D.C. United showed that it can finish the job on the road, holding off a Columbus Crew comeback attempt in an eventful 4-2 win last night. We’ve seen United get plenty of road leads, but we’ve also seen them struggle to get through those last few minutes, and while this was by no means perfect — we went from 3-0 to 3-2 very quickly — United had the character to muster a goal to shut things down, and to overcome what looks like some very bad news in the form of a Bill Hamid hamstring injury.
With all that in mind, here are the major points me (i.e. Jason), Adam, and Ryan wanted to talk over before we move on to the next game in what feels like several hours, but is actually a whopping three days away.
Read ‘em like a book
The key to this game was United’s ability to press Columbus at lightning speed when the Crew made mistakes. That’s part of United’s plan whether they have a high line of contention or play out of the mid-block like they did last night, but the latter means longer distances to cover to actually press the ball. The reads have to be way ahead of schedule make it all work; otherwise, you’re just sprinting forward and watching the defender get the ball away moments before you arrive over and over again.
"We came with a clear plan on pressing them on the right moments. We scored two goals pressing in the right moments." #DCU— Black and Red United (@blackandredU) August 5, 2021
So, what are the “right moments” for United? On the first goal, it was two backwards passes, with Yordy Reyna arriving on Aboubacar Keita’s blind side as that second pass Jonathan Mensah arrived. Keita turned right into Reyna and was immediately in trouble.
The third goal, meanwhile, came from Kevin Paredes taking up just the right angle to go after Mensah, not letting him have a chance to play up the touchline. Mensah turned inside, where Ola Kamara was waiting, and then got discombobulated from there. I think he considered taking a touch to set up a spin towards the corner away from both players, but he got flustered and just kind of tapped the ball with his toe, and Paredes duly took it from him to win the penalty kick (and what should have been a DOGSO red card, as Mensah made no play on the ball in grabbing Paredes by the arm).
This is not just a happy accident. Teams pick pressing triggers based on either higher-leverage moments, or on patterns where a given player or team tend to be unaware or overly casual. United knew the Crew center backs from scouting them over this season, and picked their times to step higher and cut off passing lanes at surprising moments.
Every team has these triggers, but DCU keeps showing us that theirs are more well-honed, and the players more clear on them than just about anyone in the league. Kamara used the word “clarity” to talk about their attacking movements being sharp despite the constant lineup changes, but you can bet that no one walks out to start a game for United without knowing in their bones every single trigger for the opposing team’s build-out patterns, including what happens if there’s a substitution.
It won’t always amount to two goals, but what it will do is further the reputation United has for being an elite disruptor of other teams. We have plenty of evidence by now that the coaching staff comes in prepared for the passing habits of every team they face, and they know where to catch them off guard. — Jason Anderson
Mental Strength League, redux
Jonathan Mensah, the Crew’s captain and most important defender, tried his best to get sent off on either side of halftime, somehow surviving a clear denial of a goal-scoring opportunity call with only a yellow just before the break, and a decision to plow over Kevin Paredes with unnecessary force without seeing a card just after. He spent the rest of the game keying the hosts’ possession, including a sequence that led to a Columbus goal.
That would be one of the two goals Caleb Porter’s side scored in a six-minute span midway through the half. It looked like the combination of referee Victor Rivas’ lenience and the defending champs’ obvious roster quality might be enough to overcome United’s hard-earned three-goal lead.
A lot of teams would have, and have, folded in those circumstances. Several past versions of D.C. United have done just that! (No, I won’t list them, and I don’t want to discuss the subject further.)
But not this team on this night. Hernán Losada’s side regained their footing, found a goal on the counter to stop the Crew’s advance, and then saw out the game with comparatively little drama, not just salvaging, but solidifying the three points.
In conclusion, and with apologies to a certain former DCU striker, . — Adam M. Taylor
Kamara has 9 goals and 2 assists in 534 minutes
Folks. This is serious, so I’m gonna reiterate: Ola Kamara has scored nine goals and added two assists in what is less than six full games of soccer.
I hope that this is enough to change the tenor of how he’s discussed within the fanbase, because when he’s been available, he’s been in a class by himself in MLS. He’s currently fifth in the goalscoring table league-wide, but his competitors have all played at least 330 more minutes than him, and most of them have played nearly two times as many minutes.
If United can keep the guy on the field, they’re a threat to beat anyone. — JA
God wants you on the [field]
If you haven’t seen the Gene Hackman basketball flick Hoosiers, there’s a scene in there where Hackman ,as the coach, calls on Strap, the religious kid, to get on the floor and do something. And he does! So you take a look at this busy month for United, and the injury report, and wonder where the offense is going to come from, you might have thought the third highest-paid player on the team getting a brace would be logical.
Then you look at Yordy Reyna’s stats and understand that these are his first goals with United, after 11 games and 500-ish minutes, and just under 11 months with the team. You could certainly look at it on the other side of the equation (two goals and an assist in his last four games, really!), but given the outlays of cash given to the Vancouver Whitecaps and to Reyna in the form of salary, the Peruvian attacker is playing for his next contract. With his MLS deal expiring at the end of this season, Reyna trying to earn his next deal should in theory should only help United through this arduous month, especially if tonight’s play is what that means.
And with United likely getting four players back ahead of Sunday’s game with CF Montreal, he just has to keep his strength in the dribble. — Ryan Keefer