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D.C. United Shows Progress Against Vancouver Whitecaps

Brandon McDonald and company limited Eric Hassli and Vancouver to 0 shots on goal.
Brandon McDonald and company limited Eric Hassli and Vancouver to 0 shots on goal.

No, they didn't win. No, they didn't score any goals. But progress is progress, and D.C. United showed it in their match against the high-flying offense of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Eric Hassli, Sebastien Le Toux, Davide Chiumiento, and Camilo Sanvezzo (as well as the rest of the team) had zero combined shots on goal and Joe Willis dealt with ever threat that came towards him (more than can be said about Bill Hamid's mistake on Canada's first goal the same night).

For the first time this year, United looked threatening on the attack and really took the game to the opponent. The fact that they did not play this game against a likely conference champion makes it more indicative of things to come.

The first thing that I noticed was the amount of pressure that United's players were putting on the ball. This is the kind of pressure we have seen Juergen Klinnsmann implement at the national team level, and it seems to have worked well with our club team as well. Two of the most active players were our wingers, Nick DeLeon and Danny Cruz, who both acquitted themselves well. DeLeon and Woolard combined surprisingly well, and the rookie put in a free kick that seemed to skim past the heads of three or four United players without being able to connect with any of them. I was initially surprised with his inclusion, but he was very good. Cruz was also bright, and in the first five minutes whipped in more crosses than Andy Najar has yet this season.

My men of the match were the United back line, with each of them having their best game so far this year. Emiliano Dudar was the standout of the bunch, playing with calm and conviction. It is early in his tenure, but I can't see Dejan Jakovic getting his starting spot back anytime soon.

If Dudar was the more skillful of the two center backs, then Brandon McDonald embraced the destroyer role. He was always there to break up play, sniffing out Vancouver attacks and shutting them down. My one complaint about his play was his insistence on thumping long balls down the field instead of playing the ball out of the back. Dudar was able to get the ball up field on the ground, even under pressure, while McDonald still reverted to a long ball and a prayer.

The fullbacks also had a solid night, with Robbie Russell proving the more offensive threat, while Daniel Woolard had a very good night in limiting Vancouver's attack. In particular, Woolard's shielding of the ball after Salihi's near goal prevented the kind of gut punch goal that United has known all too well these past few years. It bears repeating from the top: United's defense did not give up a shot on goal.

Goals are a thing still missing though. Hamdi Salihi had the best chance of the night, only to be denied by a wonderful Joe Cannon save. That is the kind of chance he was brought in to create; with more time, he will start converting them too. Dwayne De Rosario also had his best night of the season so far, and his audacious near post attempt at least forced a quick save from Cannon as well. The offensive parts of this team were always going to need time to figure each other out; at least we have now seen progress in that department.

The question still remains of how you solve a problem like Branko Boskovic. He has played well in his limited appearances these past two games, but he influences the game from more of a deep lying playmaker position rather than the point of a midfield diamond. That combined with the fact that Maicon Santos has looked poor in his two starts might suggest a 4-2-3-1, but that doesn't mean that Olsen will actually play it.

I am happy with the point, but I am happier with some of the progress that we were promised finally being made. The upcoming schedule remains tough, with FC Dallas coming to RFK this Friday. What did you think about last night's game?