and Je-Vaughn Watson managed to work free from Riley to chest the ball into the goal. Willis was unable to deal with the kick because he was back closer to his line and caught up in mass of players. Watson chested the ball with Riley turned around, trying to restrain him.

It’s very rare for a corner kick to bounce such as that one did. Once it does, it’s sort of all hands on deck and whoever works the hardest and gets the luckiest will get the first touch. In this case, that was Watson, after he worked his way around Riley and put himself between the defender and the goal. It was solid work by Watson and an unlucky bounce for United, and at that proximity to the goal, such a combination is usually bad news for the defense.

WE ALL LEARNED SOMETHING HERE, GAME 10: United were much better in stretches of the Dallas match than they had been in previous matches. But a lost assignment on the first goal and a bad bounce and smart Dallas run on the second were enough to doom the black-and-red to yet another loss, despite De Rosario’s goal. Little mistakes are still dooming United on a match by match basis. But at least De Rosario gave them some hope, and Willis and Townsend were decent in their chance to start.

Some lineup changes worked a bit, some others didn’t. The bet is that there will be more as head coach Ben Olsen tries to find the right combination to get United out of this all-time funk. The change might not be good all the time, but it certainly appears to be necessary.

Ed Morgans is a Contributor to District Sports Page, covering D.C. United. For in-game analysis and story notifications, follow him on Twitter @writered21.

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 www.bigsoccer.com, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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