June 12, 2021

D.C. United GAME 5 ANALYSIS: One slip sinks United ship

One play turned what would have been a scoreless draw into a 1-0 loss for D.C. United at Sporting Kansas City Friday night. A goal was scored by SKC’s Claudio Bieler, set up by Soony Saad, started with a bad United turnover deep on its own side of the field. In many games, such an error would be just one part of the total picture. But given how United has played in its three away matches this season, such a play becomes the flash point to decide the contest, because United’s defense and goalkeeper Bill Hamid simply must be perfect for United to have any hope of obtaining even a single point – never mind winning and getting three.

Consider these numbers from United’s first three away matches – at Houston, New York, and Kansas City:

  1. United lost, 2-0, at Houston. DC had about 42 percent of the possession and produced no shots on goal.
  2. United earned a 0-0 draw at New York. DC about 43 percent of the possession and produced two shots on goal, both saved by Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles.
  3. United lost, 1-0, at Sporting Kansas City. DC had about 41 percent of the possession and produced one shot on goal, which was saved by SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.

So that’s three away matches where United has had, on average, about 42 percent of the ball, and averaged one shot on goal, while not scoring at all. In contrast, United have averaged about 53 percent of possession, 5.5 shots on goal, and scored twice in two home matches this season.

Two things here. First, whether United is attempting to just gut out scoreless draws on the road, or simply isn’t capable of getting more of the ball, building an attack, and scoring goals, isn’t clear without being in the locker room everyday. It could of course be a bit of both. A team closes up shop on the road, trying to secure a precious point, and when in possession, doesn’t have enough attacking talent (either due to roster construction or injuries) on the field to launch a threat.

Five would-be United attacks in these three matches have ended in offside calls against forward Lionard Pajoy. There hasn’t been a shortage of shots in other possessions – United have attempted 16 total shots in the three away matches. But as demonstrated above, only three of them have even required a save from the opposing goalkeeper.

The other point is, why hasn’t this pattern stopped? Once could be anomaly. Twice an unfortunate streak. Three times is a trend. Is this going to happen all season? Think about it – as these matches are currently going, United has to play perfect as a unit just to get one point, let alone three. Can this team make the playoffs with this approach in half of its games? Maybe, United just needs its full lineup. Midfielder Dwayne De Rosario missed the Houston match (suspension) and Kansas City match (injury), while midfielder Nick DeLeon missed the Kansas City match, as well (injury).

We also may find out come season’s end that these road matches were the toughest three United face all season, based on where the opponents end up in the final standings. Certainly, these three opponents United have faced so far don’t lose at home often. They combined for just five home defeats all of last season (including none for Houston). This season, the trio are a combined 6-0-2 at home (4-0-1 if you take out the matches vs. United).

So, perhaps the road ahead will get easier, United will be more dangerous, injured players will return, and there will be good results to be had. Plus, United had allowed an average of 20.5 total shots per game in the first two road matches; compared to just 13 at Kansas City, and SKC scored on one of only two shots on target. So the defense did some admirable work. That’s the optimistic view. The opposite would be to suggest that, as the lineup is currently constructed, the ability to score and control matches on the road isn’t there and won’t be unless changes are made. That’s a bit of a pessimistic cliff jump, given the bit of offense shown in the two home matches.

When you consider the entire picture, however, United only has two goals in five games. Surely, they’ll do better than their current pace of 14 for the entire season. But it’s very difficult to continue to ask the defense and Hamid to do every single thing right for 90 minutes just to gain a 0-0 draw.

The hope for that result ended in the 89th minute Friday night.

KC GOAL: Bieler (4th of the season) from Saad, 89′: The whole thing started innocently enough. Chris Korb and Marcelo Saragosa, working near the end line to Hamid’s right, dispossessed SKC’s Seth Sinovic and started United’s possession. Saragosa turned left, looked ahead, and found an outlet in midfielder Marcos Sanchez, who had tracked back to be about level with his own 18 and collect the ball.

Sanchez, however, was quickly pressured by SKC’s Peterson Joseph – who just entered the match as a substitute. Almost immediately, Saad (who also had just entered the match), arrived to double-team Sanchez. In turning away from the pressure, Sanchez dribbled back toward his own end line, before trying to pass the ball back toward Saragosa. The pass wasn’t hit well and before it could reach its target, was intercepted by Saad. This happened in front of Saragosa, who was in position to dispossess Saad and end the threat.

Unfortunately for United, Saragosa’s attempt at tackling the ball away resulted in him falling over, and Saad pushing the ball past him toward a now open area of the field. Korb retreated quickly to try to block any cross, but after a couple dribbles along the end line, Saad played the ball back toward the center of the United penalty area. There, an unmarked Bieler one-timed it past Hamid for the decisive strike. DC midfielder Perry Kitchen tried to recover in time to stop Bieler, but was left with too much ground to cover.

One mistake. One error. One slip. That’s all it took to turn a road point into a loss for United, one that dropped the club to 1-3-1 in its first five matches. United’s four points leave the club tied for 8th in the 10-team Eastern Conference with the Chicago Fire. More disturbingly, the Montreal Impact (12 points) and Sporting Kansas City (11) have cruised to the top of the conference and put quite a gap between them and United in the standings.

A gap which, should United have aspirations for a high finish in the East this season, will only be lessened by being more daring, and perhaps more healthy, when playing away from home.

United’s next match is at home Saturday against the New York Red Bulls.

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