Through the first 25 minutes on Saturday night, D.C. United and the Vancouver Whitecaps were at a standstill. United’s nerves were understandable, as they were playing their first ever game at Audi Field. The Whiteaps were there to ruin the party, and had no issue sitting back, waiting for the right time to pounce. And while Vancouver waited, the Black-and-Red could hardly take advantage, not really testing goalkeeper, Brian Rowe.
Then, following something of a broken attack, Yamil Asad stepped up to relieve some of the tension in the stadium with a wonderfully taken goal in the 28th minute, helping spark United to an eventual 3-1 win.
“A sizzler,” head coach Ben Olsen said earlier this week, talking about Asad’s goal, which eventually took Goal of the Week honors in Major League Soccer.
That goal, a momentum of individual brilliance, was Asad’s 8th this season, one more than he had in 32 games last year with Atlanta United. Atlanta moved on from Asad this offseason, opting to bring Ezequiel Barco in for a league record transfer of $15m. The Black-and-Red took advantage, trading half a million dollars in allocation money to the Five Stripes and agreeing to a loan deal with Argentine club Velez Sarsfield, with the option to buy his contract for $700,000.
Since then, Asad has only impressed in the nation’s capital. He scored in his team debut, a free kick into the box against Orlando City that snuck past everyone to find its way into the goal. His production slowed over the course of the next couple of months, as United tried to figure out their identity with a road heavy schedule. But in the past four games, Asad has scored five times, as United has began to click offensively.
“We got him because he makes plays,” Olsen said of Asad.
His two-goal effort against Toronto in June included a goal just before stoppage time that gave D.C. a brief lead and ended up being critical in gaining a point on the night. Against the Revolution on June 30th, he had a fortunate goal he scored with his face, but then also converted a penalty, something United has struggled to do over the past couple of years.
All the while, he accomplished this while being more of a focal point in the attack than what was expected of him in Atlanta. The Five Stripes, who had the second-best attack in the league with 70 goals in their expansion season, had several important players that defenses had to key in on. That opened up opportunities for Asad, who ended the season with 7 goals and 13 assists.
“With Atlanta, a lot of guys make plays, because they are very dynamic, and you have to focus on one, two, and three threats,” Olsen said after Tuesday’s practice. “Was he the beneficiary of that in that group? That’s something we had [in the back of the mind] - how would it translate?”
Translating to 8 goals and 3 assists through 15 games is likely beyond anyone’s wildest dreams before the season. United had a league low 31 goals last year, and added Asad and Darren Mattocks in the offseason to bolster the front lines. That’s led to 26 goals in 15 games this season, with Asad playing an integral part.
“He’s an awesome player. We’ve seen it from the very beginning,” fellow midfielder Paul Arriola told B&RU on Tuesday. “In the end, he’s scoring goals, and that’s what you ask for from your front players.”
With Asad contributing, everyone in United’s attack has put up numbers. Mattocks, who is likely to be relegated to the bench soon with Wayne Rooney taking over, has 8 goals this year, already eclipsing his career best of 7. Luciano Acosta has a goal and 7 assists to his name, while Zoltan Stieber has 3 goals and 6 assists. Likewise, Arriola has benefited from Asad’s arrival, chipping in 4 goals and 6 assists, after being moved centrally in the midfield.
“It’s the chemistry, it’s the understanding, it’s constantly playing with each other,” Arriola said of United’s attack, which has produced multiple goals in four consecutive games, and that has only been shutout once this season.
United haven’t had many discussions yet as to whether or not they’ll purchase Asad’s contract at the end of the season, but all signs point to them eventually bringing him in permanently. And if he keeps up producing on the field, United might have a chance to go from last in the league on July 13th to the playoffs by the end of the season.
“He just makes plays. He understands the moment, and it was a great goal,” said Olsen. “What a great way to open up that stadium. [There was] a high degree of difficulty. It was a lot of fun to watch.”