The Last Word on DCU vs NE: The Defense Gets Back on Track

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United got back to its formula for producing points against New England: better defense, great goalkeeping, and some help from the post. An All Points Bulletin remains in force for the missing offense, however.

For the first time since Mar. 16 when D.C. United stole a point in New Jersey against the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United kept a clean sheet against an emerging New England Revolution side on Saturday night and escaped Foxborough with a 0-0 draw. Since that game against New York, when D.C. United was sitting on a 1-1-1 record, 10 games have transpired during which the team went 0-9-1 and conceded 22 goals. At New England, however, D.C. United found its defensive form against a Revs team that was sitting on a three-game winning streak during which they had scored nine goals (including wins over the MLS Cup finalists from the last two years, the LA Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo). While United's offensive woes continued, perhaps the defensive improvement is some glimmer of hope as this Lost Season continues.

Their Words:

- Steven Goff: "The winless streak reached 12 Saturday night, but by taking a point at surging New England with a 0-0 draw, D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen found encouragement. "It's been a tough three months, I'm not going to lie," he said. "For the guys to keep grinding and fighting together to get a result tonight, I was very happy with that and I was proud of them.""

- Soccer By Ives: "United mustered 12 shots, but only forced Shuttleworth to make one save. The goalkeeper gave a lot of the credit for the team's recent defensive success to the work it does every week in training and the depth the team has along its back line. "Jay (Heaps) defines everybody's role and everybody knows what they need to do in the game," Shuttleworth said...In recent weeks, New England would have finished its chances and United would have given up a goal. But United stayed compacted and forced the Revolution into tight spaces, not giving up too much space in behind the defense for one of the Revolution midfielders to play a through ball or run into. Even when the Revs started to press and probe, D.C. didn't break and was able to hold onto its third clean sheet of the season, which is something Olsen hopes will be a step in the right direction for a team that has fallen off in form dramatically from last year. "When you're in this position, you're looking for baby steps and this is, again, something that maybe we can build off of," Olsen said."

- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "Some goals would help. We put our defenders under such stress because of not being able to put the ball in the net. I'm constantly harping on defense to shut out zeros and then point the finger at the offense and tonight they did that...It's my first time really dealing with a little bit of a downward spiral. It's tough. You learn a lot. If you're able to sit back and focus on some of the lessons that you're given during this time, I think it can help you down the line, from a coaching standpoint and from a personal standpoint. You're really tested and the players are really tested. It's not just me; the organization's tested and the fans are tested. It's easy to fold and point fingers, but I think overall, we've hung in there. That's a tribute to the guys, the organization, our fans - who I know are very unhappy but patient - and ownership that is supportive of me and my staff."

Bill Hamid, via dcunited.com: "As a group, it was a great defensive performance and we got some chances in the offensive end. So, this is a positive game for us as a team, moving forward."

- Dwayne De Rosario, via dcunited.com: "Again, Bill (Hamid) made huge saves - big time. All in all, a very good defensive effort...(The result) is something to build on, but we can't dwell on it because we have (an Open) Cup game on Wednesday against Philadelphia, another tough opponent. Hopefully we can start finishing our chances going forward and continue to keep a clean sheet. Everyone knows, once you keep a clean sheet anything is possible. We just have to create and finish our chances now. The defense did a good job, now it's up to us as offense to start creating chances and burying the ball in the back of the net."

- Jay Heaps, via dcunited.com: "I know [there are] nights you can't find the back of the [net] like tonight ... I think that when you look at it later ... our final pass was a little bit off, our spacing was a little too tight and DC really once we got in their final third, they were bending not breaking. I think they did a nice job keeping us out of [their] half. They pressed high and we did have some good sequences, but when we did get in their final half and we had good opportunities, they bent but they were never really anything we were totally in and when you give Bill Hamid the right cover like that, he is going to bail you out. Not that he had to bail them out: he made two really good saves and I thought they deserved a point."

My Words:

While the defensive performance in this game was much improved over recent outings, it's hard to tell what the goal is for this team right now. Are we playing for the future (Ethan White starting), putting our best eleven on the field (is Dwayne De Rosario not one of them?), sending signals (Brandon McDonald continuing to sit), or what?

Whatever the goal for D.C. United, scoring goals remains problematic. The team generated a handful of quality chances with Nick DeLeon getting in on goal early in the match (but shooting wide), Chris Pontius looking feistier than we've seen recently, and Perry Kitchen having two second half looks at the goal that went awry (one a volley and one the stoppage time header that could have stolen the win).

The Last Word:

For the first time in months, The Last World column won't dwell on how this latest game foreshadows more poor play for D.C. United or the disappointment we fans feel over the state of the franchise as they extended a team-record 12-game winless streak. Instead, this week we are going to focus on the improved defensive effort turned in during the 0-0 draw.

Is it any coincidence that Bill Hamid played his best game in months following his recent stint with United States Men's National Team? He also opened the season playing fantastically well, again coming off his participation in the offseason USMNT's camp. Maybe it's the confidence gained by playing with the best American players, maybe it's Jurgen Klinsmann's training methods, maybe it's being around world-class keepers like Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Whatever it is, Bill Hamid seems to be playing his best this season following call-ins to the national team. With the Gold Cup looming on the horizon next month, and with Hamid already announced for the preliminary US roster, look for the trend to continue as Hamid both fights to impress Klinsmann with his MLS play and benefits from additional exposure to the USMNT camp.

For the fifth straight game, Ben Olsen experimented with a different combination of back four players. This time, Chris Korb, Ethan White, Daniel Woolard, and James Riley, while not great, were good enough when backed up by Bill Hamid in top form. While we'd all like to see more any goals from this team, count me among those who think fixing the defense is the #1 priority for this team since routinely getting clean sheets (or just giving up one goal) means you are always in the game, even if the offense can't score.

With the addition of Alain Rochat from Vancouver Whitecaps, D.C. United is looking to further shore up the defense. But, when everyone is healthy and available, who are the four best defenders for this D.C. United team? Ben Olsen said at the beginning of the season that stability was critical to a defense (and he thought this would be a real advantage for the Red-and-Black), but this team has not had that for the last month. With the Gold Cup on tap next month, stability may not be around the corner if Dejan Jakovic continues to be in Olsen's plans. But, whatever those plans are, it's time to put them into place and get some stability back for the back four. Because the recipe for this team to get points is to grind them out using defense and goalkeeping first.

Who are the best four defenders on D.C. United? What are your takeaways from Saturday's 0-0 draw with the Revs?

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