Sunday afternoon saw D.C. United finally win a soccer match in Houston. The 3-1 win against the Houston Dynamo was a complete team victory, and showed why the Black-and-Red are leading the Eastern Conference this season. The win also represented a return of D.C. United to being one of the most feared road teams in the league, something they haven't been for a long time.
- ChestRockwell: "Since 2006, no city has been more unfriendly to D.C. United than Houston, where the Dynamo beaten United in eleven of the Black-and-Red's twelve visits. There have been blowouts, farcical last-minute goals, and horrendous calls in playoff games. Today, however, was different. Today, with a chance to get within a point of winning the Eastern Conference outright, United stood firm and were deserved 3-1 victors in a game delayed over an hour by lightning. Taylor Kemp, Fabian Espindola, and Eddie Johnson provided the goals, while Bill Hamid came up with a couple strong stops to make sure the Dynamo didn't steal a point."
- Steven Goff, via washingtonpost.com: "The result also propelled United (16-9-7) to the brink of clinching first place in MLS's Eastern Conference. With a six-point lead over New England and Kansas City and two weekends remaining, D.C. would wrap it up with a draw against ninth-place Chicago on Saturday at RFK Stadium or if its pursuers drop points...The joyous postgame scene was tempered by an injury to leading scorer Luis Silva, who strained his right hamstring shortly after the weather delay and did not return. He will undergo an MRI exam in the next day or two. United will open the playoffs Nov. 1 or 2."
- Darrell Lovell, via mlssoccer.com: "Just before halftime, assistant referee Chris Strickland raised his flag for a handball on Steve Birnbaum inside the box on a Giles Barnes cross. After effusive protests from D.C. players and a conference with referee Ismail Elfath, the call was waved off and a drop ball was awarded to D.C....Houston was given a lifeline in the 81st minute when Sean Franklin was whistled a penalty kick after he appeared to drag Ricardo Clark down in the box. Barnes calmly beat Hamid to the right to bring the Dynamo to within one and give the Englishman double-digit goals for the campaign."
- Pablo Maurer, via mlssoccer.com: "The win puts United six points clear of the New England Revolution with just two games to play. Their 39-point swing in points earned between 2013 and 2014 also ties them with the 1999-2000 MetroStars for the largest single-season turnaround in league history. A win or tie in their next two matches will make them the sole owners of that distinction."
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Fabian Espindola||Why would you give this guy time to chip on the run? He's practically automatic.|
|2||Davy Arnaud||Nowhere to go for Houston for much of this one, and Arnaud made sure that was the case.|
|3||Giles Barnes||Not his best match, but only Bill Hamid's heroics denied the 10-goal man a brace.
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "I thought our mentality coming out was good, and that's where good, experienced, hungry guys that understand that's what's at stake right now. We're looking forward to going back home and trying to get more points against Chicago."
- Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, via dcunited.com: On the locker room atmosphere after the loss. "It's not good. Real quiet. They know what's going on. We talked about it before the game and they put a lot into trying to get it. They're disappointed; I don't think any of us envisioned it when we stepped on the field for the first day of preseason this was going to happen. I think the guys are exhausted a little bit. I think physically they're tired with the amount of games we've played in a short period and it was a hot muggy afternoon and the result's a mental downer as well."
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: On Taylor Kemp scoring. "So nice to have a guy like that get on the scoresheet to kind of give him a little press, a little ego boost because he's done fantastic for us. I'm glad his name's going to be mentioned."
- Bobby Boswell, via dcunited.com: On the team getting its first win in Houston. "It's for you writers and the media. It's a whole new group. I don't even think [Chris Rolfe] sent a text before the game saying "Go get a win there." I don't think any of the guys - like I said, it wasn't talked about. We played a team that had to play three games this week, it was hot as hell like usual and we were up for it. It was kind of back and forth for a while and took our good goal in the first one and Fabi [Espindola] just showed why he's a great goalscorer in this league on the second one. We knew they were going to throw up crazy numbers forward, upset not to get the shutout but I think anyone takes a win in Houston; anyone in this league would take that no matter how it's done. Credit to the guys, we're a group that's motivated. I talked to you this week, I said we want to make sure we're playing well going into the playoffs, so this is the game that was most important. We took care of it and now we have to get ready for Chicago."
