The old days came back to life at RFK Stadium on Sunday afternoon as a near-capacity crowd cheered on first-place D.C. United as it reclaimed the Atlantic Cup with a 2-0 win against its fierce rivals, the New York Red Bulls. The magnitude of this win cannot be understated. First, it restored order to the oldest rivalry in MLS by bringing the Atlantic Cup back to the District. Second, it put D.C. United four points clear of Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference. Third, it came on the heels of a bad 4-1 loss on the road against the LA Galaxy with a less-than-full-strength United squad. And perhaps most importantly, fourth, it made the entire month of August, all six league matches (two at home and four on the road) and a CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) game, a successful effort.
- Ryan Bacic: "In front of one of its largest home crowds, DC United gave a big-time performance. After honoring its 2004 MLS Cup champion team before the game, the Black and Red (14-8-4) put on a show Sunday for the announced 19,453 at sweltering RFK Stadium, moving four points clear of Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls (7-8-10)."
- Chelsea Janes, via washingtonpost.com: "The pairing of [Luis] Silva and [Fabian] Espindola earned exciting chances in the box early on, as they had throughout the grueling fortnight - success that pushed [Eddie] Johnson out of the starting lineup. "I thought those two continued to show very good chemistry," Olsen said. "When Eddie came on, he's a guy if you're going to play a high line, he can punish you." Johnson entered the game for Silva in the 66th minute, and electric opportunities soon followed."
- Pablo Maurer, via mlssoccer.com: "On a day that D.C. United honored members of their 2004 MLS Cup-winning side -- the last United team to win the league title -- the club's current incarnation made a statement about its intentions to end that decade long drought. United topped the New York Red Bulls, 2-0, riding goalkeeper Bill Hamid's world-class saves..."
- Duncan Day, via prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com: "D.C. United just looked like a more determined squad than the New York Red Bulls. They captured the opening goal, and from that point on, didn't allow their opposition to gain much positive energy. Nailing the game-winning score late in the game, D.C. was able to outgun New York during the usual desperation mode past 85-minute mark, cementing their status in the Eastern Conference's first-place spot, four points ahead of Sporting Kansas City. Meanwhile, top goalscorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls are in sixth place, right behind the playoff cutoff."
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "I am very pleased with the result. It was always going to be a gutsy day. It was just so hot out there. We've had kind of a mild summer, and nobody's been used to this kind of heat. I think both teams had moments in the first half. I think we started off pretty bright, and then they turned it on us in the later portions of the second half and we were lucky not to give one up. But, I think overall in the second half the way we defended the box was better. Our timing was better and just the way we went about the game in the second half was much smarter."
- New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petke, via dcunited.com: "I mean, [D.C. United] took their two opportunities that we pretty much gave them. And we had a number of opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net, and we just weren't able to do anything. In the first half, we hit the post. Two open headers in the six. Two shots from inside the eighteen right to the goalie. I mean the first half, every through ball Espindola was offside, 90 percent of them. The line was perfect in the first half. Second half, we gave the goal up, it's a matter of a dry field, and that's a matter of perhaps not realizing that. The ball isn't going to skip to the goalkeeper, it holds up and miscommunication and it's a goal. You know, I was happy with the line for a lot of the game tonight. At the end of the day, it is lost opportunity, missed chances."
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: On Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud in the middle. "They put so much in to each game. Their relationship is good. The distance they're covering is key for us and the way we play. We ask a lot of them and they continue to win battles in the midfield."
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: On having a lot of direct play. "I think each game is going to be different with us. We are going to have times where we are going to be a team that can out-possess a team and unbalance teams in that way. But we also have the ability to transform into a little bit more of a direct team. Some of that is organic and some of that just happens throughout the game, and we don't try to say ‘Okay, lets be out-possessed and counter attack and go big.' But today I thought our balance was pretty good. I think our ability to adapt in and out of that is what has helped us so far."
- Bill Hamid, via dcunited.com: On the defensive changes in the second half compared to the first. "We saw they were getting a lot of one-two chances in the box and crosses and we wanted to clean that up. It was a good performance by the two center backs and outside backs and we kept it clean."
- Davy Arnaud, via dcunited.com: On the team's last week of games. "I am very happy with the ways things have been going. It was a tough week with Kansas City, LA and New York, and two of those on the road. For us to come away with 6 points is great."
