On the field, D.C. United played to a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC on Saturday night at RFK stadium. The game had some high points and some low points for the home team, but perhaps the most important event of the evening occurred after the match as the team had an extended team meeting to air the grievances (to use Steve Goff's Seinfeld-inspired metaphor). We don't know exactly what was said in that meeting, however, but we do know what transpired on the field.
- Adam Taylor, via B&RU: "It appeared that Ben Olsen's gambit to deploy one striker (but only at left midfield, with a double-false-nine up front) would pay quick dividends. With more than 58% of possession through the first half, United denied Toronto any time on the ball. There were other chances that came from United's dominance in the first half - 10 attempts, three of which were on goal...Ultimately, the Black-and-Red were unable to capitalize and went into the interval up only one goal. If the night had ended there, it would have been one of the strongest performances of the year. But it didn't, and the defense became the story in the second half, as it always seems to do. Bad turnovers and missed marks were rampant, but through 60 minutes of play, TFC failed to make United pay for any gaffes. It wouldn't - it couldn't - last."
- Steven Goff, via Washington Post: "Has Olsen lost the locker room? I don't think so, but this club is showing signs of emotional fatigue. One can only take so much disappointment. Olsen and the players are tired, frustrated and exasperated. It's been a long, tortuous season with almost weekly self-inflicted wounds. Better they express their thoughts than allow them to fester. That said, Olsen must guard against sinking morale and a team fissure. Although playoff hopes died months ago, United still has the U.S. Open Cup final Oct. 1 at Real Salt Lake. It's all they've got."
- Pablo Maurer, via soccerbyives.net: "Toronto FC travelled to RFK Stadium tonight in a battle of Eastern Conference basement dwellers. United is in the midst of a historically bad campaign, having won only 3 matches out of 25 played. Toronto hasn't fared much better, sitting only seven points ahead of D.C. in the Eastern Conference. It only made sense for neither team to win."
- Ben Olsen, on Luis Silva's impact on Dwayne De Rosario's form, via dcunited.com: "It's just Dwayne [De Rosario] being Dwayne. Him and [Luis] Silva's relationship is coming along. It was hit or miss tonight. We were looking to be more of a threat in behind but it allowed them to continue to push their line higher and it was tough to find them. They did a good job closing up the lanes to get the ball into them. Overall, great goal and Silva still has the ability to make a play at a moments notice."
- Dwayne De Rosario, on Silva's impact on his form, via dcunited.com: "He attracts a lot of energy and I finally feel strength in my leg after two months of being out and not being able to strike the ball. My leg feels good, knock on wood. But he definitely attracts guys and defenders, so now they have another guy to worry about and that frees up space for myself and frees up space for them and more one-on-one situations. He reads the game well, he makes good runs and he's another threat up front. He can create and score so he's definitely been a good addition. Unfortunately, he didn't get a goal but he forced a great save from the ‘keeper."
- Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen, via dcunited.com: "This is a very hard place to play. I feel bad for Ben [Olsen], because this D.C. team is a very good team and with the injuries he's had some bad luck. But they're more than capable, as they showed against Montreal, of beating any team in this League. I'll take a point but I'm disappointed we didn't take three to tell you the truth."
By the time the 2013 season draws to a close, DeRo's goal will surely be one of the standout moments for the club when we reflect back on 2013. It was truly a special shot, made all the better since he single handedly created the space that allowed him to get off the wonder strike from almost 30 yards away from the goal. Unfortunately, whether it was the coach's strategy going into the game, or just a reaction to the early success of DeRo's bomb, D.C. United leaned heavily on attempted golazos for the remainder of the game. According to the MLS chalkboard for the game, as broken down by Adam, 13 of the team's 21 shots were attempted from similar distances by no fewer than seven players (DeRo, Nick DeLeon, Conor Doyle, Jared Jeffrey, James Riley, Luis Silva, and Chris Korb). And while a few of these strikes did force Toronto goalie Joe Bendik into good saves, many were blocked or off target.
Credit goes to Bendik for a fine game in which he recorded eight saves, two of which were superb. The first was on a shot from DeRo in the waning minutes of the first half that was almost a carbon copy of his goal. The second was a point blank reaction save on Silva's awesome side volley from about eight yards out. While Silva didn't score, his technical ability to size that shot up and then execute it continues to show what he can do for D.C. United that few others can. How many times do we see that type of shot attempted and flubbed? Tonight, except for another quality Bendik save, Silva would have added to his highlight reel.
The Last Word:
While D.C. United only scored one goal against Toronto on the night, I think this was one of their better shooting nights of the season. Even with all the attempted long-range bombs that were blocked or off the mark, the Black-and-Red still put 9 shots on goal and forced the keeper to make some excellent saves. But, that's the game of soccer, and running into a hot goalie is going to happen.
Statistically, D.C. United dominated the match. Even factoring in the fact they were playing at home, the stats tilt overwhelmingly in United's favor.
|D.C. United||Toronto FC|
|21||Attempts on Goal||12|
|9||Shots on Target||3|
|6||Shots off Target||7|
|23||Open Play Crosses||26|
|1||First Yellow Cards||0|
|0||Second Yellow Cards||0|
|39%||Duels Won %||60%|
|83%||Passing Accuracy %||73%|
But, even with the statistical domination, Toronto FC probably had as many quality chances to score (4-5) as D.C. United did. The fact that they were woeful in their shooting/finishing doesn't mask the obvious conclusion that our defense is an incredible liability this year. And frankly, going back to the beginning of the season, that is surprising.
Coming into the 2013 campaign, one of the true strengths of the team was thought to be the mostly intact defense the team was bringing back. Having won so many games at the end of 2012 using defense and standout goalkeeping, with opportune goals along the way, the thought was that D.C. United would maintain its success built on this defensive foundation. Sure, Andy Najar left for Europe, but we returned Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Chris Korb, and Daniel Woolard, all of whom had turned in standout performances during long stretches of 2012. Even Ben Olsen said going into the 2013 season that stability was critical in MLS for good defenses, and I think it is fair to say that the club thought they would be strong in the back this year given the backline stability and Bill Hamid (and Joe Willis) minding the net.
It's not a revelation to point out that the expected defensive strength did not materialize, and the team has given up 41 goals so far this season (only "worsted" by Chivas USA's 45 goals). Changes have been made (McDonald is now in Sandy, Utah; Ethan White and others have been in and out of the lineup; Swiss defenders have come and gone), but the quality just hasn't been found. With the pieces on the team that haven't seen action in recent weeks (e.g. Dennis Iapichino and White), can a more consistent back four be found from among the current roster?
Next week, D.C. United travels back to New Jersey to take on the New York Red Bulls in the final match of this season's Atlantic Cup competition. The good guys are down on aggregate by two goals coming off the early season 0-0 draw at Red Bull Arena and the 0-2 loss at RFK. And with the Red Bulls challenging a resurging Montreal Impact and a slumping Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, we can expect to get their best.
What's your take on D.C. United's defensive woes this season? What options should the team explore right now, and at the end of the season? What do you think happened in the team meeting?