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Five things about D.C. United losing a coin toss of a game against the New England Revolution

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Two teams that want to attack ended up in a scrap. What happened?

MLS: D.C. United at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United couldn’t make it two straight wins to start 2021, falling 1-0 to the New England Revolution in a game that saw both teams largely able to cancel each other out. That’s not what it seemed like we’d be getting out of two teams that take tactical risks, but instead we had an own goal at one end, and an own goal attempt go off the post at the other. United got the wrong side of that bargain, and as a result they’re on three points rather than being alone atop the East.

Jason (hi folks it’s me, I’m writing this part), Ben, and Ryan all have some things to say about it, so let’s stop delaying and get right to it:

Possession is still for nerds

United out-possessed New England on the night. Turns out, Hernán Losada wasn’t too into it:

“Ball possession...that’s the last statistic that I always try to look for. I really don’t care about possession,” stated Losada after the game. “I care about how many shots on goal, how many situations we create, how much danger the opponent creates, and today once again was very equal for both teams. So more possession, yeah okay, could be more positive for the future, but it has to be possession with scoring chances.”

As Ben will get into more in a second, United was sometimes predictable on the ball, though I think some of that was down to New England doing well at staying organized and making it hard to play through their lines. But, some of that was also an inability to create much, especially on the left. Yamil Asad was often getting the ball deeper than Junior Moreno, and Joseph Mora had to stay home in part to help make sure Carles Gil was quiet.

Full credit, United kept one of the best players in MLS pretty dang quiet, but the cost was that the possession the Black-and-Red had didn’t amount to very much. Their chance creation came down to set pieces and Julian Gressel crosses, because they couldn’t get numbers forward in other areas to combine.

But back to the main point: Possession is not interesting or inherently valuable to Losada, and it also doesn’t hold much appeal to the Revs, who solved United’s high press by simply lumping the ball towards Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou. That contributed to a game where both teams were able to mitigate each other. The game was not a thriller, but in a vastly different way from a lot of boring games United has had in recent years.

The good news? Most teams in MLS aren’t so willing or able to just go over the top of a press. The bad news? United’s going to have to produce an answer to teams that are. — Jason Anderson

United needs possession with a purpose...and with execution

If United is going to give up this much possession, they need to be able to connect passes. United’s goal in the first game was to give up possession, but be precise and exacting in their response when they do have the ball. However, in this game that was not what happened. For most of the game, D.C. United’s passing was slow and plodding. The Revolution often got to balls faster and earlier than United, and it showed in them forcing an own goal. In the last 10 or 15 minutes, once Nigel Robertha and Kimarni Smith were introduced, the passing was much better, and D.C. United was much more threatening. This team is still finding itself, and finding which players work best for what Hernan Losada wants to do; as players get healthy, it will be refined even further. — Ben Bromley

On getting people healthy, soon!

I’d like to think that, given that the already loaded injured list from Week 1 grew in Week 2, (even with Felipe being available, which we’ll get to in a second), that things were going to be bleak offensively. And on a night where the expected goals battle was a neck-and-neck 0.31 to 0.26 favoring favoring the Revs, sure enough they were!

The larger point is that D.C. was what it was last night just as it was what it was last week save for two golazos. And that may continue to be that way as they head into a stretch of four games in 15 days. Thankfully two of them are at Audi Field, but the first one is on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes. We’re in a window of sorts where, if there are guys who are slowly ready to come back and guys who can get rehab minutes ahead of the early June break in league play, it would be a major help. United comes out of that June with eight games in six summertime weeks. — Ryan Keefer

Felipe’s return

This game itself didn’t give us a lot of discrete events to talk about, with both teams working hard and effectively keeping the other from doing what they want. However, United got one piece of very good news, as they were able to bring Felipe Martins on the trip and put him in uniform for the first time since last August.

Felipe’s recovery from a torn ACL took only about seven-and-a-half months in an era where, for most players, eight or nine is normal. The preseason prognostication of a May return, even if that had meant 11:59pm on May 31, would have been an impressively quick return to action. Instead, he was in uniform tonight, and even though he didn’t actually play, it’s a pretty major achievement that bears recognition.

It’s also, as Ryan was just saying, pretty important to figure out how to get him back in a way where he’s set up to succeed. Post-game Losada said he was “Very happy, very happy for him,” before adding his appreciation for the “effort and dedication that (Felipe) put in the last couple of months to join us as quick as possible, and I’m sure he will help us.”

However, Losada was quick to point out the conundrum facing United, who can’t simply throw players who are physically able to play into the fray without some real consideration to both the player’s needs and the team’s requirements. “He didn’t play any minutes in preseason, he doesn’t have any match rhythm or any game minutes, so we will try to find ways to give minutes to all the injured players that are coming back and joining the team,” explained Losada. “I hope in the short term, many other players are coming back and joining the group of fit players, because at the start, okay, we only play one game per week, but later on we play two games each week, and you have more depth and more players to support a heavy calendar.”

So the news that Felipe is able to travel and be in uniform is a big plus, but we’re still some way from him being able to go 90 minutes in this high-intensity system. Knowing Felipe, he’ll tackle the challenge with relish, but it may be a slow drip of building from 5-10 minute substitute appearances rather than seeing him start in a couple of weeks. — JA

A word about one of the voices of the team

We’ve talked about Dave Johnson and his battle with MS, and rightfully so, but former D.C. player (and current analysis broadcaster) Devon McTavish has had a roller coaster 15 months of his own, starting with the death of his father, the birth of a (second) baby girl, and now his wife undergoing surgery as part of a fight against breast cancer.

Our thoughts and well-wishes go to Devon, Emily, Molly, and Maddy, they have our prayers, our support, and anything else they may need. — RK