- Houston Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis, via dcunited.com: Thoughts on the match. "Obviously it ends our season. It's highly disappointed. I didn't think the result was going to go this way today. We're a team that's usually continuing to push and actually hitting our stride right now. To be totally honest, over the last 11-12 games we've been playing some pretty good ball. But we've got to continue to do that throughout the year."
D.C. United didn't play a perfect game Sunday afternoon in Houston, but in totality, it was the performance you would expect from an Eastern Conference champion. While the first 10 minutes of the game saw the Black-and-Red looking disorganized in the back, the team's play improved as the rain started to fall and the visitors took control of the game before the weather break. Coming back from the hour plus stoppage in play, D.C. United was firmly in control and were rewarded with Taylor Kemp's well-struck goal following a nice build up between Davy Arnaud, Fabian Espindola, and Chris Pontius. Unfortunately, their successful first half was marred by the loss of Luis Silva to an apparent hamstring injury.
In the second half, D.C. United conceded the initiative to Houston Dynamo, and relied on well-tested Benny-ball tactics to close out the game. To this end, the defense was generally stout, Bill Hamid was flawless when called upon, and the counter was effective with two more goals coming from Espindola and Eddie Johnson. Only a highly questionable penalty kick called against Sean Franklin (h/t to Ricardo Clark for whatever role he played in securing the call for his team) allowed the hosts to get on the scoreboard.
Finally, a nod to the entire D.C. United midfield for their performance in this game. Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud continued to show why they are the indispensable pairing the team's success has been built upon this season. Additionally, Nick DeLeon was active and dangerous throughout his time on the field, while Chris Pontius is rounding into form and already showing why he is Starting XI quality. And Eddie Johnson, subbing in for Silva following his injury, was particularly effective playing in and through the midfield on both offense and defense.
The Last Word:
D.C. United is to be congratulated on leading the East by six points with two games remaining. Their magic number is now one, meaning to clinch first place in the East they only need one point in their last two games, or they need both the New England Revolution and Sporting Kansas City to drop one point in their remaining two matches. While not in the bag yet, one or both of these scenarios is likely to happen.
Another area in which D.C. United deserves an attaboy is for their road record this year. Winning on the road is always difficult in MLS, but this is the best record a United team has put together on the road since their Supporters' Shield-winning teams in the previous decade.
First, here are the road records of each MLS team this season including the games of this past weekend. As can be seen, with one road game left to play, D.C. United is currently tied for fourth in most road points earned in 2014.
|Team||Away Wins||Away Losses||Away Draws||Away Points||Away Pts/Game|
|Sporting Kansas City||8||7||1||25||1.56|
|New England Revolution||5||9||2||17||1.06|
|Real Salt Lake||4||7||5||17||1.06|
|New York Red Bulls||2||7||7||13||0.81|
|San Jose Earthquakes||1||9||6||9||0.56|
And historically, here is how D.C. United's 2014 road performance stacks up against their other seasons since the shootout was terminated following the 1999 season.
|DCU Season||Away Points||Away Pts/Gm||Away Wins||Away Losses||Away Draws|
Even with a win at Montreal in the final game of this season, the 2014 D.C. United side won't be able to equal the away points per game rate of the team in the mid-2000s. Although falling just short of those teams, D.C. United has returned this year to being one of the most dangerous MLS teams on the road (something even the 2012 side wasn't able to do). And with the playoffs looming in a few short weeks, this is a skill which should serve the Black-and-Red well in their quest for the 14th trophy.
What's been the key to the improved road performances this season? Why has D.C. United historically been an under-achieving road team?