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Five things about D.C. United getting the job done against Inter Miami

Juneteenth, building a winning culture, and Andy Najar’s glorious dribbling are all on our minds after last night’s win

Caitlin Buckley / Black and Red United

D.C. United went out and got the job done last night, holding Inter Miami to basically one real chance and eventually winning 1-0 thanks to an Ola Kamara penalty kick. United were once again able to prevent their opponent from playing much coherent soccer, but unlike a rout against this same Herons side three weeks ago, a win was a little bit up in the air until Kamara buried his spot kick.

With that (and some very important off-field issues) in mind, me — it’s Jason, big surprise — and Ryan Keefer have a few things we figured we should share in the aftermath of a second straight shutout victory for the District’s MLS concern.

Bill Hamid on MLS and United’s Juneteenth initiatives

It would be a mistake to pretend last night was just a soccer game. We’re talking about a team from the nation’s capital, a city that for so long was routinely referred to as Chocolate City, hosting a game on the first-ever Juneteenth that was recognized as a federal holiday. Yesterday was about more than just a soccer game, and United embraced the occasion by giving a platform to Black-owned businesses, creating a special Juneteenth scarf, hosting live go-go music, and having a pre-game rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” colloquially known as the Black national anthem.

It’s by no means a permanent cure-all, and everyone should continue to push the club to pursue its stated goals in terms of activism. United hasn’t been shy about where they stand on a variety of things relating to equality and human rights, and part of that stance means being held to the promises of activism. It’s a thing you do, rather than a thing you say, and you have to keep doing it consistently. We want to make sure this organization, top to bottom, meets that obligation to listen and to act.

With Bill Hamid, an executive board member of the Black Players for Change, available to speak to reporters last night, we got a very insightful answer about the significance of the league-wide Juneteenth number sets players wore, and what the initiative meant to him.

Here’s his answer in full:

I’m proud of Major League Soccer today. And always, but especially today. I’m proud of Black Players for Change always, but especially today. And I’m proud of our President for making [Juneteenth] a national holiday, a federal holiday. So, I think the way that we put this together was spot on. I’m glad that the league was able to highlight this special day, for so many people, with the way that they set up the jerseys, the way that they styled the jerseys, and for what they’re going to do with the jerseys and the boxes that they had set up in our locker room. So hopefully we can have some great auctions with that, and that money will go to some very nice causes where we can make some change in the inner cities, or whatever way the group, the Black Players for Change, deem fit. So, I’m proud today to be a Major League Soccer player, for the league to stand up, and I’m proud to be an American, because Joe Biden, our President, stood for something and made it a federal holiday.

Room to improve

United dominated this game in a lot of categories, holding Miami to just one shot (though that shot required a truly vital save from Hamid after Brek Shea found himself in behind the defense) and 0.9 xG, and harrying the Herons — who showed up with a clear plan to slow the tempo to a crawl into a 68.9% passing accuracy as a team.

After the game, Hernán Losada said that Miami didn’t have any surprises for him. “We knew they were not going to build out from [the back], not even one time, after their experience three weeks ago. The goalkeeper was making time, using that goal kick moment to cool down the game. We trained the whole week, finding ways to create chances against two lines of four. So we knew the kind of system they would implement tonight.

But, it has to be said that United cooled off markedly after starting the game by jumping all over the visitors. This could have been a copy of the last meeting, where the Black-and-Red effectively won the game inside the first half hour, but a couple of missed chances let Miami stabilize, and even threaten at times by going diagonal early and looking for cutbacks from Shea or Lewis Morgan.

Despite being up a man for over half an hour, and up two against a tired foe in the late stages, United could only manage the one goal. It was good enough for the night, but future opponents will see teams with more talent or better morale come to town, and with less predictable gameplans.

Losada said that there were certainly things his side could improve upon with the ball, noting that he wanted United “to be a little bit more patient, to let the ball do the work. To move the opponent from side to side, in certain moments the spaces will come. We had a few moments during the game where we were impatient, and we make mistakes, and we started to run with the ball. We didn’t use the wingbacks to [make] maximum width of the field.”

