Despite getting Cristian Castillo on the field for the first time in a game situation (which in turn allowed Curt Onalfo to play Rodney Wallace at left back), DC could not manage to hand NY the customary beating we're all accustomed to seeing. Instead, United only managed a second consecutive 0-0 preseason tie.
I probably don't need to remind anyone that this makes 270 scoreless minutes in the preseason. Another shutout is a positive, I suppose, but we're all desperate for goals. Time to start freaking out (nsfw due to language, but so worth it)? Not so fast. While one can't help but be a bit concerned, we have to remember that there's a new coach, new players, and new roles for guys that were around last year. In soccer, it's rare to make so many changes to an attack and have things work straight away. Christian Gomez's arrival in 2004, for example, is not the norm. More often, it takes plenty of training and effort before people start to internalize the habits of their fellow players going forward. Defending is more based on scheme and communication; attacking is often a matter of instinct.
Back to this game specifically, I think this was the most notable game we've seen yet. Formations and commentary follow...
Both teams came out in a 442 formation, with United going for a flat midfield and NY preferring a diamond (all trialists and non-roster players listed in italics):
As you can see, this is not too far from what looks like the probable starting lineup. With Santino Quaranta and Julius James still rehabbing surgeries (Quaranta was just today cleared to join full training), Clyde Simms withheld due to being sick, Troy Perkins and Chris Pontius in Tampa for the US friendly against El Salvador, and Bryan Namoff still in limbo, this was the closest approximation to having the full squad available. Crucially, Onalfo got to look at several players in important spots: Castillo on the left wing, Wallace at left back, Barklage in central midfield, and Burch auditioning once again to be the third option at center back.
This is what our boys were up against:
Given the slightly more serious lineups put forth by Onalfo and Red Bulls coach Hans Backe, it was not too much of a surprise to see both teams create chances. Barklage's early header appeared goalbound but was saved off the line by Jääger, while Andy Najar clipped the bar. Allsopp also had a shot saved, before United had an appeal for a handball in the box turned down. NY, meanwhile, saw academy product Juan Agudelo have his side's two best chances. Midway through the half, he headed a Joel Lindpere cross over the bar, while also forcing a save from Hamid late in the half after being put through by Stammler.
Judging from the Twitter accounts of both teams, it seems like DC came out in control. However, NY grew in confidence as the half went on, and things read quite evenly by the time halftime came around. Considering the fact that NY was playing friendlies in Spain weeks ago, having an even game with them at this stage is not as unsettling as it normally would be. It would appear that they were closer to their best possible team, with their trialists being the only players not in contention for the starting job at the position they were in Saturday.
After halftime, both teams made the customary volume of changes. For DC, there were no fewer than 6 subs:
This was probably an intriguing half to watch. I'm on the record as thinking McTavish deserves, at worst, heavy consideration at right back, while it's hard to imagine Wasson getting a better chance to prove himself. It's also very important to note that, after 52 minutes, Castillo was subbed off for Lyle Adams, who took over at left back; Wallace moved up to left midfield as a result. DC started this half as they did the first, pushing the tempo. However, there was little to show for it other than a Wallace cross/shot that was tipped over the bar by Bouna Coundoul early on. Just before the hour mark, Quiarol Arzu replaced Jakovic in central defense, continuing his trial (as opposed to Jermaine Taylor, who is apparently injured).
Somewhere along the way, DC lost some steam, as NY seemed to take charge for the last half hour. Rookie forward Conor Chinn, who had subbed on as the half went on, was involved with several opportunities (including having a goal called back for offside that, apparently, had fooled everyone on the DC side), and the Red Bulls forced numerous corners as the half wore on. In response, Two-Boys Gumede checked in for Wallace in the 77th minute, with Khumalo moving to left midfield. United finally managed to push back at the very end, with Cristman bursting into the area before being blocked. That appeared to be the last chance for either team, as the game ended shortly after Tony Tchani was booked in stoppage time.
As always, it's important to learn from these games more than it is to win them. The impression I got from this game was that this was our most intense preseason game to date. It appeared that both Onalfo and Backe took this game more seriously than previous friendlies, and that translated to more urgent play from both teams. In the intro, I talked about the lack of goals. While the 0-0 draw against TFC saw us barely create anything, all signs point to this game being different. We created as many chances in the first half as we have all preseason, and despite a regression in the 2nd half, we still started and ended with decent chances. I can't say for sure, having no access to video, but it would appear that the only things lacking against NY were a bit of sharpness in front of goal and some luck. Considering the fact that Pontius and Quaranta were out, I can live with creating a respectable number of chances at this point. I would have really liked to see what Party Boy would have done up top against the glacial center back pairing of Boyens and Petke, but I guess we'll have to wait until May 1st for that.
From the perspective of the trialists, it would appear that Najar is still in with a shout. He was even taking freekicks in the first half. If that's not a guy with a serious chance to make the squad, then I'm really not sure what else could be going on. Elsewhere, Adams seemed to do fairly well against Dane Richards (ably assisted by Wallace, but still). There was little mention of the play of Arzu and Wasson, as well as bubble players like Shipalane.
In summary, there seems to have been an improvement from the first two games in terms of creating chances, and the defense has still only been beaten by an unfortunate deflection off McTavish. I'd be much more worried about the lack of goals if we had another game with few chances, but that was not the case here. Ideally, United will break their duck in a big way this Friday, as they will apparently split the squad for two friendlies. One group will play the USA u17s, and the other will take on Florida Gulf Coast University. Failing to score some goals against a team of teenagers and a school that was recently in Division II would probably set the alarm bells off (as it should have for last year's awful Red Bulls squad, who lost to the u17s 1-0).