Controlling your own destiny is a good thing in sports, and D.C. United's 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union in the afternoon sun at RFK Stadium brought a hoped-for Eastern Conference regular-season championship one step closer to fruition for Ben Olsen and company. The win relied on D.C. United's new-found depth, and Luis Silva continued to emerge as another of D.C. United's indispensable players in 2014.
- Ryan Bacic: "Finally - 11 months after his last home game - D.C.'s soccer club found itself united once again. Chris Pontius, a member of the Black and Red since 2009, played the final 29 minutes of the club's 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union, his first home league appearance since DCU's loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference finals Oct. 27 of last year...Pontius...entered in the 61st to a rousing ovation from the announced RFK Stadium crowd of 19,478."
- Steven Goff, via washingtonpost.com: "After the 14th match in 8 1/2 weeks, a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union that extended his club's Eastern Conference lead to six points, D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen was willing to excuse the imperfections. United was not at its cleanest Saturday at sun-splashed RFK Stadium, but with Luis Silva continuing his scoring surge with an early header, a bushed crew ground out another late-season result and moved closer to securing a top seed in the MLS playoffs. 'I can't say enough about the group in general, about the way they have handled the past two months,' Olsen said. 'They are tired. They have had a long haul. A lot of these guys had to dig deep today and get through it.'"
- Pablo Maurer, via mlssoccer.com: "D.C. drew first blood just ten minutes from the opening whistle. Right back Chris Korb - starting his first league match since Aug. 9 after recovering from a hamstring ailment - controlled the ball several yards from the near corner flag and then pushed it to Sean Franklin, who was making a rare appearance in the midfield. Franklin's attempt at a cross deflected off a defender but found its way back to Korb, who quickly whipped the ball in to the top of the six. Silva was waiting and deftly headed the ball past Union keeper Rais Mbolhi and into the back of the net. Moments after the goal, the Union were dealt an early blow when Sebastian Le Toux - the club's leading scorer - was forced to leave the game with a right ankle sprain. He was replaced by Danny Cruz in the 22nd minute."
- Ryan Tolmich, via soccerbyives.net: "As per usual, the D.C. United defense remained stout throughout the game, but the visitors did put together a chance in the 47th minute. Union forward Andrew Wenger's long-distance cross proved to be threatening, as substitute Danny Cruz latched on in the center of the box. The midfielder's ensuing shot was kick-saved by a rushing Bill Hamid in what proved to be the toughest of the D.C. United goalkeeper's four saves on the afternoon."
- MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match, via mlssoccer.com:
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Luis Silva||His goal was the difference maker but his partnership with Espindola was dangerous all game.|
|2||Fabian Espindola||His technical ability was on display throughout, showing some nice backheels to trick Union defenders.|
The rookie was strong all game, not letting the veteran Conor Casey get the best of him.
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "It would have made life a lot easier if we could have gotten that second goal, and at times I think we can manage the game a little bit better. It's a good and bad thing at times because we have guys that are just so hungry to go and score goals, and they have the ability to do it...It wasn't always perfect, but once again they pulled out a result and a shutout so they're getting two days off to get away from me and then we'll back to work for a tough game on Friday."
- Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin, via dcunited.com: "First half, I thought we just got out competed for probably 40 of the 45 minutes, but that changed in the second-half. I thought we put a lot more into it. You know, probably deserved a goal, but we didn't get one. So again, the goals have kind of dried up. We are going to have to find a way to fight through it, and we need to now win three games in a row to give ourselves even a chance at the playoffs."
- Bill Hamid, via dcunited.com: On the key to the win. "We didn't give them any chances, I think all together we gave them maybe 3 or 4 chances, which is good in a game."
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: On Silva finding ways to score. "His confidence is so high right now, every time he takes on players and he has the quality to do it. He's got a little bit of everything; he's calm and his composure is there."
- Nick DeLeon, via dcunited.com: On Luis Silva's form. "He's in form right now, it seems like everything he touches is going in and he's peaking at the right time. Hopefully he can keep that going into the postseason."
- Luis Silva, via dcunited.com: On his recent hot streak. "Yeah it was me in this game, I was able to score but you know I think it's a group effort."
- Sean Franklin, via dcunited.com: Things to improve upon for next game. "Yeah I think definitely being at home we should be able to keep the ball more especially in the second half. A lot of times we went kind of long and we weren't sharp on our passes as a team and playing at home that's unacceptable to be giving away the ball that much."
D.C. United is a team composed of depth all of a sudden. Having the luxury of bringing on Chris Pontius and Eddie Johnson in the second half of a critical homestretch match, while already having the lead, speaks to the weapons the Black-and-Red can currently bring to bear against their opponents. But it's not just these high-profile players who are making the bench look deeper here in the late stages of the MLS season. It's also the lower-profile players who have emerged this season when opportunity has arisen.
First, how many different players have we talked about at some point during the season as being the indispensable player for D.C. United? Bill Hamid, Fabian Espindola, Bobby Boswell, Chris Rolfe, Perry Kitchen, and even Davy Arnaud. Now add Luis Silva to this list. He is playing at an elite level right now, a level which can no longer be ignored by MLS, and a level which could even get him some consideration by the national team.
Second, when injuries gave Steve Birnbaum and Taylor Kemp opportunities this season, the two players seized what the Fates offered. It's not even a question now about Birnbaum's role: he is one of D.C. United's two starting center backs. Additionally, Kemp's play during Chris Korb's extended absence has made Ben Olsen's selection of starting fullbacks a more complicated problem, but it's also freed Olsen to make different Starting XI selections than we've seen all season. Because of the trust Olsen has in Kemp, the team felt confident to push Sean Franklin into a starting midfield role while allowing Korb and Kemp to start in the defense. The tactical options Kemp's solid play is affording the team may also result in World Cup veteran Samuel Inkoom's time on the field being more at midfield as well than at defense.
Add to all this depth an All-Star defender (Sean Franklin), a former Rookie of the Year runner up capable of big things (Nick DeLeon), and a wily English veteran who has scored the two biggest goals of the last two seasons (Lewis Neal), and this is a team which has the potential to make a run down the stretch to something special.
The Last Word:
Saturday's victory over the Union wasn't great outing, but it got the job done for the conference leaders. The early goal allowed D.C. United to manage the game in such a way to get the 1-0 victory, but the style changed during the course of the game from playing front-foot soccer for most of the first half to more of a traditional Benny-ball approach in the second half. But, three points were needed, and three points were had.
D.C. United continues to reduce it's magic numbers relative to the rest of the Eastern Conference. With the win on Saturday, United can no longer be caught by Philadelphia and the Chicago Fire (while the Montreal Impact were already too far behind to catch up). Remember, any combination of D.C. United earning points and/or other teams dropping points which equal the magic number means D.C. United can no longer be caught by that team.
|Team||DCU Magic Number|
|New England Revolution||7|
|Sporting Kansas City||7|
|New York Red Bulls||3|
Friday night's match against Sporting Kansas City is truly a six-point match if D.C. United wins. The combination of the Black-and-Red earning three points and Sporting dropping three points would reduce the magic number vs SKC to one, with three games left to play. There is no doubt Sporting will be a desperate side on Friday night, so D.C. United will need a terrific effort in front of the hometown fans--even without Perry Kitchen who will sit this one out for yellow card accumulation (again).
Even with a win on Friday night, D.C. United will still have New England chasing from behind. The two teams don't play each other again during the regular season, so D.C. United will continue to have to win (seeing the red-hot Revs drop some points along the way would be helpful as well) to secure the #1 seed in the East for the playoffs.
What's your last word on United's victory over the Union? How do you see the next few weeks unfolding?