There were enough cosmic things going against D.C. United ahead of their game with the Chicago Fire it screamed of a trap; Chicago hadn't won on the road all season, D.C. was coming off a 16 day layoff (the last game they played after a similar break against a last place team proved to be an underwhelming draw with the Colorado Rapids, and the Fire were trying to impress an interim coach while playing for playing time in 2016. They controlled the game, and the result, a 4-0 win they very much needed for playoff seeding, was something that will help them going into a vital game next week.
So what are the takeaways from this?
Let's remember who the victims were.
I have no problem enjoying back to back wins most times; whether it is to restore a once-shattered confidence of the team, or particular players that dress for same each week. But there is a reason why Chicago is in last (due respect to our friends over at HTiOT), and why both them and New York City FC have allowed the most goals in Major League Soccer this season. Those defenses are bad, and when you pull out George John (from NYCFC) and Eric Gehrig (from Chicago), they get the tiniest bit worse. D.C. United has scored three or more goals in the 2015 regular season four times, all against teams below the red line, and twice against the Fire. To paraphrase Chris Rock, you're supposed to do that.
Again, let's remember who the victims were.
In D.C.'s last six goals, they've capitalized on a rebound from a goalkeeper, three loose balls in the box they got to before defenders did (and to belabor the point, the defenses they played are BAD), a deflected cross, and a header from a corner kick to a spot where a defender should have been dry humping a post. So they're playing bad teams, and getting good bounces. If there is a positive to these breaks, it's that next week's opponent, Columbus Crew SC (53 goals allowed) and potential playoff partner Toronto FC (56 goals allowed) are in similar straits defensively. Those bounces, while nice, shouldn't be relied upon however in a couple of weeks.
However, there are things to build on.
There is something to be said for the defensive performances of both Sean Franklin AND Taylor Kemp. The former combined with Chris Pontius, Chris Rolfe and Fabian Espindola numerous times down the right side of the field, then switched over to healthy doses on the left with Nick DeLeon. Kemp was more restrained offensively, and his work on the night impressed. He is going to need to put together consistent defensive nights like this starting now, as guys like Lloyd Sam and Ethan Finlay are waiting to test their mettle on the left back. Kemp gets to show that against the latter next week.
Speaking of things to build on...
We talked last week about Chris Pontius and tried to keep the drool in check, but man, Chris sure makes things difficult, with his workrate the last couple of games, and now he's beating defenders to lose balls and balls in the air like he did before? There still are one or two moments that he is trying to get in sync with Espindola and Rolfe (I mean, he has barely played with them and all), but he certainly seems to have lost a lot of caution in his performances the last couple of weeks. To borrow a phrase I heard describing him, Chris Pontius may not be a difference maker, but if he is safe and sound health wise, he brings D.C. United up to another level.
What's old is new again, with a wrinkle.
Since Davy Arnaud went down to a concussion, the quest to figure out how to incorporate Markus Halsti into the midfield next to Perry Kitchen has been an ongoing one. First they played closer to the backline, with one taking one side of the field, and the other on the other side, now they've managed to incorporate a pulley sort of communication that Kitchen and Arnaud had, but with a twist.
The first distribution map is from the first game D.C. had with Columbus this year, where Kitchen and Arnaud did their darndest on a Crew squad that was the best in the world at the point of early May. Note the passing, generally short and/or lateral:
Next is last month's game with the Crew. Halsti, now in for Arnaud, and after games on a narrow Yankee Stadium field and at altitude against the Colorado Rapids, in his first real time without seeing Arnaud over his shoulder, and the work with Kitchen is less lateral, and a bit longer, searching for Espindola, DeLeon and Rolfe in most cases:
Lastly, Sunday against the Fire. The boys spend some more time on the wings to help out with David Accam and Patrick Nyarko, but also the opportunities to stretch the defense are more calculated:
The communication is down in part because Pontius is getting his game back, and the similar 6's can provide help in other areas where it's needed as opposed to being forced into roles they (well, Kitchen at least) isn't used to. More healthy, capable offensive players on the field so the defensive players can play defense? Hopefully works for this club.
At least now that points have been picked up where they've finally needed to be picked up, D.C. gets a slight preview of things to come next week when they play Columbus. The positive side of that is D.C. needs to get a result to earn a bye as the second seed while teams 3-6 take each other out. The negative side is that we've been down this road before with this squad, several times in the last 12 months, and at some point, we all know you run out of bad defenses to play against, and good bounces run out.