One couldn't be faulted for being pessimistic of D.C. United's chances of beating the New England Revolution Wednesday night; they'd just gotten kilt in a 5-0 thrashing, and the squad's old bones of its key players would have a training session or two to regroup. But following a Juan Aguelo wonder goal, the team fought through it, eventually earning a 2-1 win to move to Sunday's two-leg Eastern Conference Semifinals against either the New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew SC, the dispenser of the aforementioned thrashing.
So what to take away from the win?
Please don't be broke Party Boy.
Hopefully, the injury Chris Pontius suffered Wednesday night is of the temporary variety, but we would have to think as we sit here writing this that he won't be playing Sunday regardless. This would presumably put Alvaro Saborio back in the starting lineup, with Chris Rolfe (handling himself well in a forward position near Fabian Espindola) out to the left, and Nick DeLeon going from the left to right. But there's a workrate gap defensively lost with Pontius' absence regardless of what happens, and the alternatives are (in no order) a freshly healed Michael Farfan from a training knock, utility man Conor Doyle, rookie Miguel Aguilar and midseason signing Facundo Coria. We'll have plenty of time to discuss Pontius' future in Black and Red down the road, but if this injury is of any significance, this puts a dent in whatever aspirations D.C. might have had.
Welcome Back Taylor Kemp. Sort of.
The left fullback got a huge share of criticism for his performance Sunday, as he should. And he had to deal with Diego Fagundez and Teal Bunbury for most of the night. While he had a moment or two where the head wandered, he regained some of the form that he'd had over the games preceding the meltdown at MAPFRE. And with either Lloyd Sam or Ethan Finlay coming into down, Kemp should start looking at game film, say, five minutes ago.
The Nick DeLeon song should really be a thing.
NDL equaled his career best for assists in a season this year (five) while playing almost 500 fewer minutes than the 2014 season that he set that number in. He may have had one of his better performances last night, with two key passes (including the one to Espindola for the game-winner) on an 85% passing night. Unless something drastic happens, Nick is never going to be the guy who finishes in the final third, opting to defer to other people, and when he does, he does it well, nobody else on the team with the exception of Perry Kitchen is a more accurate passer, and combine his passing acumen with his stamina and he was effective last night. And like Kemp, will be called on in tougher situations Sunday.
Did they respond to the loss? Ask again later.
Both Ben Olsen and Chris Rolfe, among others, said after Sunday's loss that the team was mad, they were going to come out and play angry, that things would be better, you get the idea. The effort, while improved, still has room to do so. Rolfe and Espindola were connecting early, which was encouraging, we've already discussed DeLeon's effort, and Perry Kitchen was quality.
But by no means was this an unequivocal response. It was gutty, and full of perseverance. And it was against a Revs back four whose performances were erratic, particularly Andrew Farrell. A squad should be expected to respond as D.C. did. What D.C. has done now with that win, while extending their 2015 playoff lives, is put themselves in the position of playing a team in the Red Bulls who uses a high press, a tactic D.C. has yet to break against any club this year with any success (New York has scored the last five goals in their three games this year), and the Crew, who will have Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara back this time. Plus there's that whole matter of a two-leg playoff series that D.C. will have their third crack at in 12 months.
You should warm up, exercise and cool down with caution right now.
Look, we don't want to be a wet blanket or anything, we're basking in the win like everyone else. But we've also seen what this squad, relatively unchanged since the beginning of the 2014 season has done in similar circumstances. And if Pontius is out, that only adds to the stagnant feeling of the roster. We've also seen what this team's done when they've been the favorite in the playoffs. Now that they're the underdog, the real time to respond is Sunday.