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The last word on D.C. United vs Vancouver Whitecaps: Matching the opponent's intensity

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The tie in Vancouver got the job done for D.C. United, and they now find themselves settling into their position in the table while their opponents are fighting for every point they can get.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Trips to the west coast are always a challenge for Eastern Conference teams, so D.C. United's 0-0 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps was a solid result, especially given the motivation the Whitecaps brought to the game, desperately needing points to climb above the red line.  Without their first choice starting XI due to injury, United relied on a (mostly) effective defense and timely goalkeeping from Bill Hamid to earn the shutout against an energetic side, while still creating a few decent chances (primarily fueled by Fabian Espindola and Taylor Kemp) which could have seen them smash and grab the entire 3 points with more clinical finishing.  Davy Arnaud certainly did his part as well on both ends of the field to give the visitors a chance at the win, but in the end United settled for the draw, a result which is starting to make D.C. United's final position in the conference and Supporters' Shield standings ever more likely.

Their Words:

- Steven Goffvia washingtonpost.com: "With his third shutout in four games and eighth overall, United goalkeeper Bill Hamid extended Vancouver's scoreless streak to 411 minutes. Hamid was not tested often but had to make a superb save late in the first half in front of 18,116 at BC Place. United (14-8-5, 47 points) continued to pull away from defending champion Sporting Kansas City (12-10-6, 42), which has lost four straight and five of six. D.C. (3-1-1 in the past five games) has also played one fewer match than Kansas City."

ChestRockwell:  "Twenty-eight months had transpired between D.C. United's last visit to BC Place to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps. Judging from the mostly frazzled gameplay both sides mustered on the night, it might be for the best if that long break is repeated. Vancouver had arguably the better chances, but in truth the 0-0 scoreline tonight's game produced was a fair result in what turned out to be a classic "turf game.""

- Pablo Maurervia mlssoccer.com:  "No Rolfe? No EJ? No problem...Rolfe's role on the left wing was filled by former Seattle Sounder David Estrada, who got his second start since his acquisition in early August. Estrada put in an industrious 70-minute shift, weathering a few rough patches early on before finding his place in the attack...Even if healthy, Johnson's place in the starting XI wouldn't have exactly been guaranteed. The big striker has found himself sharing minutes with Luis Silva and Fabian Espindola, both of whom have shown exceedingly well in recent weeks. There was some thought that Johnson may actually fill in for Rolfe, playing the wide midfield role that US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has deployed him at on occasion, but any possibility of seeing the goal scorer was wiped out prior to the match."

- Rob R. Scottvia eightysixforever.com:  "While Vancouver deserved its 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Portland last weekend, the Caps generated enough opportunities to have easily won 5-0, if only there was someone on the club who could finish. Darren Mattocks, who played up top along with Sebastian Fernandez in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, plumbed new depths this evening, missing at least three Grade A chances. Kendall Waston, who played relatively decently aside from the odd positional miscue, missed point blank with a header opportunity off a Morales free kick. Jordan Harvey, too, missed a near-post power header effort on a Russell Teibert cross...But optimists would also tend to overlook the somewhat muffled boos that sounded at the final whistle. Much of the fan frustration must be reserved for Darren Mattocks, who looks as if he may have scored his last goal as a Whitecap, if not as a professional. Not only did his finish continue its extended absence, but the Jamaican's work ethic seems to have devolved again. How long will the Whitecaps be content to wait for him to develop into the kind of player they seem to think he's capable of being?"

- MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match, via mlssoccer.com: [editorial comment: what about Davy Arnaud?!?]

Rank Player What We Saw
1 Bill Hamid He wasn't tested much, but his save on Mattock's shot right after halftime saved the draw
2 Kendall Waston The big Jamaican was a force on the backline and had a couple of chances to score, too
3 Fabian Espindola The most dangerous man on the field, offensively, finished with four shots

- Ben Olsenvia dcunited.com:  "We're happy with the point. Traveling from east to west, it's never easy. A zero on the road is always a good thing, you give yourself a chance."

- Vancouver Whitecaps coach Carl Robinsonvia dcunited.com:  "We've been through some tough streaks, we got a clean sheet today which was good. They're a very good team, top of the Eastern Conference and they come in with a game plan. But we weren't able to break them down so credit to them tonight."

