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Four things from D.C. United not quite breaking through against Orlando City

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United huffed and puffed, but Orlando was just sturdy enough to keep them at bay

Xavi Dussaq / Courtesy of D.C. United

D.C. United conceded early against Orlando City, and then spent the rest of the match trying a variety of methods to break through and get level, only for none of them to quite work out. Losing 1-0 at home never feels good, but after a couple of years where it felt like the Black-and-Red could just pack up and go home if they give up an early goal, there was real tension as United really worried Orlando as the game wore on.

However, you don’t get points for simply worrying your opponents, so we can’t pretend that the positives outweigh the fact that this one went down as a loss. Me (this is Jason, good afternoon) and Ryan Keefer are gonna try to hash this one out:

Litmus test

Good news: United made one of the more widely respected Eastern Conference teams hunker down for most of the last 75 minutes last night. Orlando finished with a grand total of six shot attempts, and by the 52nd minute the Lions were in a low, low, low-block 532. This wasn’t last year’s toothless Black-and-Red; a team that wants to be a contender had to really, really work to hang onto this 1-0 win.

Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja said he even built that back five move into his game plan. “Today we needed much more than football... They defended well against a team that throw a lot of numbers [forward],” said Pareja post-game. “When they brought Gressel [into the game]...immediately we decided to make the sub.”

In some soccer cultures, what Orlando did is referred to as “suffering,” and full credit to the Lions: they suffered well. United put them under major pressure, but only managed one shot on goal thanks in part to a series of excellent blocks and OCSC being very well-organized and disciplined.

All of this is to say that United’s performance and tactics were good enough to force a truly formidable opponent into major tactical changes, and to basically abandon trying to attack. It was 1-0 or bust for the Lions, which...you know, we’ve been on the other side of that coin in recent memory.

But! As much as it’s good that United can now make a good team suffer, the next step is apparent: the Black-and-Red may be a really tough opponent for even the league’s stronger teams, but we’re still in a situation where a) the stars on the opposition are able to produce the game’s decisive moment more often than D.C.’s are, and b) the progress towards being an attack that can create chances as a unit rather than waiting for individual inspiration is still a work in progress.

As long as that’s the case, well-drilled teams like Orlando will be able to turn to this approach with some degree of confidence. United were admirable in defeat, but it’s still a defeat. United feels like a team that will become more complicated to defend in the coming weeks, but until then we might see more buses being parked. — Jason Anderson

On the continuing education of Moses Nyeman

I watched most (all?) of Moses’ minutes at Loudoun and have spoken to him once or twice, so I’d like to think I have an idea of his work as a soccer player. Then he does a couple of things that make me think (and say) to myself that he’s going to be some kind of player, and may even be one that is hard to leave out of the lineup, 17 years old or not.

For obvious reasons, the first is this:

The second was a moment when he pressed Mauricio Pereyra deep in the Orlando end, giving him a half-shove that resulted in a turnover in a dangerous spot for United. Over on the left, here’s his work in the first half:

The macro and micro stuff is fascinating to watch as he gains confidence and awareness, and if we see it, a left to right midfield of Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse deep as the body smasher, and Nyeman on the right could be really scary. — Ryan Keefer

As the person behind the “give Nyeman 1,000 MLS minutes this year literally no matter what” position in the DCU podcasting world, I’m mostly adding this in because we’re almost 13 of the way there, with 28 games left to play. Even if Hernán Losada ends up spending most of the season in a 3412 or 343 rather than last night’s 352, the opportunities to obliterate the admittedly arbitrary 1,000 minute total are going to be plentiful.

That’s not to say this is a perfect night. As you can see in that graphic, while he only had three misplaced passes, only five really progressed play, and only two of those were in central spots. Some of that is discretion, as passing up the gut against an organized team without moving their shape first is a bad idea, but Nyeman will have to sometimes speed play up, or carry play forward, or shift the geometry himself.

