A draw was probably the fairest result of yesterday’s D.C. United-Toronto FC tilt, even if it took Wayne Rooney’s last-minute, VAR-assisted penalty for the Black-and-Red to claim a point. Even aside from that result-deciding call, each team had legit penalty shouts earlier in the game go unheeded, and the visitors easily could have been down a man by halftime.
In the end, I’m probably to blame for wearing my 2015 Nick DeLeon secondary jersey. (Which I’d meant to change out of before the game but kids, man. Kids. Also I’m a well-established Nicky stan.) Anywho, what can we take way from this disappointment of a 1-1 home draw?
1. (Lack of) speed kills
Los Capitalinos aren’t a particularly fleet-footed team in the best of circumstances, but the first-choice side is fast enough and with the right lineup they have speed and quickness in the right places and the brains to exploit it.
Obviously with Paul Arriola at the Gold Cup and Joseph Mora out with another Ruan-enforced injury absence, United are missing a lot of the pace from that First XI. We’ve discussed at length on this website and on Filibuster what missing them does to the attack. We saw on Toronto’s goal Saturday what it means for the defense.
After the game, Ben Olsen assumed the blame for putting Chris McCann and Zoltan Stieber — both of whom can be reasonably described as lacking top-tier speed in MLS — on the same side of the field, especially with so little game time for either this season. It made some sense running them out in this game, since TFC’s wingers aren’t as fast as some other teams’, but when Richie Laryea rendered McCann a traffic cone immediately after skinning Stibi, it proved Olsen’s error.
Benny responded, switching Stieber to the right side and putting the faster Ulises Segura on the left and, eventually, pulling McCann at halftime for the faster Marquinhos Pedroso. But the damage was done, and United chased the game right up until the end.
With the transfer window opening up, you’re excused for wondering whether we’ll see either of McCann or Steiber in Black-and-Red again. Stieber had probably his best performance of 2019 — which isn’t saying a lot, he’s had a very rough season — but end up affecting the score sheet in anything but a negative way.
2. Everyone needs to be better
Ben Olsen already documented for us the ways in which Ben Olsen could have done better on this night.
As for the players, well, from Rooney’s mouth to the deity of your choice’s ear:
I thought tonight, I didn’t play well. I understand that and obviously the goal makes you think, people think, well he scored but I wasn’t satisfied with my performance tonight and we got lucky to get away with a draw.
Wazza was influential in this game, but he’s not wrong that he was below his best. The same is true of Acosta. Halftime sub Marquinhos Pedroso had more key passes than the pair of them combined — good for Pedroso, especially since he seems likely to start until Mora returns to fitness, but not so much for the team more broadly. (Note for Pedroso: watch those back-post runners!)
Luchoroo weren’t the only ones who needed to be better Saturday. Frederic Brillant and Leonardo Jara let DeLeon walk right between them for his goal. Russell Canouse and Lucas Rodriguez allowed the Reds to control midfield through most of the first half. Ulises Segura was so often where promising attacks went to die.
Things improved in the second half with the insertion of Pedroso and the decision to push the fullbacks higher earlier. Jara in particular seemed to want to make up for any mistakes by pulling the Black-and-Red into goal-scoring situations. Rooney ended with six shots in addition to his goal off the penalty.
Even so, it took until the death to get even a point out of the game, at home, against a depleted opponent. Things have to improve.
3. This is not United’s final form
The good news is that United is likely to improve between now and the end of the year, with important contributors returning to the fold and what will hopefully be impact signings coming in the July transfer window.
Junior Moreno will be back from Copa America duty with Venezuela, maybe in time for Thursday’s game in Dallas. Paul Arriola will be back from the Gold Cup before the following game eight days later against New England. Olsen said after the Toronto game that he hoped to have Mora back in two weeks. This version of D.C. United is better with each one of those players, on both sides of the ball.
Add to that the multiple summer signings that Olsen has referred to, which could come as soon as the month-long secondary transfer window opens July 9. Dave Kasper has said to expect at least one attacking piece. (This is me crossing my fingers and toes for the return of Yamil Asad. It makes it difficult to type.)
Plus, you’ve got the development and potential contributions of homegrown players like Donovan Pines and Griffin Yow. (Of course, they need to get minutes for that to happen... which, um, #FreeGriff.)
Regardless of whether any particular player joins the team or returns or develops this year, the team that goes into the MLS Cup Playoffs this fall will have some significant changes from the one that took the field against Toronto.
That’s welcome news for a team that can charitably be called lackluster in recent weeks and for those of us old enough to remember what United is capable of with their full contingent of starters. It won’t be automatic, and there’s a lot of work for this club to do between now and the end of the season.
For now they’re surviving (even if not thriving) through the grind-it-out portion of the year. That part of the program needs to end the minute Arriola gets off the plane from the USMNT. Whatever we learned from the Toronto game, we’ll see whether United can get going where they need to from the coming weeks.