D.C. United's center backs are going to get a fair amount of praise in this column, but I should say at the outset that the biggest reason United kept a clean sheet in this one is the axis of Johnny Steele, Theirry Henry and Lloyd Sam, who all conspired to miss several chances to punish the Black-and-Red. So, hats off to those Metros in particular for being so very Metro so very often.
But the central defensive tandem of Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke do indeed deserve credit for their showing on Saturday. Not only did Boswell make the game's only goal with a flick-on to goalscorer Davy Arnaud, he played one of his best games of the year on the defensive side of the ball. Parke didn't quite reach the heights he saw against New England last weekend, but he managed to build on that performance, putting in another strong shift.
More on the center backs in a minute. First, though, I want to talk about the midfield and the incredibly tough, seemingly contradictory problem posed to them by the Red Bulls. On the one hand, United's single biggest defensive weakness is against the counterattack. So job 1 for the Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud was to step quickly to their counterparts, Eric Alexander and, especially, former DC man Dax McCarty, to prevent them from going all Michael Bradley on us. In that respect, the midfield did very well (as did the back line in finding and marking potential targets in transition), keeping the Red Bulls from countering for basically the entire game.
At the same time, though, the midfield was also tasked with keeping the Metros from building such an overwhelming possession advantage. As Olsen said after the game, sitting back against New York is just asking to be shredded. The Red Bulls amassed more than 57% of the possession on Saturday, and United were lucky to hang onto the clean sheet. Looking only at the result, the choice to shut down the transition game while standing off of McCarty and Alexander in deep positions obviously worked, but it probably shouldn't have.
That's where the center backs (and the aforementioned awful finishing) come in. Sure some of the visitors' spurned chances were wide open shots from good positions that they just couldn't put on target - looking at Lloyd Sam in particular - but others were from awkward angles or strongly contested. This is down to the organization of the back line and the presence of the big bodies of Parke and Boswell. Indeed, the two of them combined for 25 clearances, blocks and interceptions (plus another two blocked crosses). Interestingly, the entire Red Bulls team combined for just 29 CBI on the night - a certainly damning indication of either the Red Bulls defense or United's attack, possibly both.
As was said several times in the comments and post game interviews, a win is a win, and we'd all take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day. Last night, we got the ugly win, Jersey got the pretty loss, and everything was as it should be. Next week we get to see our first repeat opponent of the year, as los Capitalinos travel to the faraway land of Ohio to avenge their season-opening whooping by the Columbus Crew. We'll need the midfield and defense to both step up, and this weekend's showing was at least halfway positive. It'll take a lot more to beat a very good Crew side (even if they have come down to earth a little bit since their early run).
Let us know in the comments what you thought of the tactics and the performance of the defense and midfield. What else stood out to you?