March 23, 2019

D.C. United GAME 3 ANALYSIS: United must pack greater punch for the road

With three matches gone now in the 2013 Major League Soccer (MLS) season, D.C. United has played twice on the road, failing to score a goal in either contest. On the bright side, United still have managed 1 point from the two trips, thanks to sharp goalkeeper Bill Hamid and the friendly neighborhood crossbar in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at the New York Red Bulls.

United struck for just two shots on goal against the Red Bulls, one each by Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario. Granted, that’s infinitely better than the zero shots on goal posted in a season-opening 2-0 loss at Houston. However, De Rosario, one of the key pieces of the attack, missed that Houston match due to suspension. His return would have led some to hope United’s offense to show more spark at New York, but for the most part, that wasn’t the case.

It’s hard to pin that all on De Rosario, though, who was subbed out for Marcos Sanchez – a more defensive midfielder – after 76 minutes and with United simply trying to hold on for a point. De Rosario couldn’t get as many touches on the ball in threatening positions since the Red Bulls had possession nearly 58 percent of the time. New York spent much of the day firing from all angles on the United goal. Thankfully, had Hamid’s goal been the broad side of a barn, the Red Bulls would have missed that, too. Only seven of New York’s 24 shots were on target.

United spent so much time simply trying to clear the ball out of its own defensive third, that trying to create any sort of coordinated attack was near impossible. There were stretches of a few minutes here and there were United were able to apply some pressure. United managed three corner kicks and were whistled offside twice in attempts to get the ball forward.

But getting De Rosario involved as the boss of the midfield would have meant him coming back well into United territory to get on the ball, in order to receive short, safe passes in the face of New York pressure. The Red Bulls were throwing players forward, dominating the field in trying to get a goal, such that there wasn’t time for players like Perry Kitchen, Marcelo Saragosa, or any of the four defenders to deliver composed, accurate passes for De Rosario and the midfielders to then continue a legitimate attack. And even if De Rosario does retreat far enough to get involved, meaning the rest of the midfield and lone forward Lionard Pajoy would have to, as well, for there to be any sort of coordination, what real threat would they manage with so much ground then to cover?

One issue United will have to solve is how to get something – anything – from Pajoy up top. Not only for goal scoring, but to control the ball more and keep the pressure off Hamid and the United defense. Pajoy has played by himself at forward in both games, and even with De Rosario behind him, and Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon out wide Saturday (probably D.C.’s best midfield combination), Pajoy hasn’t managed a shot on goal in either road match. His lone on-target shot this season was a goal, the header he scored in United’s 1-0 home win over Real Salt Lake on March 9. United either have been unable to stay on the ball long enough to find Pajoy, or Pajoy hasn’t had anyone to distribute to when he gets it, or something goes wrong along the way and the attack fizzles.

The instant reaction, of course, is to start veteran forward Carlos Ruiz in Pajoy’s place. But Ruiz, who has scored 88 career MLS goals, didn’t play in the league last year and has appeared only as a substitute so far for United head coach Ben Olsen. He simply might not be ready yet for 90 minutes, or even 70. Of note, however, Ruiz came on late in the win over Real Salt Lake and got two shots on goal as United were trying to hold its lead in the final minutes. That’s two shots on goal for Ruiz in 26 minutes of playing time season (he didn’t play at Houston) – compared to one shot (and one goal) for Pajoy in 244 minutes.

But it’s hard to expect Ruiz to suddenly start and be the focal point of the attack. With United’s lack of experienced depth at forward, Pajoy must play and he must contribute for United to be better away from home. Road struggles can be understood to some level, given MLS teams averaged 0.97 road points per match last season (314 points from 323 matches). That average is 1.08 this season (28 points from 26 matches). United are currently at 0.50, but the sample size (two games) is far too small to completely judge.

WE ALL LEARNED SOMETHING HERE, WEEK 3: Hamid was outstanding on Saturday while making seven saves, including two very late that left the Red Bulls and their fans gasping in befuddlement. For his effort, Hamid was named the MLS Player of the Week on Monday. Those saves, and two Fabian Espindola shots that ricocheted off the crossbar, were enough for scoreless United to gain a road point Saturday. And no doubt, such goalkeeping from Hamid will keep United in just about any away match it plays. But gaining more possession, having the time and space to run the attack through De Rosario, and having some sort of a reliable target (be it Pajoy or Ruiz – or maybe both) to play toward are going to be necessities if Untied is to start earning three points away from home instead of one or zero.

Good news this week, though, United are home at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday against the Columbus Crew. Like United, the Crew are 1-1-1 (4 points), though Columbus’ path to that record has been a bit different. The Crew won at Chivas USA, 3-0, to open the season, then lost, 2-1, at Vancouver. Columbus drew its lone home match, 1-1, vs. San Jose. United are 13-0-6 in its last 19 league matches at RFK Stadium.

LEAGUE GLANCE: After three weekends of play, Montreal (East) and Vancouver (West) lead their respective conferences. The Montreal Impact are 3-0 with 9 points (including two away wins), while Vancouver is 2-0 for 6 points, but have yet to play on the road. The Chicago Fire (0-2-1, 1 point) and Colorado Rapids (0-2-1, 1 point) are last in the East and West, respectively. Here’s this week’s schedule:

SATURDAY (all times Eastern)

Columbus at D.C. United, 3:30 p.m.
Sporting Kansas City at New England, 4 p.m.
New York at Montreal, 4:30 p.m.
Vancouver at Houston, 8:30 p.m.
Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Colorado at Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m.

SUNDAY

Chivas USA at Chicago, 5 p.m.

Ed Morgans is a Contributor to District Sports Page covering D.C. United. You can follow him on Twitter @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 www.bigsoccer.com, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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