Losada added that he was pleased that United created more than enough chances to win, and with the overall application of the plan. “Very happy with the points here at home...and once again with the way we (took) the points.”

“It’s good that we’re creating clear chances. And yeah, I think we’d all agree that there were a few things that were just a bit off today. Obviously that’s just kind of how sports go, and any game can be like that,” said Paul Arriola, who captained the team for the second straight week. “I think we could have done better. I think there’s always room for improvement. [Miami] did well. I’ll be honest with you, on the right side, for the majority of the game, it was kind of tough to break through, with Andy (Najar), myself, and Julian (Gressel). Again, I think there was something that just seemed a little bit off, and we weren’t able to grasp what it was in the moment, at least from my perspective.” — Jason Anderson

Ladies and gentlemen, Andy Najar!

You’re not supposed to make too much noise in a press box. A crowded stadium means it’s loud enough, but you’re still supposed to stick with talk focused on the job at hand, and you’re not supposed to show up in team gear doing chants or yelling at what’s going on in the game.

But folks, I am here to confess a sin! I howled at one play during this game. I know I am not alone, and I don’t think anyone really noticed my own transgressions (Audi Field got loud for this moment), but I want to come clean. I reacted. I mean, I reacted.

What play, you might ask? Well, it’s just Andy Najar putting up the soccer equivalent of an And 1 mixtape against basically half of Miami’s players:

Wooooooooooo! That’s still me hours later, knowing what’s in the video. — JA

On the potential of two Kevin

There was a lot of soccer going on Saturday night, and at one point I had D.C. going on the TV while Loudoun was going on the computer because I’m a glutton for punishment I guess.

Then it occurred to me in watching Kevin Paredes on the left wing Saturday night that maybe I’m also seeing the development of what the team would like to do with fellow homegrown signing Jacob Greene? Below are Paredes’ two most recent action maps, including a very busy game last night to the left of this graphic:

Alright, now that you’ve got a feel for what those look like, here are the same Greene’s where he played 90 and 76 minutes over the last 10 days for Ryan Martin’s Loudoun side, which is hewing pretty closely to Losada’s style and formation.

Now this isn’t an implication that Jacob Greene will become another Kevin Paredes; it’s just that United, as an organization, is working young, talented legs into the playing system with some success. Greene’s even arguably out of position, as he’s traditionally played right back in the few pro minutes he’d experienced so far. In other words, it seems like something worth keeping an eye on. — Ryan Keefer

One last thing

United hosted a Miami team without their biggest name (Gonzalo Higuain), without another DP (Rodolfo Pizarro), that is clearly struggling at the moment, and seems to not really have many ideas on how to overcome their issues. That team then went down a man, and though DCU controlled this game, it’s still a 1-0 win on a penalty kick in which the Black-and-Red had just 13 shot attempts. There was plenty right about it, but it wasn’t a 9 or 10 out of 10 kind of performance.

But still, let’s take a longer view here: United has come through a more or less unprecedented list of injured players, losing 83 man-games to injury already this year (a per-game rate that has slowed significantly in recent weeks). They’ve changed systems to an extreme degree. Out of necessity, they’ve had to chop and change repeatedly rather than settling into an every-week lineup. They were gripped by some brutal bad luck, losing games on own goals or very, very, very low xG chances going in.

And yet, after nine games...they’re sitting in 6th place, above the red line. They’re getting opponents to seriously change how they play on a regular basis. Most importantly, there’s still plenty of room to grow. This team is going to get better.

We also got a little bit of a taste of something that we haven’t seen in a long time: the sort of strength of purpose that leads to a team winning when they’re not firing on all cylinders. As Arriola said after the game, “Ultimately it’s good to kind of keep this momentum, and keep this rhythm of winning, you know, creating this culture of constantly winning, especially at home.”

This club is still very much creating that culture, rather than at a place where they can say the job is done, but we’re seeing them actually create it in tangible ways from game to game. The belief within the group, the resolve, the mental toughness after often looking so fragile last year, is starting to bear a little fruit. — JA