This wasn't supposed to be an easy game. Martin didn't think it would be. I didn't think it would be. At the very least, the Colorado Rapids got last week off - in contrast to our exhausting game in the sauna that is Houston this past weekend - and were also giving arguably their best player in Conor Casey his first start since an achilles tendon tear last season. Oscar Pareja's side was also missing only two starters, a figure Ben Olsen would probably kill for right now.
Instead, a front-to-back show of quality by D.C. United lead to a quite comfortable 2-0 win. The attack created enough chances that Matt Pickens could end up in the Player of the Week running despite giving up two goals; the midfield shut down the Rapids via a higher work rate, smarter positioning, and more judicious use of the ball; and the defense kept Colorado in front of them all night long, leaving Bill Hamid with little to do.
I won't tell you this was a world-class performance; rather, I'd call this the kind of game MLS's elite teams turn in on short rest against decent opposition. You'll see similar results when, say, the Seattle Sounders host a rested, healthy New England Revolution, or when the San Jose Earthquakes have a Wednesday night game against the Montreal Impact.
You know what that means: Lots of 5s beyond the jump!
We will be sticking with the B&RU standard 1 (awful) to 5 (glorious) ratings. Martin isn't here today, but just because I'm a sub doesn't mean you can act up. I can send you all to detention!
Bill Hamid: 4
I can't give Hamid a 5 because he had so little to do, but any team-focused keeper will tell you that this is how things should be. He was alert to snuff out some through balls, and his save from Jaime Castrillon after United's offside appeals weren't answered kept the score 1-0 just minutes before we scored the second.
One little thing to note was that late in the game, Hamid took a kick from Tony Cascio, who was pursuing a fairly dangerous through ball into the box. Hamid reacted with words, but kept his cool and didn't get demonstrative, which could have lead to some sort of scuffle or possibly a booking from the referee. That's a sign of Hamid's growing maturity.
Robbie Russell: 3
On one hand, I thought Russell was caught in some less-than-ideal spots from time to time, and in general I had the sense that if the Rapids were going to create a real chance, it would come from our right side.
On the other hand, Russell repeatedly contributed to our attack with intelligent passes. Najar and De Ro both had chances to attack Luis Zapata thanks to some smart work from Russell, who was also totally robbed of a goal by Pickens following a pinpoint Boskovic corner kick.
Brandon McDonald: 4
This might seem harsh on a night where our back four kept the Rapids from getting in behind for virtually the entire game. However, McDonald made two rushes into the attack following a tackle that required teammates to bail him out. First it was Salihi making a desperate tackle that ended up earning him a yellow card, and in the 80th minute it was Kitchen astutely dropping into McDonald's vacated center back spot. Feel free to disagree, but for me McDonald has to be more disciplined (or at least pick passes that aren't so risky).
That said, McDonald was otherwise solid individually and marshaled an outstanding defensive effort. It's a mark of just how well he played that he still got the 4 with the aforementioned mistakes.
Daniel Woolard: 5
As long as our opponent is providing a somewhat simplistic attack, Woolard has now earned complete trust filling in at center back. He was once again constantly involved in breaking up plays and making clearances; Opta's Chalkboard has him making 26 such plays over 90 minutes (combine the last 6 categories that come up for his individual heatmap).
He has yet to face a more complicated or soccer IQ-focused attack like the Galaxy or RSL, but if we continue to restrict teams to mid- or long-range, predictable passes, it won't matter. Woolard will eat that stuff up.
Chris Korb: 5
I'd argue that this was as good a performance as he's ever had as a pro. Korb's contributions to the attack were better than usual - particularly his service on long balls, which include the pass that eventually became Salihi's goal - and his positional defending was exactly what was needed. Despite facing the experienced, energetic Brian Mullan as well as a drifting Cascio, Korb hardly put a foot wrong.
Perry Kitchen: 5
Remember two days ago, when we were just happy that Kitchen was not going to be out for weeks (or even months, depending on your initial reaction to the awkward landing against the Dynamo)?
Last night we got to see yet another great showing from Kitchen. It wasn't just his work shielding the back four, which was so good that Colorado moved playmaker Martin Rivero to a wide role for the last half hour or so. Kitchen also played a crucial role in helping United up the tempo after the first few minutes (in which both teams were not thinking very quickly).
Kitchen began doing simple stuff like putting more pace onto his passes and making sure they were in space for people to run onto rather than to feet. These little changes to his distribution were contagious, and once we started playing at a higher speed the Rapids were always second best. That's an absolutely crucial, yet often overlooked, part of his job as an anchor midfielder. In spite of some great performances in the attack, you could mount a reasonable argument that Kitchen was man of the match.
Andy Najar: 4
Turned Zapata like a top before drawing another great Pickens save just before halftime, and generally was bright and energetic. Looked good at right back during the last half hour. In my opinion, he's back in front of Cruz if everyone is healthy.
Branko Boskovic: 5
This was not the stuff of legend, but his work in shuttling the ball around kept the Rapids guessing throughout, and his runs into the attack probably deserved a goal. His service from corner kicks was also close to impeccable. His movement without the ball was also very crafty, as he was constantly receiving the ball with plenty of space. That's what happens when you move smartly rather than just running around.
If the Open Cup game against New England was what a half-million-dollar player is capable of at his best, this was what should be expected from such a player on a regular basis. If Boskovic can offer this as a baseline performance, he should be kept around. The next step is obviously to see whether this was a one-off or not.
Lewis Neal: 5
This is what you do when you're a clear backup and you get your chance. Neal provided the assist on our first goal with a lovely slashing through ball that was weighted perfectly, and his cross to Boskovic a) became a goal for Salihi and b) was not an assist only due to Pickens being outstanding.
Neal's energy in defending and his positional work also helped contribute to United's suffocation of the Rapids in central midfield. Colorado's creators never had much time to play dangerous passes, which in turn meant a game where they always had our back four between them and the goal.
Dwayne De Rosario: 5
Like Boskovic, his movement left the Rapids constantly uncomfortable. His goal was well-taken, and the fact that he trusted Salihi to draw defenders away from his own run was important. De Ro also draw a strong save from Pickens moments after the goal, and created some opportunities for Neal and Salihi as well. In other words, this was what we all envisioned in the preseason when it looked like he'd be playing as a withdrawn forward with tons of freedom.
Hamdi Salihi: 5
His goal was a typical poacher's goal, which seems like a knock but is actually precisely the kind of thing we need out of him. More than that, though, his perfect decoy run was crucial in creating the space for Neal to set up De Ro for the opener, and his intelligent pressure was also a big part of the turnover that gave Neal the ball in the first place.
This was a Designated Player-quality performance. Salihi's movement was a constant problem for the Rapids, and the uncertainty it caused meant more time for everyone else when they had the ball. MOTM on a night with a ton of good candidates.
Danny Cruz: 4
Within the context of his role - maintain the work rate through the midfield while contributing to the attack - Cruz did a commendable job. It wasn't exactly pretty, but when is it ever with Cruz? He pinballed around the field, winning tackles and generally being involved with positive play.
Josh Wolff: 4
His positioning when we didn't have the ball kept the Rapids from moving the ball forward, and he also created promising moments for Salihi and Cruz.
Bonus rating: Referee Matthew Foerster gets a 5 for a balanced, reasonable showing in his first-ever MLS game in the middle. How in the hell was there a ref like this not getting games while Kevin Stott makes a show of himself or Abbey Okulaja botches another game?