- Eddie Johnson, via dcunited.com: On playing in some unfamiliar roles as of late and coming off the bench today. "I think it's been fantastic. It's good to see all the hard work pay off. We have been getting great results. When you come on you don't want to drop the level, and we were one goal up and they could get a goal to tie it up. I think I played well, held the ball up and combined to finish the game off."
- New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty, via dcunited.com: On what's bothering him. "We lost. It's never happy after a loss."
Sunday's win wasn't a perfect game by the Black-and-Red, but it was a prototypical win built upon the strengths of this team, and it included the wrinkle of bringing on an impact substitute to seal the win in stoppage time. Anchoring the entire effort was the man of the match, Bill Hamid, D.C. United's best and most reliable player. When New York's Bradley Wright-Phillips was left unmarked for a point-blank header, Hamid made a stunning save which few keepers anywhere would have done as well with. He also made a number of other excellent saves the four other times the Red Bulls put a shot on goal. Hamid was also saved by the post on what should have been a goal by Tim Cahill near the end of the first half, but I wonder if Hamid gets more woodwork help than your average keeper because opposing players know they have to place their shots perfectly to avoid another monster Hamid save, thus forcing them to try to hit the edges of the goal. I have no hard data to back this up, but would like to know if it's plausible.
In front of Hamid, the defense was mostly solid, forcing 11 of the Red Bulls' 18 shots to come from the edge of the penalty box or farther out. Sean Franklin and Taylor Kemp continued their recent strategy of conceding crosses which Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum can deal with, rather than allowing their marks to beat them on the dribble. For the match, the Red Bulls had 33 crosses (D.C. United had 14), while United had 39 clearances (NYRB had 17).
Perhaps the most unsung players on this year's team are Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud. These two don't often get the headlines, but they were both superb in the match at both ends of the field. Arnaud was United's best field player in the opening 30 minutes, including a dribbling run through the New York midfield which led to a pass which put Kemp through into open space for an open cross which just missed attackers crashing the goal. Kitchen not only did the dirty work (again) he has become known for, but his assist on EJ's goal was terrific.
Up front, the combination of Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva was consistently dangerous with creative flair from the opening moments of the game. And from my vantage, these two still have potential to improve their combination play with more time together. In support, both Chris Rolfe and Nick DeLeon found themselves with chances as the game wore on. Rolfe, in particular, seemed to get stronger as the game wore on relative to the Red Bulls' defenders who were getting sapped by the heat.
Finally, Eddie Johnson's entrance into the game in the 66' for Luis Silva was a terrific addition for the team. He brought high energy, determination, selflessness (to a fault), and vision to the remainder of the game. Not only did his play immediately make D.C. United more dangerous, but his energy as the game wore on and the Red Bulls wilted was a double bonus. In the end, his goal was well earned and could have been accompanied by one or two more.
This is the first-choice Starting XI and impact substitute I want to see going forward, awaiting the return of Chris Korb, Jeff Parke, and Chris Pontius when they are healthy to challenge for playing time.
The Last Word:
D.C. United's six MLS games in August, along with the CCL match against Waterhouse FC, were linked as a series of games in the team's most congested month of 2014. Entering the Atlantic Cup match on Sunday, the team was 2-3-0 (6 pts, 1.2 pts/gm). Lose the game against New York, and United would have finished the month 2-4-0 (6 pts, 1.0 pts/gm). Tie the game, and the hometown team ends the month 2-3-1 (7 pts, 1.17 pts/gm). But, D.C. United won the game, and thus went 3-3-0 (9 pts, 1.5 pts/gm). And the record looks even better if we throw in the CCL win, showing United went 4-3-0 across all competitions. This wasn't their best month of the season by a long run, but it was a solid showing against a brutally tough schedule.
The road will remain difficult in September, and we will have more on this in our monthly Setting the Stage post which will be out early this week. Until then, celebrate the repatriation of the Atlantic Cup, wave to Sporting in the rear view mirror as they fall further and further behind, congratulate Ben Olsen for managing his team well during this difficult stretch, and enjoy looking back on a successful August campaign--all because D.C. United took care of business on Sunday afternoon against New York.
How big was Sunday's win over the Red Bulls? If you were in the stadium, what was it like?