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Three things we learned from D.C. United’s 2-2 draw with the Philadelphia Union

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United came from behind, but the bigger picture isn’t great

It was kind of a mirror image of last week. Trailing late, D.C. United threw numbers forward and through force of will pulled out a late equalizer against the Philadelphia Union, drawing 2-2. Taylor Kemp had a Goal of the Week contender that capped a 60-yard solo run before Tranquillo Barnetta scored a ridiculous free kick. Chris Pontius punished a bad turnover (and he didn’t celebrate). And Steve Birnbaum headed home the final tally deep into second half stoppage time.

Here’s what we learned from the draw. Spoiler alert: not all of it is great for United. Or even good.

That’s very nearly it for United’s playoff hopes

Tonight’s result makes it incredibly difficult for D.C. United to reach the playoffs this year. As our own ChestRockwell discussed before the start of this homestand, the Black-and-Red really needed 9 points from these 4 games to have a shot at the post-season. Halfway through, and they have two points for their efforts.

And their efforts have improved! Their possession has improved, as has their ability to create chances. They’re sturdier in the back than they were in open games earlier in the season. United looks better, and the underlying fundamentals are good.

The dropped points these last few weeks come down to committing stupid fouls and turnovers in bad spots and failing to finish chances at the other end. Basically, individual mental lapses.

The players have to be better for the system to be better. Many of them have been, but those bad moments are coming to define the 2016 season for los Capitalinos.

At this point, any continued improvement may be too late. With 12 games left in the regular season, United sit three points below the red line. That’s not a huge gap, but go back and read the piece I linked further up. DCU have to get better at home and on the road by a substantial margin to make up even that small difference.

Even with many of the fundamentals trending in the right direction, without more discipline in our end and better finishing in the opposition’s — and soon — all it means is a promising base to build on for 2017.

Rob Vincent, defensive midfielder?

I know for a fact that my eyebrows weren’t the only ones that shot up when I read Vincent’s name in the #6 spot on D.C. United’s lineup tweet. The Englishman signed in the offseason led the USL in goalscoring last year with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and he was generally assumed to have been brought on as wing depth.

But early in the season we saw him tuck inside to play in the middle, and that trend has reasserted itself more recently, subbing into central midfield last week against Montreal. But I don’t think anybody saw the goal-scoring wide man as a defensive midfielder.

Then Marcelo Sarvas got suspended and Jared Jeffrey suffered a hamstring injury. And here we are.

Vincent was decent in his debut at the position. He wasn’t especially active on the ball, but completed his passes at close to 80%, with some nice long distribution in there, and claiming a handful of clearances, blocks and interceptions. But perhaps the best indication of success that Tranquillo Barnetta never really set up shop in Zone 14.

With Marcelo not getting any younger, Jared Jeffrey guilty of some of those bad mistakes I harped on earlier and Chris Durkin in the wings until after the 2017 U-17 World Cup, Ben Olsen needs some choices in that spot. It’s too early to say whether Vincent can be more than an emergency option, but it’s good to know he can be at least that.

Chris Pontius is still really good at soccer

Partyboy was one of my favorite players for his entire tenure in Black-and-Red. He’s a team-first guy who can score goals. He tracks back and generally knows when to pass and when to shoot. After a couple years of iffy finishing, he figured it out in 2012.

You all know the rest. Years of injuries kept him from replicating that 2012 form in the three years that followed, and ultimately it was time for a change. United couldn’t carry his near-DP salary hit, and Chris needed a fresh start in a new location. When the Union came along offering to pay United for the right to carry CP13’s salary, Dave Kasper & Co. couldn’t pass it up.

For Pontius, anyway, that exchange has worked out fantastically well. He’s back in his best run of form since 2012, scoring 9 goals on the year (after tonight) to go with 4 assists, and he helps make a much-improved Philadelphia attack work.

As much as I wish he hadn’t scored tonight, I’m thrilled for him. He’ll always belong in Black-and-Red, and he’s one of the guys you keep rooting for after he leaves.

Those are my first impressions from this game. Let us know in the comments what you’re mulling over tonight.