D.C. United wrapped up the second of two preseason spells in Florida with a 2-1 win over Jacksonville Armada FC tonight. Patrick Mullins opened the scoring in the 11th minute via service from Paul Arriola, while Luciano Acosta doubled United’s lead on the hour mark. Despite a late goal from Jacksonville, the Black-and-Red had enough left in the tank to hold off the Armada at Clearwater’s Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex.
Ben Olsen, with the final game of the preseason just three days away and opportunities to give minutes to the whole roster dwindling, opted to rotate at several positions. Sticking with the 4141 that appears to be D.C.’s formation going forward, Olsen swapped out eight starters from last weekend’s 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union. Oniel Fisher, Paul Arriola, and Yamil Asad were the only players to maintain their spots, with Luciano Acosta getting his first start of the preseason in the midfield.
Jacksonville, ahead of a strange situation in which they’ll spend a season playing in the NPSL while the impasse between the NASL and U.S. Soccer is sorted out, gave starts to former United players Conor Doyle and Danny Szetela.
United got themselves off to a quick start, taking an 11th minute lead via Patrick Mullins, who finished off a cross from Arriola.
Goal #DCU! Long ball down the right flank frees Arriola, and his cross into the box is one-timed by Mullins in the 11th minute.— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Naturally our assumptions are that this goal obscures all other goals that have been scored. The goal it was fired into should be bronzed and retired. The state of Florida has actually changed its official name to Florida, The State Where Patrick Mullins Scored That Goal Against Jacksonville.
The Armada pushed back a bit, with a couple of long-range efforts from Severna Park, MD native Derek Gebhard.
19' | Gebhard takes another shot from some distance, but it's up and over the crossbar | 1-0 #DCvJAX— Armada FC Gameday (@ArmadaFCgameday) February 21, 2018
Both teams exchanged looks after that, though our assumption is that United’s passing move to free Acosta up for a 29th minute shot was sumptuous to an almost obscene degree.
26‘ | Armada defender Karsten Smith (trialist) finds the ball in the midfield and fires the ball from distance but it goes over the net | #DCvJAX— Armada FC Gameday (@ArmadaFCgameday) February 21, 2018
On that Acosta chance, ball started with Durkin in midfield. Pass to Asad opened things up. He found Acosta, who played Arriola on the overlap, leading to the cross. Think it was the first time AAA combined together on a play. #DCU— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Jacksonville pressed for an equalizer, forcing Kofi Opare into a block inside the area at one point and generally having more shooting attempts. The Armada were not sitting deep, and in Steven Streff’s opinion they were troubling the Black-and-Red more than United was able to bother them.
#11 goes close to equalizing for Jacksonville, but his effort is just over. #DCU have struggled with possession in this half. Jacksonville have been able to control the tempo for the most part.— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Nonetheless, Acosta was busy, drawing the game’s first booking before nearly setting Mullins up for a brace just before halftime.
Acosta earns a yellow for a foul in midfield. Nothing malicious, but there's been a lot of fouls here in the first half. #DCU— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Nearly a second for #DCU just before the end of the half. Good break from midfield, but Acosta's cross just missed Mullins at the far post.— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
United made five changes at halftime, which was no surprise with a trip west coming up in short order.
#DCU changes:— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Clark for Ousted
Brillant for Opare
Birnbaum for Robinson
Stieber for Arriola
Mattocks for Mullins
Second half underway
The 4141 remained in place, with all five changes being direct swaps that required no positional shuffling. Stieber, playing on the right wing after starts on the left and in the middle in the previous two outings, got right back to work being dangerous from set pieces.
47' Birnbaum nearly wins a header from a Stieber corner. Jax can't clear, and Mattocks gets a shot away that the keeper knocks away. #DCU— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
The halftime break was beneficial for the Black-and-Red, though as with all non-streamed friendlies, things got weird as time went on.
Looks like the clock here stopped at 52:40. No clue when that happened, or what minute we are now in.— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Despite that, United took control, with Zoltan Stieber — United’s best player thus far in 2018 — in the thick of it, combining with Asad and Acosta to nearly pad the lead.
Oh, should have been two for United. Asad feeds Zoltan on the overlap on the left, and Stieber's cross is right in front of goal, but Acosta just misses getting a touch to it. #DCU— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
United made their pressure pay off quite literally, with Mattocks forcing a bad clearance, then a goalkeeping error en route to assisting Acosta as D.C. made it 2-0.
Shortly after the goal, Olsen opted for more subs, changing to a 4231 in the process.
Does look like #DCU is now in more of a 4-2-3-1 with Durkin and Moreno partnered up in the midfield. Segura is the attacking midfielder in this formation.— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
As Jacksonville, who are earlier in their preseason than United, began to tire, the Black-and-Red started to create more looks while restricting the Armada for a large portion of the second half. Mattocks and Stieber, who combined for D.C.’s first goal against Philadelphia, continued to look like a dangerous duo.
Mattocks denied his third goal in three games. Great pass from Stieber freed NDL on the right flank. He played into Mattocks early, who just couldn't get a shot past the onrushing keeper. #DCU— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Stieber also set up Bruno Miranda, who like his fellow youngster Durkin has done well with his preseason minutes, for a near miss. The Bolivian speedster appears positioned to be something of a wild card for Olsen thanks to his speed and direct style of play.
Side netting from Miranda. #DCU taking advantage of Jacksonville pushing up. I'll let you guess who had the pass that led to that shot (Bruno still had work to do after picking up the ball though).— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Miranda was dangerous again in the closing moments, this time benefiting from a ball over the top from Junior Moreno. Unfortunately, substitute Jacksonville goalkeeper Aleks Gogic denied Miranda a goal to reward his hard work.
Big save from the keeper on Miranda in the 86th minute. Chipped ball over the top from Moreno found Miranda, who worked himself open, only to be denied by the keeper. #DCU— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Still, it wasn’t all positives for United, who let the Armada get back within one on a goal from attacker J.C. Banks after some less-than-stellar defending. The goal was the fourth conceded in three preseason games, all of which have come in the 79th minute or later.
Goal Jacksonville in the 79th minute. Cross is only half cleared by #DCU, and cross towards the far post finds Banks, who slides a shot home. 2-1.— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) February 21, 2018
Nonetheless, United held on without too much trouble in the final stages, managing their tiring opponent and the hot Florida temperatures to finish their trip to Florida with a second preseason win.
D.C. will finish up their preseason with a trip west to face Las Vegas Lights FC, a USL expansion side making their debut in 2018. That game will take place this Saturday, February 24th, with kickoff scheduled for 11:00pm Eastern. And yes, streaming video is expected to be available.