Last night, D.C. United beat Inter Miami 3-0, and in all honesty it could have been more. Coming off of two losses that didn’t really give United the outcome they merited, the Black-and-Red showed up ravenous for a win and ready to fight, while Miami...were also in the building. The Black-and-Red stormed out to an early two-goal lead, and then just as Miami showed some life, they put the game to bed with a lovely third.
It’s so nice to be talking about that kind of game rather than breaking down the ways in which United are hard done-by that me (hello this is Jason), Ryan Keefer, and Ben Bromley are going to luxuriate in the good times. Here we go:
Was that fun?
United won 3-0 on the road. Bill Hamid came back and showed no signs of rust whatsoever. Donovan Pines and Kevin Paredes made their first starts of the year and did well. Everyone in the starting front three got at least one goal or assist, and were substantially involved in multiple goals. Russell Canouse and Junior Moreno dominated central midfield (to such an extent that I actually cooked up this not-really-a-full-Thing segment to make sure they were acknowledged in the piece). The back three made former Juventus/Argentina star Gonzalo Higuain’s life miserable.
So yeah, that was fun. — Jason Anderson
Just say the thing
United went to Miami and, particularly in the first 30 minutes, devoured Inter. That’s the story of this game.
Now that we’ve said the thing, we can go into it in depth. United’s long-term outlook as a high-pressing team is that they’re often going to wear teams out, which points to picking up more goals late than early. However, to be exceptional, they’re going to have to find the occasions when the other team comes out flat — maybe they had a rough week, or maybe they don’t like their coach, or they’re just bad, whatever — and make them pay by stomping the gas pedal. This team isn’t going to just get points because of talent; they’re going to have to grab opportunities with both hands.
That’s what happened last night. Miami, coming off of several humdrum (or worse) performances and with a full house on hand to cheer them on, simply was not ready to go when this game kicked off. United pressed the hell out of them, eventually turning the idea of hounding Miami into mistakes into an actual goal. And then they did it again a few minutes later, with their work rate off the ball still the key (as we’ll get to in a second).
This team needs this kind of positive game state whenever it’s there to be taken. There’s not quite enough raw talent to leave the freebies on the table by, say, letting a wobbly team play themselves into stability. Hernán Losada said he wants United to be a pain in the ass to play against, and being that team that shows up ready to go 100mph at the opening whistle in every single game, never giving an inch and never letting the opponent settle in...well, that’s the ballgame for this entire approach to the sport. — JA
Inter Miami’s lazy, cheating, lazy cheaters, are pretty lazy
If you listened to this week’s edition of Zee Soccer Podcast (and if you’re a United fan and you didn’t, work on that personal problem), Julian Gressel’s podcast mate Fabian Herbers had this to say about Inter Miami, whom Herbers’ team the Chicago Fire just played last week:
“I think if you guys play hard and physically dominate them because they’re a little bit lazy, they’re a lazy team, they don’t want to run as much, not really go all in the challenges. I feel like if you guys do that, you’ll have a good chance to win that game.”
So here is United’s first goal, summed up by Jason:
You know, what, don't rewind, just watch now: https://t.co/qm95s4kY4y— Black and Red United (@blackandredU) May 30, 2021
And here is D.C. United’s second goal:
We saw how David Beckham putting together a bunch of sycophants worked in 2007 and 2008 with the LA Galaxy, and this may be a case of the sequel being better than the original, especially if the book on them is out this early and this widespread. — Ryan Keefer
Homegrown defenders, two ways
Donovan Pines started this game for United at center back, and he was exactly what the team needed. With Brendan Hines-Ike locking down the middle, Pines was able to use his speed and his passing ability to get up and down the field. Pines got to use his speed and athleticism, and moving Hines-Ike into the middle helped him maximize his abilities as well. He got to shut down Gonzalo Higuain, and just did it. [Jason interjection: Just to back Ben up here, Higuain didn’t take a single shot within 22 yards of goal, and had just one key pass despite being the centerpiece of Miami’s attack]
It will be interesting to see if Frederic Brillant is able to find his way back to the field, where this new pairing seems to have done so well. — Ben Bromley
Andy Najar has been a wonderful defender; anything that you could have asked of him, Andy Najar has provided. A wingback? Yes. A center back? Even more yes. He’s been great, after being injured at LAFC and at Anderlecht, and he has brought back so much in terms of quality picked up in the years since he has been gone. — BSB
Kamara’s time to shine
Ola Kamara came to United at an awkward moment: they were a team already playing really well with Wayne Rooney up front, and the other place Rooney could move to happened to be covered by Lucho Acosta in career-best form. Oddly-timed injuries and suspensions kept Kamara and Rooney from even sharing the field for more than a handful of minutes in 2019.
