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The Last Word on D.C. United vs Philadelphia Union: Back to Normalcy

With their win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon, D.C. United surpassed two milestones from last year and reminded us they are back to being a typically competitive MLS side.

Bill Hamid came up big against the Union.
Bill Hamid came up big against the Union.
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

After last year's bizarre season, it's no surprise much of the commentary about D.C. United's 2014 squad has been to compare them to their 2013 version.  Nine games into this year's Major League Soccer season, however, it's clear the Black-and-Red are not last year's team.  On Saturday, by beating the Philadelphia Union 1-0, they surpassed two milestones which show normalcy has returned to the D.C. United team, and 2013 is no longer the measuring stick for this year's team (with the exception of the US Open Cup trophy last year's team won!).

Their Words:

Steven Goff, via  "D.C. United had not handled late-game prosperity well during its previous two trips, and with a precarious lead in the waning moments at PPL Park on Saturday, it was ripe for more disappointment.  But with Philadelphia threatening to extend United’s winless rut on the road, United did not make any catastrophic mistakes. It showed character and poise. And bolstered by goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s terrific work, United claimed a 1-0 victory over the Union for its first regular season road win since October 2012."

- ChestRockwell:  "In a game MLS will not want to use as an advertisement for the league, one moment of quality was all it took.  D.C. United got over last week's wide-open 3-2 loss in Portland with pretty much the opposite: A gritty 1-0 win against a Philadelphia Union side that was booed off the field. Chris Rolfe's 6th minute strike from the center of the box was enough for United, who despite some sloppiness in possession probably should have added a second goal."

- Pablo Maurer, via  "D.C. United appear to have finally figured out how to close a game out.  After multiple late-game breakdowns which cost United five points over eight games, D.C. finished the match off quite well on Saturday afternoon, using a sound defensive approach and the occasional counterattack to preserve their 1-0 lead over the Philadelphia Union....So what was the difference on Saturday? Was it the hours United have spent watching film? Long days on the training field?  After the victory, United head coach Ben Olsen offered a far simpler theory.  “I think they were just tired of hearing about it.”"

- Ives Galarcep, via  "The Philadelphia Union entered Saturday’s showdown vs. D.C. United winless in eight matches and facing the very real possibility that another loss could doom their coach, John Hackworth, to the unemployment line.  Rather than come out with an inspired performance, the Union started out flat, and D.C. United took advantage, playing a disciplined match and riding a Chris Rolfe goal and some impressive Bill Hamid saves on their way to a 1-0 victory at PPL Park on Saturday...The D.C. United team defending stayed sharp for the rest of the match, helping Hamid keep the clean sheet and post their fourth win of the season, surpassing last year’s total just 10 weeks into the 2014 season.  The loss drops the Union to 1-5-5, and 0-4-5 in their past nine matches. A run that has put Hackworth’s job in serious jeopardy."

- Dave Zeitlin, via  "Chris Rolfe and D.C. United extended their closest rivals’ streak of futility with a 1-0 road win over the reeling Philadelphia Union in front of 18,522 fans at PPL Park on Saturday afternoon.  An early goal from Rolfe was all United needed to sink the Union, who are now winless in their last nine games, the longest such stretch in the franchise’s five-year history.  The goal from Rolfe was the 50th of the 31-year-old veteran’s career, making him the 38th player in MLS history to score 50 regular-season goals.  With the Union looking for a good start in a game Union manager John Hackworth labeled “as close as they come to a must-win game,” D.C. (4-3-2) struck first."

- Ben Olsen, via  “Results are important in this business, it’s a good win, I’m extremely happy, I think the guys are extremely happy but I still think there’s a ways to a go."

Ben Olsenvia  On the result on the road.  “You know, I think it says we're growing, some of the stuff hasn't been good enough this season, I thought we played much better in Portland overall and came away with nothing. Here, maybe it wasn't the greatest night but we found a way and I'm proud of the guys today, it says we're not making these mistakes again.”

- Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth, via  “We knew we had to try to open them up (after the goal). They were going to sit in and, to their credit, they did it well. Can’t fault them at all; if you get a goal that early in a game, it’s a good tactic to try to deploy. I thought Danny [Cruz] stretching them a little higher and wider was important for us. And we did that, we just didn’t finish.”

- Eddie Johnson, via  “It was a good match, despite their record they’re a very good team[;] we couldn’t come here and take these guys lightly, they played some good football and have been unfortunate in a lot of games.  We really focused on them today, we knew we were going to be in for a tough battle but we came here and did what we had to do, we defended well throughout the match. It’s not about how you play on the road it’s about getting results and I’m proud of my teammates today.”

- Philadelphia Union midfielder Maurice Edu, via  “I think we have to keep our heads up, maybe sometimes is just going back to the basics and grinding results, we are a team that likes to play but sometimes the best teams do not win the prettiest ways… sometimes [it's] just a fluke goal or a set play and you just grind the rest of the game and maybe that is what we need right now. I think as a group we need to keep our heads up, work harder and stay positive.”

- Chris Rolfe, via  “You said it was my 50th? I didn't know that, thanks for telling me.  More than anything we needed to bounce back from the result we had last weekend and we did. It’s not easy to play at a rival’s house up a goal in the 6th minute and defend for 90...We were very disappointed with the last game obviously especially the guys that have been on the team for a while. So this past week in training we really focused on taking care of the details late in the game and I think that we were a little better, we still weren't as good as we should be but we can do better.”

My Words:

Beating the Union on the road was a big deal for D.C. United on Saturday.  Not only were the Black-and-Red playing a team (and coach) badly in need of a win, but they were also fighting to overcome the history of the 2013 season which saw the team not win a single road game in the league--a history still haunting them after their first three road matches of this young season.  D.C. United also was determined to stop giving up late goals which had already robbed them of five points over the first eight matches of 2014.

The win at The Bridge wasn't a perfectly (or particularly even well) played game for the hometown team.  The defense and midfield turned the ball over entirely too many times in their half of the field.  Attacking players failed to put away clear goal-scoring chances.  And the team conceded ~62% possession over the last 15 minutes.  But, D.C. United showed they can get quality goals in spots, their team defense can be effective for long stretches, and their goalkeeping can make a difference when all else fails.  They even showed improvement in killing off a game by demonstrating a willingness to take the ball to the corner flag and slow up fast breaks to drain additional time off the clock.  In short, D.C. United proved they are back to being a normally competitive MLS team who mixes stretches of quality play with frustrating stretches of something less, but are able to steal points occasionally when playing on the road.

Importantly for United, they didn't give up a late goal changing the result of the game.  This is an improvement we will want to see sustained going forward, while also hoping to see the team be able to claw back points with their own late goals when those situations arrive.  By holding onto the win despite Philadelphia's late pressure, D.C. United exceeded their entire win total for last year in their first nine games of this season.

The Last Word:

The narrative for this win, however, is it ended a 21-game league road winless streak for D.C. United.  Said differently, 1 year, 7 months, and 4 days had passed since the good guys had won away from RFK Stadium.  Or 581 days.  In this amount of time, a man parachuted safely from 24 miles up in the atmosphere, a tragic hurricane hit the northeast US, a President was re-elected, a new Congress was seated, Twinkies were removed from shelves then came back, David Beckham was still playing in MLS instead of trying to build a stadium on South Beach, the US Men's National Team qualified for the World Cup, the National Women's Soccer League was formally announced and finished its first season (and is now in its second), and D.C. United announced its intent to build a stadium on Buzzard Point and also won a trophy.  Needless to say, it's been a long time since D.C. United won on the road.

Perhaps it's this length of time since their last road win, and the general difficulty all MLS teams have of winning away from home, which explains why D.C. United players seemed so happy with this win.  Or, maybe it's just because of D.C. United's amazing fans who traveled to Chester on Saturday in a display of true class.  Or both.  

I vote for both.

What's your narrative of the win at The Bridge?  How does D.C. United avoid overconfidence in their upcoming match against the Montreal Impact?