In the first half, the difference between D.C. United and the New England Revolution was set pieces. Possession was roughly equivalent. The chances created from the run of play were roughly equivalent. But two goals from two United center backs had D.C. up 2-0 entering halftime while in the processing of taking back both RFK and first place in the Eastern Conference. It was as if Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald had each concluded that one of them was about to lose his job to Emiliano Dudar, and they each wanted to make a big play to try to hold down the other central defensive position. They both did.
In the second half, things changed just a bit.
The Revolution got two quick goals, with the first coming from Saer Sene on a rebound from a Benny Feilhaber strike. It was all the result of a patented McDonald-long-ball-to-no-one after Chris Korb had already moved up the field into our 3-5-2 attacking formation. That left one side of the field wide open, and Sene likewise open at the back post.
Minutes later, the A.J. Soares goal was a nice play, and its not something I want to discredit. Soares got a good touch to redirect the ball into a spot where no one could defend it. But the goal was avoidable because the corner kick leading to the goal was avoidable. It involved Blake Brettschneider doing the hard work up top as a target forward. United fans will remember that Brettschneider was cut by United in the preseason precisely because Ben Olsen didn't see him as enough of a competent target forward. The Soares goal made me long for the return of Maicon Santos. The hard work to pressure defenders, win possession, and generate turnovers was exactly what United had been missing up until that point.
Olsen agreed. Santos emerged just 10 minutes later.
The result was decided at that exact moment. Santos had no intention of losing this match.
Just minutes after entering the field, Santos created and finished a beautiful give-and-go to put D.C. United in front for good. He made a turn to avoid three Revolution defenders to spring Dwayne De Rosario, and with Hamdi Salihi making a run into the middle of the box to open up space, Santos trailed smartly and put the ball into the back of the net.
So many times this season we've seen United come out hot at the start of the second half, with the 4-1 win over FC Dallas being the most memorable. This time it was our opponents who came out hot after halftime, with Jay Heaps inspiring his team to turn it on heading out of the locker room. Hey! That's Olsen's move! This time, it took Olsen just 10 minutes longer.
Having already earned his second assist in consecutive games, Branko Boskovic was rightly removed in favor of Santos to give United a bit more possession and work rate higher up the field. This point isn't meant to take anything away from Boskovic - he and Santos each make an impact in different ways, and throwing a different look at a team during a tie game is often well advised.
But it wasn't just the Santos substitution that will have us praising Olsen yet again. When the game was in jeopardy as United was having trouble keeping the ball away from New England in our half of the field, Josh Wolff subbed in, and D.C. immediately held the ball for the next two minutes. They almost held the ball for the final 10, besides a brilliant Bill Hamid save to secure the three points.
Those three points were big, as the win wrapped up a three-game homestand that saw D.C. collect all nine possible points. I think they deserve a break. Which is good, because they're about to get one. After extending that winning streak into the U.S. Open Cup competition against the Richmond Kickers on Tuesday of course.