Despite that, Kamara scored 3 goals in 257 minutes, looking for all the world like the player he was in Columbus and LA (where he scored 48 goals in three seasons, one of which was played out of position on the wing). Rooney left, but it stood to reason that Kamara could at least cover some of the lost goalscoring...and then 2020 played out the way it did.
Kamara suffered on multiple fronts. The most arrhythmic season in MLS history was playing out while he was playing through nagging knocks on a team that were playing survival soccer rather than opening games up and giving him space to attack off the ball. He scored 4 goals, but it was not that complicated to figure out why fans were debating the idea of whether to even keep him around this year.
However, the little bit of Kamara we’ve seen in 2021 points to a rejuvenated player. 3 goals and 1 assist in 177 minutes is nice, but it’s admittedly a small sample size a la 2019. What’s important right now is that Kamara is better suited to a more open style of play, and United’s willingness to push numbers forward means fewer defenders are tracking his runs. He’s not the striker for a reactive team. United wants to dictate the terms to the opponent, and Kamara’s successes in MLS have come on teams looking to do the same.
On top of that, more than anyone save for Julian Gressel (who, by the way, was great in this game and really should have ended up with some assists), he looks to be a beneficiary of Losada’s focus on fitness and diet. He’s got more of a burst over short distances, he’s looking physically stronger in challenges, and the willingness to let him stay out long enough to truly overcome those nagging injuries is paying off.
All of that is good, and now we’re talking about him getting through his first 90-minute match since last September, and he scored two very good goals in the process. So let’s see...the system fits him, he’s more physically able to do the job than he’s been since arriving, and now he’s got a reason to be confident enough to give a bow to away fans after a goal?
That sounds like a potential match-winner up front to me. — JA
The protagonists of this story
Speaking of United’s move away from being a reactive team, let’s review some recent adjustments their opponents have made in games:
- Chicago pulled Gaston Giménez, a DP, off the field at halftime because they couldn’t effectively play through him due to the high press
- Orlando, out of respect for that same press, showed up having a plan to switch to a back five very early ready to go
- Philadelphia gave José Martinez an early rest because, again, United was markedly reducing him from “potential MLS Best 11 defensive midfielder” to “just a regular MLS guy”
- Phil Neville straight up abandoned his preferred formation and tactical approach before United even walked into the stadium
Losada, of course, noticed this and brought it up with his opening remarks after the game. “When you see a team like Inter Miami, with the names that they have, all the experience they have on the bench, on the field, and a team like that is adapting to us, and they changed the formation and they change the way they have been playing, just for us?,” asked Losada as a prompt for a clear statement of how much belief this trend is giving United: “Immediately before the game, I already have the feeling of, ‘we’re going to win today.’”
United then steamrolled Miami to such an extent that Neville abandoned his formation changes after Paul Arriola’s goal, going to the 4231 and (save for a couple of two- or three-main raids forward) mostly just trying to get to halftime and sort themselves out.
From a tactical perspective, the Black-and-Red are the team holding the center of gravity seemingly every week. Full credit to Orlando and Philadelphia for working their way around the problem that is United, but guess what? Most teams in MLS aren’t as well-coached or as talented as those teams. More often than not, United’s place at the center of the tactical story of every game is going to lead to teams at least considering a different path than what they were built to do.
It’s not always going to work out like tonight. Miami’s a mess at the moment, and United has largely had to settle for scaring the truly good teams in the East rather than actually beating them (thanks NYCFC!). But, it sure is nice for the post-game talk to center on how the other team either did or did not adjust to DCU, rather than the opposite, and it’s also an indicator that this team is going places. — JA