In its first visit to PPL Park of the 2012 season, D.C. United was outplayed and outpossessed for the majority of the match against the Philadelphia Union. United wasn't outscored though. The visitors prevailed 1-0 thanks to a goal from Chris Pontius off a Branko Boskovic free kick, and an elite performance from Bill Hamid in net.
The lone goal in the match came in the 78th minute, just six minutes after Boskovic entered for the ineffective Maicon Santos. Boskovic's entrance immediately and positively changed the match. From the moment he stepped foot on the field and no sooner, United was the better team. They were better at possessing, better at defending, and most important of all, better at scoring. After a Pontius run drew a reckless tackle from Carlos Valdes, Boskovic stepped up and delivered a perfect ball off the free kick to the back post, out of Zac MacMath's reach, and onto the foot of Pontius, who had no problem putting it where it belonged.
Aside from Boskovic's huge impact, and aside from Hamid's four-save performance, D.C. United didn't give its fans much to cheer about. It was a mostly frustrating night for D.C. as the team struggled to hold the ball for any significant stretch of time, frequently giving the ball right back to the Union as soon as possession was won, and gifting scoring opportunities to the home side.
This performance from United won't leave the team feeling confident, but it will leave them atop the Eastern Conference standings. It won't intimidate any future opponents, but it will get us closer to the playoffs. Matches like this happen occasionally, even to playoff teams. And we should all keep in mind that United doesn't necessarily have to be playing its best soccer in June. United just needs to be playing well enough throughout the summer to help solidify one of those top three spots in the East. Our best soccer is still ahead of us. If we don't see it until October, I'm okay with that.
There's no doubt that United got lucky tonight. Lucky that Antoine Hoppenot rattled the post instead of putting the ball either past Hamid or through to Jack McInerney in the middle. Lucky that so many of the Union's shots missed the goal. Lucky that Josue Martinez has no discernible soccer skills.
Is it better to be lucky than good? Well its best to be both. Tonight we were only one of those things. We weren't good. We were lucky.
After the U.S. Open Cup loss to the Union last week, Ben Olsen said that "we're not as good as we think we are." Just because we came out on top tonight doesn't change the fact that United still has plenty to work on. The team looked disorganized, as if they were each separate pieces rather than one congruent unit. Dwayne De Rosario was only away from the team for a few weeks, but it might as well have been a year. And at the same time, Philadelphia's simple 4-3-3 rendered Perry Kitchen nonexistent, just days after he had exhibited so much control of the midfield at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
This match will hopefully serve as a lesson to the players, because most teams in MLS won't stand to be shut out in a match like that. If D.C. gives the New York Red Bulls an equal number of scoring chances next Sunday, the final score might be the reverse of the 4-1 win that United earned at RFK Stadium two months ago.