September 21, 2019

D.C. United Game 11 Analysis: United find starting point to end losing skid

It wasn’t a win, so let’s get that out of the way first. But, D.C. United did manage a 1-1 home draw with Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium Sunday evening, ending the club’s losing streak at seven matches. United still hasn’t won since the second game of the season, a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake at RFK. However, given the long losing skid, any point is a good one.

United improved to 1-8-2 on the season, good enough for 5 points. But also bad enough to continue the club’s residence in the cellar of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. United are two points behind Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire, who are tied for 7th in the conference on 7 points. United play both Toronto and Chicago (as well as 6th-place New England) as part of their next four games (the other being the next one at home to the Portland Timbers this Saturday at 7 p.m.).

It could have been better – United still have but the one home win this season at a ground where they were dominant last season, losing just once all season (to Sporting Kansas City in the 2012 home opener). And, to be honest, it could have been worse, had Sporting Kansas City been credited with the goal Ike Opara scored that was waived off for offside (incorrectly, as detailed shortly).

But beggars can’t be choosers and if a point was all that was on the menu Sunday, United were wise to take it. Especially after being out-shot, 14-7 (including 5-3 in shots on target), done in on corner kicks, 12-4, and with SKC holding the ball nearly 60 percent of the time. Those are statistics you would commonly associate with an away team, which shows that it isn’t close to being all there yet. But, given that Sporting Kansas City is second in the East with 21 points, and United is, well, that’s been covered, then those numbers probably come as a bit less of a surprise.

While Sporting will certainly feel hard done by, United shouldn’t have a bit of sympathy for them, given that at least two perfectly good DC goals have been waived off this season for offside, fouls, or various other mysteries. If nothing else, the result is the type of thing that gives United head coach Ben Olsen something – anything – to build on heading into the Portland match and the rest of the season. There are still 23 games left in the campaign, so with about two-thirds of the season left, either Sunday’s draw is the start of a turnaround, or the rare odd result in an otherwise downtrodden season.

That remains to be seen, but as always, and unlike Mark McGwire, it’s time to talk about the past, so here’s a look at the two goals from Sunday’s match, along with, as now appears to be a regular feature in this space … the one that wasn’t.

DCU 0-0 SKC; Opara goal disallowed, 30th minute: Sporting built this attack up the left side, with Seth Sinovic in possession. Sinovic played a neat ball toward the end line for Matt Besler, in the process slipping the attack past United defender Chris Korb. Besler quickly played a left-footed pass back toward the center of the penalty area for Jacob Peterson, who slotted a left-footed pass between defenders Dejan Jakovic and Daniel Woolard for Opara, who ran on and scored from a just a handful of yards.

Opara was immediately flagged for offside, and United telecast commentator John Harkes immediately (and rightfully) disagreed. As it turned out, Opara was onside by several feet, given DC midfielder Kyle Porter was near the end line, United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was only a yard or two off his line, and Jakovic was also between Opara and the goal. It was a really bad miss. These things happen, of course, as United have seen first-hand multiple times this season, but this one was bad.

Worse, had the goal counted, it really would have been a bad mark for United defensively. Precise passing and good runs by Sporting allowed the goal to be scored (sort of) with four players involved, while seven United players were back. There would have been much to howl about had it counted – though in theory SKC had much to howl about since it didn’t.

DCU 0-1 SKC; White (OG), 60th minute: This play started on a Kansas City corner kick, taken by Graham Zusi from Hamid’s left side. Opara was involved here, as well, making a run in the box that led in part to White putting the ball into his own net. Opara’s run allowed him to get around Jakovic, putting the United defender behind Opara, and giving Opara first shot at the corner kick. Given that position, Opara was able to head the ball, but only managed to deflect it. The deflection then went straight off the side of White’s head and past Hamid low and to the goalkeeper’s right. White had no time to react and no way to control where the ball was going.

But it again points to an issue that has been a recurring one this season, where players are getting into excellent positions to attack on corners and other restarts, putting the United defense in positions where they either can’t make a play, or they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, putting the ball into their own net. Such things happen from time to time to every team, but it seems like for the teams that are struggling, such occurrences are common – and perhaps it washed out the good break they got when Opara’s earlier goal was disallowed.

DCU 1-1 SKC; Kyle Porter (1st), from Chris Pontius, 65th minute: Credit to United, however, for bouncing right back and equalizing 5 minutes later. And there was perhaps no more fitting goalscorer than Porter, who has stood out in recent games for his hard work at both ends of the field (and who should have already scored his first MLS goal, but remember his goal that was waived off for a phantom offside vs. Columbus earlier this season).

United midfielder Nick DeLeon, who played a full game for the first time since returning from injury, gets a heap of credit on this goal for overcoming a challenge near the Sporting end line to goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen’s left, keeping the attack alive. Once free from pressure, DeLeon worked backward to find Pontius who was about level with the outside of the penalty area. Smartly, Pontius didn’t wait or lag on the ball, but quickly put in a right-footed cross to the far post at Nielsen’s left. There, Porter met it with a right-footed volley across Nielsen that found the net to level the match. It was the type of quick passing and quick reaction that has been missing from United’s attack for much of the season.

Porter sneaked in behind the Kansas City defense on the play, which was also another credit to the strength of this particular United move. Porter wasn’t the only player going toward goal, as Lionard Pajoy was already in the middle of the penalty area (and onside), and Dwayne De Rosario made a smart, dashing run toward goal to Porter’s left. No one really went with De Rosario, but the combination of his run and Porter’s left KC on the light side of a 2-on-1. Porter outran his marker to the ball and finished in excellent fashion – a deserved result for his hard work this season.

NOTES: Through 11 matches, Pajoy is still United’s goals leader with two. Porter, De Rosario, Rafael, and Perry Kitchen all have one each to round off United’s total of six, tied with the Fire for worst in the league. … Announced attendance at RFK Sunday for a the 5 p.m. kickoff was 13,612. … Referee Jair Marrufo issued two cautions, one to each team. Kitchen picked up the yellow for United in the 85th minute. … Casey Townsend started and played 59 minutes, before being replaced by Pajoy. Townsend had no shots; neither did Pajoy. Ruiz was officially credited with 1 minute played, coming in for De Rosario late. Taylor Kemp got his first start and appearance of his MLS career, but was pulled at halftime in favor of Pontius. Kemp was acquired with the 17th overall pick by United in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. … United are 13 points behind Philadelphia for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. United are no longer the only team in MLS with a double-digit negative goal differential thanks to Chicago’s 1-0 loss to Philadelphia over the weekend. The Fire are now -10 (6 for/16 against). United are -14 (6/20).

Ed Morgans is a Contributor to District Sports Page, covering D.C. United. For in-game analysis, story notifications, and soccer/sports thoughts in general, 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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