On a sunny and windy day in Central Florida, D.C. United continued their 2013 preseason by playing the
Serie A second-year MLS side, Montreal Impact, in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic. Black and Red United had a lively game thread, with real time reactions from many of B&RU's regular commenters and writers, and our managing editor, Adam Taylor, put up his analysis of the game of the 1-1 draw as well. I had the good fortune to be at the game, but I won't try to replicate the breakdown that has already occurred here on the site. Instead, here are a photo gallery of what it looked like to be at the game and some quick reactions from seeing the Black-and-Red in the flesh this weekend.
1. Chris Pontius looks quick, really quick. He also is not afraid to take a big shot at the goal. Since it was a big shot in the playoff game against the Houston Dynamo that revealed the true extent of his groin injury at the end of 2012, forcing him out of that game and leaving D.C. United with little hope to come back in that series, it's great to see him back to regular form. By all observables, he looks fully ready to play 90 minutes when the regular season starts in two weeks.
2. Daniel Woolard doesn't appear to be showing any ill affects of last season's concussion. Woolard mixed it up with Impact players, including heavy contact on multiple occasions, and he looked fine (and unflinching) on two high-ball headers. During one play, his rugby-style headgear was knocked off, and he grabbed it, put it back on, and got right back into the fray.
3. Nick DeLeon appears stout. He looks stronger and heavier than last year.
4. On-field communication was super between the D.C. United starters. This team talks a lot in the run of play, and it is obvious they are comfortable playing with each other given that the core of the team remains intact from 2012. D.C. United out-communicated Montreal while the starters were on the field, but this evened out after the mass substitutions (and, as Brendanukkah pointed out on the game thread, Montreal has the added impediment of having to repeat everything in English, French, and Italian!). And Bill Hamid has embraced the role of vocally organizing the defense, including issuing instructions to midfielders and forwards as well.
5. As much as last year's team relied on offense for the first 75% of last season (until Dwayne De Rosario went down with an injury), I think this year's team will rely on defense throughout the season. The team conceded 43 goals last years (7th best in MLS), while scoring 53 (4th best in MLS). It wouldn't surprise me, however, to see fewer goals conceded this year, but also fewer goals scored--perhaps still improving on last year's goal differential of 10, however. The confidence in the defense, and in arguably the best shot stopper in MLS, Bill Hamid, is evident by the commitment D.C. United continues to show in pushing their left and right backs up the field. Hopefully, DeRo, Pontius, and DeLeon, along with Rafael, Casey Townsend, and Kyle Porter can score goals early in games to relieve the pressure of sending defenders forward in search of goals. Otherwise, D.C. United is going to be vulnerable to counterattacks as they showed on Saturday.
Two other thoughts about the defense: they are a physical group, not afraid to run players off the ball with heavy contact. This includes the midfield players as well. Additionally, when the defense swapped positions after halftime, with Chris Korb sliding to the left, Daniel Woolard moving to center back, and James Riley taking over on the right, the defense continued to look strong.
6. I'm not sure what prompted Ben Olsen to call a training session after the 1-1 draw against Montreal on Saturday, but one United staff member said he wasn't aware it was going to occur. By the time I walked over to the training field, the team was involved in a 7v7, short-field, high-tempo tournament that included most of the coaching staff playing against their players. The first team starters were not involved, but most of the other players appeared to be participating. The practice also included wind sprints for players when not playing 7v7. If Olsen called the extra practice in reaction to his dissatisfaction with the game against the Impact, that wasn't stated at the field within my hearing. It was obvious, however, that this is a team that has great respect for Ben Olsen and immensely enjoys playing for him. The sense of "team" was very strong on the training ground.
Photos by Tammy Whiting.
How do you see the defense performing this year? Any additional reactions to Saturday's game? Tell us about it in the comments section below.