Certainly there had to be some trepidation about D.C. United after their effort on the weekend against the Montreal Impact, playing a Houston Dynamo team that, while missing key cogs of their machine, remain generally a well-coached bunch who have had D.C.'s number for the most part since the Dynamo became, well, the Dynamo. Still, last night was pretty fun, wasn't it?
Ryan Keefer: "It may have been windy and rainy, and only 8,224 people were there for it, but D.C. United scored two goals on an 11-man squad for the first time in nearly two months (making yours truly eat his words) and looked at ease facing a Houston Dynamo squad who only dressed 18 players tonight, en route to a 2-0 win in a game where D.C. was without the services of the suspended Eddie Johnson. Things...came to life when Lewis Neal threw the ball in quickly to Fabian Espindola, who fended off Jermaine Taylor and get the ball to Rolfe, who cut back to his left foot in front of David Horst and shot it from just outside the penalty area, beating a diving Tally Hall on his left for a 1-0 lead, a satisfying result for a half where D.C. had almost 61% possession, and 80% passing accuracy."
Steven Goff (Washington Post): "With Lewis Neal, Nick DeLeon, Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen providing the pulse, and Rolfe and Espindola finishing chances, United (5-3-3) surpassed last year’s points total and leaped into second place in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday’s showdown at front-running New England (6-3-2). Since starting the campaign with two defeats, United is 5-1-3."
Pablo Maurer (MLS Soccer.com): "Just a season after being swept in their three-game series with the Houston Dynamo by a combined score of 8-1, D.C. United made easy work of the Dynamo on Wednesday night, riding goals from Fabian Espindola and Chris Rolfe to a 2-0 victory at RFK Stadium...The win puts United in second place in the East with 18 points -- two more than they amassed during their entire 2013 campaign. Houston sit just a point behind them in third."
Ben Olsen (On decision to play Rolfe up front): "That’s actually his normal position, so it’s certainly not a genius move by the coach. That is where he has played and he knows what to do up there, obviously. But again him and Fabi worked pretty well together and Rolfe has a great ability to fill in the holes and play with guys with different attributes, whether its in Eddie whether its in Fabi, he really knows what the game needs and where to go, so he has been a big pick up."
Bobby Boswell (On Rolfe and Espindola): ""To be honest, they played angry. Fabi was determined. [Houston’s defenders] are bigger guys than him but at halftime he wanted us to make an adjustment to play him the ball more, not less. Any time you hear your guys say that, it’s obviously a good thing. The biggest thing to take away is a complete team performance. We weren’t real happy with how we played [against Montreal], so being able to play early week game and take care of business is great. Now we just got to get ready for one of the hotter teams in the league [New England] on the weekend."
Corey Ashe (On what went wrong): "Two mistakes, you know, they punished us for them. They came out, they were organized and they kind of set the tone and obviously doesn’t help with the injury to Mark. But credit to D.C., they came out, they stuck to their plan and they put their opportunities away."
What looked on paper (literally) like what might have been a drab, dour affair turned out to include some of the more harmonious performances by the players for D.C. United. The team bossed the first half, reaching 60% in duels won and possession, while hitting 80% in passing accuracy. There was some regression in the second half, albeit to a minor degree, but not enough for D.C. to earn the 3000th win in MLS history.
More importantly though is that the game served as a further learning experience for the players. around the 25th minute, Cristian Fernandez turned the ball over to Will Bruin, the latter was taken down by Jeff Parke for a foul and free kick. The moment was less about the foul and more about Parke's reaction and communication towards Fernandez. For as much as we think that some players proverbially 'are what they are,' there are still moments where one is adapting and learning to the other.
Speaking of adapting and learning, Rolfe mentioned something interesting in the locker room after the game, equating Espindola's propensity of roaming and drifting to ex-Fire teammate Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Having this experience allowed Rolfe to take an easier run off the ball, or even switch positions with Nick DeLeon or Lewis Neal if he so desired, serving as a "Fabi Whisperer," if you will. The interaction between DeLeon & Rolfe in particular I found impactful early on in the match. And along the lines of the aforementioned Neal, the triumverate of him Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen can be fun to watch when it is clicking as it did tonight. Neal played deep centrally on occasion, Arnaud would go forward a little more occasionally, and Kitchen would come back and play near the center backs as well. Slowly but surely, this whole 'getting to work as a team' thing is happening.
The Last Word:
After a game where they should have brought back three points and got one, they brought back three points when one could have easily been the expectation at kickoff. Their next opponent is the New England Revolution, who not only have acquitted themselves well against teams on short rest the last two weeks, but MLS teams this year who have played midweek and then on the weekend have lost 7 of 8 so far by a combined score of 22-9. Here's hoping, with first place on the line and a game next weekend against a Sporting Kansas City team who themselves who will play their third game in eight days, that D.C. can break precedent while continuing to grow in the process.