That said, I’m tempted to boost that minutes demand, because he’s already a starting-caliber central midfielder. — JA

Getting healthy, getting wealthy?

Speaking of Russ, while we didn’t see him on the field, he did dress tonight, and I imagine he sees time next week against the Philadelphia Union. I have no inside information on this, but based on very short precedent, Hernan Losada appears to be making a path of time for injured players that have the potential to make some offensive impact. To wit:

  • Paul Arriola: 15 minutes as a substitute Thursday, 64 as a starter Sunday
  • Ola Kamara: 15 minutes as a substitute May 8, 1 minute as a substitute Thursday, 26 minutes as a substitute Sunday
  • Andy Najar: 2 minutes as a substitute in week one vs. NYCFC, 30 as a substitute vs. San Jose, 68 as a starter vs. Columbus, 90 vs. Chicago

There may be a couple of stipulations here. First, that D.C.’s USL team plays one game (Tuesday) between May 2 and May 29, which means The second? Game states meant not really needing much from your target forward and winger in last Thursday’s game, which United lead from very early until full time.

But, as players getting healthy and Loudoun playing three games between United’s May 29 game at Inter Miami and their next match — that’s June 19, strangely also against Inter Miami — it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to have most of his roster (save for Erik Sorga and Chris Odoi-Atsem, who are both on the IR) ready for that second Miami match. — RK

Welcome back Mr. Paredes

When driving east on a virtually deserted Route 50 around 12:15am last night, the thought I had (other than piloting a vehicle without crashing) was how important Kevin Paredes is going to be for this team.

There’s the obvious stuff: he’s good, and his style with and without the ball suit what Losada’s gameplan calls for extremely well. But it goes beyond that and into something United has really lacked: a threat on the dribble. A recurring theme for United throughout this season has been a lack of success at beating a man with the ball in wide areas. Losada’s system requires the wingbacks to do that, and one reason the attack felt like it was on the cusp of something late in the game was what Paredes did with the ball at his feet.

[quick aside: Arriola was another positive on this front, and probably deserves his own segment here...or maybe a whole piece? Stay tuned, folks — JA]

In 26 minutes off the bench, Paredes had two successful dribbles, won two fouls — which resulted in a yellow card for Orlando and a very dangerous late free kick — and was pretty clearly kicked in the foot inside the box in stoppage time. On that last play, his balance and lightning-quick feet actually worked against him, because he was able to stay up without even showing much of a sign of the foul. As Paredes gets older, he’ll build a little salesmanship into his game, and I think all it would have taken to get a call from Alex Chilowicz there would have been the slightest little stumble or slow-down. It’s a call he deserved, but sometimes it’s not your night.

This isn’t meant to be a refereeing complaint piece, though, so let’s move on. United’s attack has started to show some dynamism thanks to Edison Flores and Adrien Perez showing some good combination play, but ultimately the thing it lacked no matter how you paired the group up was a serious dribble threat.

Perez has been really effective at using the dribble to keep attacks going (and succeeded at 7 of 9 attempts last night), but there’s a difference between keeping an offensive move alive at midfield, and torching a defender to get into the box. That latter set-up is also far more dangerous, especially for a team that isn’t really built to score a ton on traditional crosses.

“The goal was to stretch that defense, with Kevin and with Julian, to create more space through the middle,” said Losada after the game. “We don’t have that target forward to win the duels in the box. So, the goal was to not stretch the field to put crosses [into the box], but to stretch them to create one-v-ones on the side with Kevin.”

Paredes, more than anyone else on the team save perhaps Andy Najar, is the player who can thrive with this kind of role. Losada also noted that doing this comes with the added benefit of opening up space in the middle; it’s not just a situation where either those isolations work or you’re sunk.

I don’t know if his position will be a wide forward in a 343 (where he entered the game) or as a wingback (where he finished the game), but in either spot Paredes is going to be more than just a quality youngster to keep an eye on. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but with the way the roster is assembled and with his performance, Paredes feels like a vital regular already. — JA