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Five things about D.C. United not finding a way through against CF Montreal

If you take 27 shots in soccer, you tend to win, so we’re looking over this weird game where that didn’t happen

MLS: D.C. United at CF Montreal Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United took twenty-seven dang shots on CF Montreal, who had virtually nothing to offer as a reply, and yet walked off the field in Ft. Lauderdale with just one point, and zero goals. There are good things to talk about here: United has three straight shutouts, and has not conceded in 315 minutes. They created plenty of chances. But, you gotta score!

It’s tempting to just toss that paragraph out and literally that’s the whole article, because everyone that saw the game knows why it was frustrating, but at this website we are nothing if not verbose. So, with that in mind, me (good morning it’s Jason, you probably knew that by now), Ryan, Adam, and a Special Guest are going to dissect this game as best we can.

Special guest segment from Nate Scott

They really should have! — Nate Scott kind of, but actually Jason Anderson using his words because it’s the most salient point to make about this game

Who gets the chances, and what kind of chances?

When a team takes 27 shots and doesn’t score, usually that means the main striker had a bad night. And since we’re coming off of a game where Ola Kamara had a frustrating performance that caused at least some fans to pine for a new option up front (I don’t really agree, but I get their argument), that sounds bad.

Well, let’s look at who got the shots tonight:

  • 4 - Paul Arriola, Adrien Perez, Julian Gressel
  • 3 - Kevin Paredes, Russell Canouse
  • 2 - Brendan Hines-Ike, Moses Nyeman, Nigel Robertha
  • 1 - Andy Najar, Yordy Reyna, Ola Kamara

This is really three problems in one. Obviously no one finished well in this game, so that’s the big story that we already covered. Kamara wasn’t able to get open often enough, which is another one, but to his credit he was often the runner occupying Montreal’s defenders (particularly on the looks Arriola, Perez, and Paredes had). United was also not able to manufacture chances cut out for Kamara’s skill set, a problem they had last year when his channel-running style wasn’t really ever put to use.

United will have to address all three of these, and there’s not a lot you can do about them on the training ground. “Tell them to practice finishing” isn’t really a cure when you think of how many shots (tens of thousands!) a professional forward has taken in their life up to right now, versus how many shots they’ll take at training on Friday and Saturday (30 or so). The next couple of days probably won’t make everyone demonstrably better at shooting.

The best training solution, and it might take more than just a couple of days, is to work on how to draw teams out of their lower blocks, and how to open organized teams up (i.e. not Miami) for the kind of service Kamara has tended to put away. Getting Kamara, who even after the Miami game is finishing well when you look at the data, a bigger share of the shots means getting more goals. — JA

Scrounging for crumbs, with more food coming

Adding onto Jason’s point on chances, I’ll “Yes, and” on a couple of things: there were three chances Wednesday that were dangerous; Perez’s first-half chance, Arriola’s shot at Clément Diop, and Julian Gressel’s box shot he took on the short hop.

Past that? Not a lot, and it’s borne out below:

So I think a couple of things are going on: a dusting of pressing (with the resulting shots outside the box) combined with hitting a lot of Montreal bodies (nine United shots were blocked), is creating a little angst, which some aforementioned fine-tuning can help with.

Another thing that would help is that under Hernán Losada, Arriola, Kamara, and Edison Flores have played together a total of zero minutes this season, and Arriola and Kamara have played together barely more than a third of the season. There should be a big resource for attacking quality coming back into the fold in the near future, so we’ll see what United can do with its three most expensive attacking acquisitions out there at once. — Ryan Keefer

I’m Tired, Boss

United were playing on three days’ rest against a team that had been off for the better part of a month. And both teams showed it — United’s starters faded from fatigue in the heat and humidity of Quebec South Florida, and the Impact Foot Boys (Garçons de Foot? Can we just call them Les Garçons?) lacked a rhythm.

For United, shots were off. Crosses sailed. Passes were imprecise. Players’ legs and feet just weren’t quite doing what they were telling them to. Los Capitalinos had 27 shots, and could have had more if they’d been less wasteful in turning promising attacks into shooting opportunities.

But, speaking as somebody with two young kids who knows from tired, the evidence isn’t just physical. When you’re tired, your decision-making facility fades at least as quickly as your physical abilities. Your thoughts and reactions get slower. And we saw so many times Wednesday night where a DC player is on the ball with a runner in space, and he stays on the ball for a touch or two too long, and then just keeps staying on the ball or passing it safely not to a more advanced player.

Losada could have been quicker on the draw on his subs. Maybe some additional squad rotation would have helped, and allowed him to bring some of his top-choice starters in to run at a tired, shorthanded defense. In any event, fatigue was a big story against the not-Montreal not-Impact, and we’ll see on Sunday whether the sequel plays out against NYCFC. — Adam M. Taylor

An opening for a few players

All of United’s substitutes in this game were attack-minded: A forward for a wingback, fresh legs in central midfield, an attacker for a wingback, fresh legs up front, and fresh legs up front again.

It didn’t work, but United got major life from Griffin Yow, Yamil Asad, and Yordy Reyna. Yes, Montreal was fatigued, and anyone on either team that wasn’t gassed was going to have an advantage. But the context here is what those three were able to do from a technical perspective: more success dribbling, more invention, better service.

Yow came back from injury a while ago and has only in the last two games cracked the gameday squad to get minutes. Asad has spent four straight games heading into this one in uniform as an unused sub. Reyna’s situation is more or less like Yow’s. All three have had a very hard time getting themselves into the mix so far, and we’ve just had to accept that in training the coaching staff has not seen enough.

So given their opportunity, this trio made a genuine difference, and that has real value. In particular, Reyna’s cleverness and technical ability might be a welcome addition up front, where the balance has been more towards work rate since Flores went down. It’s not clear what Losada plans to do with the game against NYCFC Sunday, but he’ll surely be spending some serious time mulling over some rotation in the attack. — JA

That’s soccer baby!

United took 27 shots in this game, and none went in. 27! Last year, per FBRef, United had 12 different stretches where they took 27 or fewer shots spread across three full games, and as bad and unlucky as last year was, only one of those spells — a trio of games from September 23 to October 3 — saw them fail to score.

This is the same sport where this same United team could play Montreal, back when they had a good name, take one shot in 90 minutes, and win 1-0. Maybe tonight was just the debt from that game coming due.

I’m writing this after knocking back a couple of post-game beers, chatting with some friends, and listening to an episode of How Did This Get Made?, so I’ve had some time to unwind. This game was obviously designed to torment us, because we all know that in soccer, if a team keeps shooting, at some point the ball finds its way in somehow. It’s hard to score goals, but it’s not this hard!

But also, as we said earlier this season after some similarly frustrating games, the ball’s gonna go in the net. If United can replicate this level of pressing mastery and suffocate future opponents, and they can carve out this many shots, they’re going to win a lot of games. It sucks that they didn’t win this game, but it’s still kind of wild to think that United has become a team that can torture us in this particular way, after years where 27 shots was like one month’s worth of work. — JA