Sunday night's 4-2 win over the Colorado Rapids was one of D.C. United's best of the season, and perhaps contained the most creative soccer we've seen all year from the hometown team. This was a badly needed win, and it came with their designated player not available for selection. Now, the Black-and-Red are in the busiest part of their schedule, but it comes with the opportunity to move from being a good team to a great team. And, one of the most important factors to pulling this off will be to figure out who their preferred attacking players are.
- Steven Goff, via washingtonpost.com: "In case you had not noticed - and, if you watched Sunday's match, I am sure you have - Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva are pretty darn good together. Their partnership is sure to complicate matters when Eddie Johnson returns from his two-game suspension next week...If Espindola and Silva continue to perform well, "it would be tough to take them off the park," Olsen said. He cautioned, though, "we're going to need everybody in this stretch [of five games in 15 days]. This isn't about one or two players. Tonight was a team response.""
- Ryan Keefer: "On a muggy Sunday night in front of 12,814 at RFK Stadium, the question coming into the game was whether Taylor Kemp could handle the attack that would likely be thrown his way after two semi-shaky outings at the Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake. Kemp responded with two assists as fans fans witnessed entertaining theatrics by some of the younger members of Major League Soccer as D.C. United downed the Colorado Rapids 4-2."
- Pablo Maurer, via mlssoccer.com: "[Luis] Silva's goals were his sixth and seventh of the season, a career high, and his first came just 13 minutes in. Left back Taylor Kemp - filling in for an injured Chris Korb - dispossessed Colorado midfielder Nick LaBrocca 30 yards from goal and played a lovely through ball with the outside of his right foot to a streaking Silva. Silva cut back before chipping his effort over the outstretched arms of Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin."
- Mitchell Northam (aka Primetimemitch), via soccerbyives.net: "The two assists for [Taylor] Kemp went down in the stat book as the second-year defender's first career MLS points. Captain Bobby Boswell was impressed with Kemp's play on offense but still sees room for improvement from the young defender. "I yelled at him a lot actually," Boswell said. "Offensively he had a good night, defensively he was pretty good but I think there are some things we can still work on as a unit.""
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "It was extremely important to win this game. All our home games from here on out are crucial, and we have put ourselves in a good spot. If we continue to take care of winning at home we will be in good shape. Saying that, we would like to go on the road and pick up some points. It's not going to be easy; there is a lot of travel and tough opponents. But again, as we get bodies back I'm hopeful we can go on the road and get some points."
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: On the relationship between Luis Silva and Fabian Espindola. "I think sometimes, when you are tight with someone off the field, I think that translates on the field. I think they have a good relationship in the locker room and outside the game. I think they just have an understanding. It hasn't been practiced a lot. Even in training there has not been a lot of Luis Silva and Fabian Espindola 11 vs. 11 type lineups. They just understand each other, and it can be a beautiful thing. The two times they have been paired up Silva has five goals, and like I said, sometimes when you like playing with someone it translates on the field."
- Colorado Rapids Coach Pablo Mastroeni, via dcunited.com: On the overall match. "We were good for about 12 to 13 minutes and we give up a soft goal. Bad giveaway, bad defending, but to be fair it was a good finish, and now we are chasing the game again. This is a position we have found ourselves in the last couple games. We find a way back in to the game and then a calamity of errors in the back, all through the midfield and up front. Defensively we were just not sharp and at this level, and with the kind of players these guys have, they punched us tonight."
- Luis Silva, via dcunited.com: On playing with Fabian Espindola. "We understand each other pretty well. If [I] stay high he drops and if he stays high I drop. We share the work defensively and I think that helps a lot."
- Taylor Kemp, via dcunited.com: "I got to start two weeks ago, so, you know, I kind of got some of the anxiety and jitters out there. So, I felt more comfortable in this game. I knew the whole week that I was going to start, so that kind of helps mentally. I knew what I need to do for the weekend, so that was good. I felt comfortable; I thought we started the game really well. We were pressing hard and winning a lot of second balls, and then getting the early goal helped. And then, you know, you can kind of take a breath and really settle in."
What an important game for D.C. United to put together a complete team win! Coming on the heels of two road losses, one in heart-breaking fashion to the Houston Dynamo and the other a comprehensive dismantling at surging Real Salt Lake, the Black-and-Red needed to get their confidence back as the entered the most difficult part of their schedule. And with few exceptions, Sunday night's win was one of their best of the season.
On defense, Bill Hamid made one unreal save to close out the first half, was beaten by Dillon Serna's goal-of-the-year nominee, and was victimized on a stoppage-time goal in which the defense seemed to relax knowing the win was secured. Taylor Kemp also showed he can contribute to big D.C. United wins. In the midfield, Perry Kitchen's return breathed life into all phases of the game, while Nick DeLeon and Chris Rolfe looked dangerous up and down both flanks, and combined with the forwards for some of the nicest passing sequences we've seen all year. Finally, Fabian Espindola surprisingly went the distance, and his play with Luis Silva provided one of the most dynamic attacking duos we've seen at RFK in the Olsen era.
The Last Word:
D.C. United has proven they are a very good (and consistent) MLS team this season. At times they've even looked better than good. Overall, however, can we say they are a great MLS team? I think the obvious answer is "no", but they are on the bubble of moving into that territory. But to get there, what do they have to do?
Assuming they avoid the catastrophic injury bug (i.e. losing Hamid, Kitchen, or a combination of players which prevents replacing them with adequate fill-ins), Ben Olsen's major personnel decision will soon be what to do with Eddie Johnson when he returns from his MLS-imposed, 2-game suspension. Olsen won't face that decision until D.C. United's match against the LA Galaxy on Aug. 27th, but even then, he will be facing squad-rotation decisions which might mask the elephant in the room: figuring out what is D.C. United's best attacking combination? Because if the win over Colorado is representative of what they can do, the combination of Espindola, Silva, Rolfe, and DeLeon, supported by the central midfielders and the fullbacks, was the most creative offensive combination we've seen all year. So when EJ is available, who sits?
Between now and Sep. 20th, D.C. United will play six league matches (with five of them on the road), and two CCL matches (with one in Jamaica). League matches will be on the road against Sporting Kansas City (currently #1 in the Supporters' Shield standings), on the road vs. the LA Galaxy (#6), at home against the New York Red Bulls (#12), on the road at the Vancouver Whitecaps (#7), on the road against NYRB (#12), and on the road against the Chicago Fire (#16, but will they have Jermaine Jones by then?). How D.C. United performs over this stretch, which may very well be decided by which attacking combination makes the Starting XI each match, will be the difference between D.C. United being merely a good team or a great team by the time we get to the end of the season.
What does D.C. United need to do to become a great team this season?