While it wasn't D.C. United's best played game of the year, beating Toronto FC 2-1 at BMO Field on Saturday night was arguably the Black-and-Red's best result of the season, taking three points from a stacked Reds side which included Michael Bradley in the lineup for the first hour of the contest. Key players stepped up for United to win the game with great individual moments, and D.C. United closed out the first half of the season riding high atop the conference standings. They also find themselves in the enviable position of boasting a 3-3-1 road record (10 points, 7 games, 1.43 pts/game), one of the best in the league.
- Armen Bedakian, via mlssoccer.com: "Goals by Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen gave D.C. United a 2-1 win over Toronto FC with all three strikes coming in a wild second half that came to a crescendo when TFC were cut down to 10 men in the final minutes Saturday evening at BMO Field. Luke Moore scored a 60th-minute goal to level the game at 1-1 briefly, but Toronto FC were unable to take advantage of the return from the World Cup of midfielder Michael Bradley and lost for the first time in seven matches to end their three-game home winning streak."
- ChestRockwell: "At halftime, Nelsen cut his old club some slack. The 4231 that had so confounded DCU from the start was changed back to TFC's normal 442, with Orr coming off for Dominic Oduro. Toronto was looking to increase their attacking options, but what they ended up doing was giving United some breathing room in the midfield while simultaneously becoming the team United had spent all week preparing for."
- Richard Farley, via prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com: "For United, however, these types of games seem to be happening too often. Despite returning to the top of the Eastern Conference, D.C.'s only averaging 11.6 shots per game, 16th in the league. They're conceding only slightly more (12.2), but that's not a disparity you'd associate with a first place team. Usually better teams create more shots, allow fewer. Usually. There are cases where teams actually (if only implicitly) play to those numbers. Most teams want to win the chances battle, but some don't care as much. They're willing to create more chances as long as theirs are better quality-wise, de-prioritizing the chance-battle relative to other teams. That's D.C. United. They don't take too many risks. They wait for you to make mistakes, and while that occasionally leaves them playing on the back foot, it also allows them to limit the danger of the shots they give up. At the same time, they remain ready to take advantage of their opponents errors. When a team's defenders play around with the ball, allow D.C. to create a turnover and give the Black and Red a second half lead, their tactics leave them better equipped to see out a result. In that way, the team's become a type of smash-and-grab expert. How long it will last remains to be seen, but we're far beyond expecting an outright collapse for D.C. United."
- Daniel Karell, via soccerbyives.net: "Even with Bradley in the lineup along with Jermain Defoe, the duo had trouble breaching the D.C. United backline of Chris Korb, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Sean Franklin, who all did enough to keep TFC off the scoresheet in the first half."
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "Yeah we played much better against Seattle, ironically, sometimes that is how it goes. I thought their game plan was good in the first half, we had some heavy legs and I thought they wanted to defend and counter which worked very well for them. We were poor with the ball and played right into it, second half we changed our mentality a bit and made it into a little bit more of a fight and changed the game that way. Then we held on down the stretch, they're a good team with some real impact players up top. Moore and Defoe between the two of them are a real handful, I thought our guys did well. It wasn't our best night but this team has real metal, real character, and that sees us through games...We have continued to grow we have lost a few players and have some starters out with Espindola, Parke, we have lost a left back so we are still evolving to see who we are going to be this year. In the meantime we need to get points and it's not an easy place to come so we are extremely happy."
- Perry Kitchen, via dcunited.com: "We definitely showed a better performance against Seattle possession wise, but tonight we found a way to put away our chances and that is always the difference."
- Nick DeLeon, via dcunited.com: On his goal. "To be honest I can't remember much, I remember coming forward and taking a peek up and putting it in the corner." On the changed tactics in the second half. "Toronto changed to a 4-4-2 and it really left the middle open for our midfield as we were playing with five in the middle. First half it was a little clogged and we couldn't get a rhythm going, second half was a better game and much more open with both teams getting chances, we were just fortunate enough to put two away."
- Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley, via washingtonpost.com: "I felt good, excited to be back...I'm disappointed that the game went the way it did, because this was a big game against a team close to us in the table and it would have been nice to capitalize."
The quote in the title came from regular B&RU site commenter Brendanukkah on our gamethread moments before LEWIS NEAL! delivered his well-placed corner kick to the head of Perry Kitchen for the game winner in D.C. United's 2-1 win over Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday night. We don't know what deal Brendanukkah struck with the Fates to summon this moment, but the set piece goal was enough to see off the mega-spending Reds despite the home team dominating in shots taken and, ultimately, possession.
Despite the apparent wizardry of our gamethread in bringing forth the winning goal, D.C. United actually won this match based on the quality of individual performances Saturday night, namely those of Nick DeLeon, Bill Hamid, LEWIS NEAL!, and Steve Birnbaum. Other players had fine games as well, but these players elevated their play in key moments to carry the team to victory. The most breathtaking plays, perhaps, being by DeLeon and Hamid. DeLeon's goal didn't have the golazo final touch of Erick "Cubo" Torres' game-winning effort on Saturday, but taken in totality with Nicky D's defensive pressure to win the turnover, the individual skill and strength to beat or freeze four Toronto field players, and then the creativity to shift the ball from foot to foot to keep the Toronto keeper from leaning the correct way before the shot add up to one of the best individual goals we've seen this year. And Hamid, proving again he's an elite shot stopper, made superb saves, including one deep into stoppage time, preserving the win for D.C. United.
The Last Word:
The season is now exactly halfway over for the hometown team, and D.C. United has defied all expectations to be in first place in the Eastern Conference, and second overall in the MLS Supporters' Shield standings. This accomplishment can't be overlooked, and should be celebrated by all fans of the Black-and-Red. Unfortunately, being in first place at the midway point of the season doesn't come with a playoff spot, and the team won't have long to revel in this milestone with a game at the San Jose Earthquakes looming late on Friday night.
This being MLS, most teams (even very good ones) have weaknesses and depth issues. D.C. United certainly does, but they are continuing to get results even when on the road, even when missing their best player due to injury, even with another starter (Jeff Parke) out with an injury, and even despite losing a third starting player to the ether (aka the Canary Islands). This D.C. United team is working despite its flaws, and the challenge will be for the team to find a way to smooth over those flaws during the summer signing period without disrupting the improbable chemistry and character we've seen in the first half of the season.
This road win against Toronto is a huge win. These are exactly the kind of wins D.C. United will need in the second half to stay in a playoff position.
Am I the only one, or does this year's D.C. United team remind you of the USMNT in the World Cup? Getting results (or staying close) in games in which they're dominated statistically, having a strong defense but giving up lots of shots, relying on a superb goalie, giving up late goals at times, and living off of intangibles like character, grit, and determination. What's your take?