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Four things about what’s left of D.C. United gutting out a draw at FC Cincinnati

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No true strikers, down a man or two on the road, yet the Black-and-Red still came away with a point in Cincinnati

MLS: D.C. United at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United didn’t get the result they were looking for at FC Cincinnati, drawing 0-0 in their first visit to TQL Stadium. However, given that United spent most of the second half down a man, and most of stoppage time down two men, there were some positives to draw from the Black-and-Red securing a point in a situation that has previously a bit of immaturity this season.

We (Jason, Ryan, and Ben) have some thoughts on the good and bad from a game that nearly became a remarkable win, but instead became a character-building draw.

Almost good

This was one of those very frustrating games where United was — collectively and in some cases individually — so close to producing a commendable performance in what would have been a road win. Those games feel like a loss in the heat of the moment, and sure enough, I think United fans found themselves a little upset with how this one played out.

But let’s take a second here: United started this game in a 343 formation with a front line consisting of a career box-to-box midfielder who has become a pressing option; a withdrawn forward/winger/attacker type; and a left-sided attacking player who has been primarily a wingback this year. Though there were forward options available, one (Erik Sorga) was making just his second appearance anywhere since May 1, and the other (Jovanny Bolívar) has not played a second in MLS.

Yes, FC Cincinnati is bad, but that’s still a tough assignment. As Hernán Losada said last week, winning games with how banged up United is at the moment is “a miracle,” and he noted that you can’t pull those off every week. Turns out he was right.

United was so close to making it happen, though. Yordy Reyna showed a lot in the first half, including the kind of runs in behind and hold-up play that are not really his forte (that’s why he’s more of a withdrawn attacking player in normal circumstances), but what we’re going to remember is two goals called back for being offside. They’re fair calls, and it is frustrating, but Reyna was also very close on both plays to getting it right. His early step on the first goal, in particular, was very narrowly mis-timed, and also probably not actually necessary to the play.

The second goal probably doesn’t happen if he’s onside, but that first one...it’s a 3rd minute goal against a notoriously fragile team, playing an awkward lineup, in front of a crowd that has come to expect bad times at home. You’ve gotta like United’s chances to get a win if Moses Nyeman’s header ended up standing, and it didn’t by a matter of about a foot. That sucks! Sometimes the analysis isn’t so deep!

(side note: I demand the fates give us a Nyeman headed goal for United before he goes to make big bucks and star in the UEFA Champions League, because for a guy that size to score on a header is a rare treasure)

What I’m getting at here is that we should all be frustrated to not beat Cincy, and by the specific nature of how that win didn’t arrive, but let’s not forget how close United was to making it work. Hopefully Reyna’s timing gets a little better as he gets more time leading the line, and hopefully he puts the close calls to the side, because United’s going to need him in the roughly 100 games they have in August. — Jason Anderson

On who the next man up might be

Speaking as a guy who watched the first half of D.C.’s game at Segra Field and chatting with Loudoun folks during and after Loudoun’s game last night, I have a quick Moses Nyeman anecdote to share:

I have a kid and am expecting another, and I kind of saw a Dad vibe in his priceless expression that I tried summing up. That said, putting aside the fact that Nyeman reportedly gives away four inches of height and almost twenty pounds of weight to Brenner, I can get why it was called, and based on the video I think Moses understands why it was too.

So now D.C. goes into Columbus Wednesday down Moses Nyeman, seemingly down Russell Canouse, whose only thing resembling a soccer kick was for a gender reveal (Mazel Tov Russell!). The central midfield will probably have Felipe in one spot. Junior Moreno went 90 for the fourth time in two weeks last night and may be due for a spell, so... Drew Skundrich, come on down? If you’re healthy of course.

The other absence is Joseph Mora due to his stoppage-time red, and the candidates to fill that spot are a little more intriguing to me. Griffin Yow could go, Yamil Asad may be able to go there Wednesday if Kevin Paredes stays forward. Chris Odoi-Atsem could perhaps go there in a pinch.

An outside pick for me is Jacob Greene. This year, United’s second-youngest player has been seeing a good amount of time at left wingback with Loudoun United (and has looked not too out of place there, I’ll note). Ryan Martin mentioned that Greene was on a minutes cap from the first team last night. Greene missed Tuesday’s game with Loudoun as he was practicing with the first team, and we know the first team will be playing all of the soccer over the next three weeks starting Wednesday.

Given his performance in that spot and the calendar, there’s a tiny bit of a circumstantial case to make for Greene to at least make the gameday squad, and the benefits of getting such a call eight months after signing a deal (and after almost 2,000 USL minutes) is just as significant organizationally as the cups of coffee Yow, Nyeman, and Paredes had before staying with the first team full-time.

This author has already gone on record saying that the secondary transfer window, which ends Friday, will probably be a muted one for United, so you may as well use any available body that you can, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Greene was the next man up. — Ryan Keefer

At least the defense is deep

My main thought from this game is that it is good to have a bunch of defenders healthy again. We’re going through a stage where we now have a bunch of attackers and midfielders injured, and that is bad, but we’re getting the base of the team back again. Steven Birnbaum played well. Chris Odoi-Atsem made his first appearance of the year. Frédéric Brillant was available the bench. It’ll be hard on the wingback level with Joseph Mora suspended, but Andy Najar can do it all. This defense is primed, and I think they can do good things.

Just as long as they can find a wingback for the next game. — Ben Bromley

Best defense is a good offense

United didn’t get the win, but they remained an authentic threat to score while down a man, even without Ola Kamara or Nigel Robertha, and even after Paredes had to be subbed off. That’s nice, but it also ended up mattering.

While they weren’t able to manage much for Sorga, United kept Cincinnati just worried enough that Jaap Stam finished the game with Nick Hagglund, a career center back, at right back. He kept his defensive midfielders Allan Cruz and Yuya Kubo (both more attack-minded players who ended up in holding roles because of Cincinnati’s general troubles this year) stuck at home in their 4231, and ended up only making one substitution despite being eight points from a playoff spot with roughly half the season gone.

That might be Stam’s timidity — prepping for this game, I was surprised to see how rarely he makes substitutions in general — but it’s also because United kept him worried enough about losing a home game to a short-handed team that he wasn’t willing to take the risk the game was screaming out for when you look at it from a Cincy perspective. He wasn’t even willing to go with a classic “put the big guy up top” move, which Hagglund has done in the past with TFC.

This gets at a core aspect of United’s style of play under Losada: whether they high press like normal, or counter-attack out of a lower block like they did yesterday, the patterns of play and connections that are in place have kept the Black-and-Red dangerous enough that other teams continue having to make tactical choices that they’d probably rather not make. In this case, that threat helped keep Cincinnati from throwing the kitchen sink at United, and that feels like a big factor in DCU seeing this game out with very little given away in terms of notable chances. — JA