- Perry Kitchen, via dcunited.com: "Huge point on the road for us. I don't think it was our best performance, but we had 11 guys that believed and followed and we grinded out a good result on the road. Definitely a big point for us, looking forward to a big game on Wednesday."

- Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Mauro Rosalesvia dcunited.com:  "I think we did a very good job coming back from the last game we did. We fix many things and the mentality of the team just stepping out, good concentration, being focused, we created many chances to score, we just need to be more calm in the last part of the situation that we create, and we will be okay. We did a very good job. We played against the top of the conference and we showed against any team, we can be a dangerous team, and we can be one of the best, but we need to score. We'll take the point that we got today, but we also we're a little disappointed about the end of the game, but I think we could have taken the three points today."

- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: On the stretch drive and what the club needs to do to maintain their #1 seeding. "I think we can be a little bit more consistent, but we're pretty pleased with this win. We're weathering storms, we have a little bit of an injury bug - as does most of the league right now - but we just have to keep staying hungry, having the right edge to us, maybe get a little bit better with some of the soccer stuff. Overall, we just have to keep the right mentality."

- Sean Franklin, via dcunited.com: On the backline's growth. "We've been working hard, and we've talked about not giving up goals. If we do that it gives us a chance to get three points or a tie, and I thought today the whole team was good, I thought Bill came up with a couple of huge saves, and that's what it's going to take from here on out."

My Words:

While a 0-0 draw is rarely satisfying, D.C. United's result at BC Place on Saturday night got the job done for the conference leaders.  And in this regard, the team's social media got it right:

D.C. United: "Looking in the rear view this morning at gorgeous Vancouver, at a clean sheet, and the rest of the Eastern Conference. #DCU"

Based on this past week's results, D.C. United extended their lead on Sporting by 1 point (while having a game in hand) despite playing without two of their most important offensive players (Rolfe and EJ).  Unfortunately, they also dropped two points to both Seattle and LA in the Supporters' Shield standings.  And this begins to define a challenge for D.C. United in that they are starting to settle into their place in the standings (extending their lead in the East, but not making up ground on the blistering-hot Shield leaders), while most of their remaining opponents must fight each and every game to improve their position--much like Vancouver had to do on Saturday night.

The Last Word:

Getting points from a highly motivated opponent is a skill D.C. United will need to continue to exercise in the coming weeks since so many of their upcoming matches are against teams fighting for a playoff spot.  Of United's remaining seven opponents, only SKC appear safe to make the playoffs (although their current slide is putting this assertion into question) and only the Montreal Impact look sure not to make it.  Everyone else has a shot, but each needs to start getting wins during their last several games.

Date Location Opponent Current Conference Position
10-Sep Away New York Red Bulls 6th: 2 pts out of 5th (with a game in hand)
20-Sep Away Chicago Fire 9th: 7 pts out of 5th (with a game in hand)
27-Sep Home Philadelphia Union 5th: 2 pts ahead of 6th
3-Oct Home Sporting Kansas City 2nd: 5 pts out of 1st, 3 pts ahead of 3rd
12-Oct Away Houston Dynamo 8th: 5 pts out of 5th (with a game in hand)
18-Oct Home Chicago Fire 9th: 7 pts out of 5th (with a game in hand)
25-Oct Away Montreal Impact 10th: 16 pts out of 5th (with a game in hand)

Additionally, with the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy having turned the Supporters' Shield standings more and more into a two-team race (D.C. United is now 7 potential points behind Seattle and 5 behind LA), and with Sporting looking less and less likely to challenge D.C. United for the top spot in the Eastern Conference (SKC is now 8 potential points behind D.C.), the Black-and-Red will have to be mentally focused and mentally tough to equal the intensity of their opponents (and take advantage of their desperation) .  While mental toughness has been a strength of this D.C. United team, ensuring this "disparity in motivation" (compared to their opponents) is minimized and managed throughout the remainder of the season will be one of Ben Olsen's primary coaching challenges down the home stretch.

What are D.C. United's main challenges down the stretch?  How do they remain focused?