Last season's surprising US Open Cup championship is continuing to pay dividends for D.C. United. Not only will it perpetually be the hometown club's 13th major trophy, but it also gave the Black-and-Red a ticket into this season's CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). Fortunately, United is making the most of this opportunity by seizing control of its CCL group early in the campaign. Certainly we expect Major League Soccer teams to advance through the group stage (et tu, New York Red Bulls?), but so far Ben Olsen has been nearly flawless in how his team has approached the first two CCL games. But, D.C. United's performance in its league match this weekend will also factor into that assessment.
- ChestRockwell: "After receiving a hotly contested red card in MLS last week, Fabian Espindola was unexpectedly available for D.C. United's visit to Jamaica to face Waterhouse FC. As it turns out, the Jamaican champs can now too claim that they were "Geigered," as Espindola scored both goals - including a sensational opener - to lead United to a crucial 2-1 win in CONCACAF Champions League play. United was forced to gut out the final 20 minutes plus stoppage time after Taylor Kemp was sent off, but the only goal Waterhouse could muster was Hughan Gray's strike direct from a free kick."
- Steven Goff, via washingtonpost.com: "Espindola, United's top scorer in the MLS regular season, scored a marvelous goal in the 38th minute. He took on three challengers, veered to his right to create space and penetrated the penalty area before chipping a 15-yard shot over goalkeeper Richard McCallum and into the far side-netting. In the 50th minute, the Argentine forward again applied the perfect weight and placement on the ball. Right back Samuel Inkoom, making his United debut, crossed from the end line to the heart of the penalty area. Off his back foot, Espindola arced a 10-yard header well beyond McCallum and into the right side of the net."
- Nicholas Rosano, via mlssoccer.com: "Head coach Ben Olsen used the match to give a United debut to recently-signed Ghana international defender Inkoom. The lineup was otherwise a mix of first- and second-stringers, with regulars Espindola, Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid all going from the start."
- Ryan Tolmich, via soccerbyives.net: "Just two games into their CONCACAF Champions League campaign, D.C. United are already well on their way to qualifying for the knockout stage. D.C. United picked up a 2-1 win over Waterhouse FC Tuesday night in Jamaica, sweeping both legs against the Kingston-based squad. With the victory, D.C. sits tied atop the group with six points, leading by a tiebreaker over Waterhouse, which has already played all four of their games. Ben Olsen's side can now turn it's focus back toward the final stretch of the MLS regular season as the only thing that could throw D.C. off course now would be an unlikely sweep by Panamanian minnows Tauro, which lost both of their games against Waterhouse."
- Sean Maslin, via soccerly.com: "At the start of the season, he was just an extra piece in a Supplemental Draft. Now he is the most important player on D.C. United's roster. In a season where so many things could have gone wrong and so many things have gone right, perhaps there is no more of a pleasant surprise than that of forward Fabian Espindola. Signed to be a number two, he has quickly risen to be United's best scoring option and their largest reason for success in 2014. Espindola continued his superior form on Tuesday as he scored both of United's goals in their 2-1 victory over Waterhouse F.C. in the CONCACAF Champions League."
- Lewis Neal, via dcunited.com: On Fabian Espindola's chip goal. "Unbelievable. He's been unbelievable, and he pulled out that delicate little chip in to the far left corner. It pretty much sums up his season so far."
- Bill Hamid, via dcunited.com: On playing down a man for the second consecutive game. "I think that it helped that we went through that last week. Looking at the guys everyone told each other, ‘Keep your heads up, keep your heads up,' and we dealt with it really well."
How great is it to have Fabian Espindola and Bill Hamid on this year's D.C. United squad? They aren't the only players having terrific years, but they are the primary difference makers, the game changers, the reliably superb players who regularly determine the outcome of matches. On Tuesday night in Kingston, Jamaica, they combined to lift the Black-and-Red to what appears to be the decisive win in CCL Group 4. While Espindola's chip goal will go down as one of the great individual scoring efforts of the season for D.C., his header goal also showed remarkable touch and placement to give D.C. United a seemingly safe 2-0 lead. But, once again, Bill Hamid was called on to preserve the win making several excellent saves against a Waterhouse side desperate to avoid defeat.
The Last Word:
While D.C. United hasn't secured it's spot in the knockout stage of CCL yet, the team stands on the verge, only needing a single point in its two matches against Tauro:
|Team||Points||Games Played||Wins||Losses||Draws||Goals||Goals Against||Goal Differential|
Let's be clear, Ben Olsen's management of CCL so far has been almost perfect. During the first CCL game against Waterhouse (at RFK Stadium), in the midst of a very busy stretch of the season, Olsen ran out a Starting XI which included only one first choice starter, Eddie Johnson (because he was sitting on a MLS suspension). While the game itself wasn't beautiful, United was able to ride EJ's early goal to secure the 1-0 win. Perhaps even more importantly, the team was able to turn around three days later and earn a comprehensive 3-0 win on the road against Sporting Kansas City.
During this week's second game against Waterhouse, Olsen fielded a blended team of first choice starters and players we normally see coming off the bench. With Espindola currently suspended in MLS due to the red card he received against the New York Red Bulls, his selection for CCL was a no-brainer for Olsen. The coach then augmented Fabi's selection with regular starters Hamid, Taylor Kemp, Steve Birnbaum, and Perry Kitchen, while also giving Samuel Inkoom his first game wearing the Black-and-Red and also getting Chris Pontius some more valuable minutes. To Olsen's credit, this mismash team was up to the task in Kingston, and left Jamaica seemingly well postured for this weekend's league match at the Chicago Fire.
While D.C. United's 2-1 win over Waterhouse was definitely a quality coaching effort, the final verdict on the match will have to include the result against the Fire on Saturday night. Chicago doesn't look like a playoff team this year, but if it is going to happen for the Fire, they have to get a win this weekend. Similarly, if D.C. United wants to pull out a good month of September, and hold at bay Sporting in the Eastern Conference, they need to win as well. But, without Espindola, United will have to figure out how to manufacture goals without their most dynamic offensive player--meaning players like Hamid, Kitchen, Birnbaum, Pontius, Neal, and maybe even Inkoom will have to follow up their win against Waterhouse with another win in Chicago.
What's your last word on the CCL win in Jamaica? Do you think Olsen will have to make any squad rotation decisions on Saturday night?