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The Last Word on D.C. United 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps: Mulling Some Options

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In which we wonder if what we saw the Black and Red do Saturday is a one-off or experimenting with something new.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United had not been decent on the road going back to late last season and there was every reason to think that they would not go on the road cross country to beat a team that had lost four games in 26 home matches against the East. Can you believe the jerk who brought that up? So naturally they went West, dressed 16 players and won 2-1 against the league-leading Vancouver Whitecaps because what the heck, right?

Their Words:

Our Words (Jason Anderson): "In what was easily D.C. United's most exciting game of the season, the Black-and-Red came away with a 2-1 triumph over the Vancouver Whitecaps thanks to goals from Bobby Boswell and Chris Rolfe. It was a fraught 90 minutes for both sides, with numerous chances at both ends and some disputed decisions from referee Dave Gantar, who was a very busy man thanks to physical play throughout."

Washington Post (Steven Goff): "D.C. United’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the MLS points leaders, swung back and forth without clarity Saturday night. United fell behind after 70 seconds but drew even within 10 minutes. The Whitecaps lost a midfielder to a red card before halftime, but United lost its goalkeeper to a leg injury early in the second half and turned to a third-string rookie. And when the madness at BC Place subsided, United wrapped its arms around a 2-1 victory to extend its unbeaten streak to five and keep pace with the New England Revolution atop the Eastern Conference."

MLS Soccer (Michael McColl): "The leaders in the West and the co-leaders in the East served up an exciting feast of soccer at BC Place on Saturday evening, but it was D.C. United who fought back from conceding an early Pedro Morales goal to come away with a 2-1 victory over a 10-man Vancouver Whitecaps side."

CSN Washington (Dave Johnson): "(Fabian) Espindola’s presence on the field preoccupied the Whitecaps defense and opened up spaces for other players in United’s attack. Several times Espindola forced turnovers and unsettled situations that turned into goal scoring opportunities. In addition Espindola’s committed play forced Matias Laba into two first half yellow cards and reduced Vancouver to ten men for the final 48 minutes."

Eighty Six Forever: "Four minutes later, (Pa Modou) Kah added another entry in my log of all-caps rants by making an ugly attempted clearance to stop a D.C. counter. This error would prove fatal - with only (Kendall) Waston back to stop Espindola, Laba turns on the jets to catch the D.C. striker and ever so slightly nicks the heel of Espindola, who does a half-gainer dive and sells the contact like a deceptively priced insurance policy. No question about the legitimacy of the call here and Laba's evening is over with his second yellow. It's a no-win situation to be in for Laba in: had Kah disposed of or, heck, just controlled the ball initially, Laba doesn't need to foul Espindola, intentionally or not. (Then again, if Laba doesn't get a bogus early yellow earlier, nobody minds that he stopped Espindola from going one-on-one with Waston.)"

Via the team website:

Ben Olsen (on closing out a match): "It's something we talked about and addressed. When you get over that hurdle, it feels good. We weathered a lot of set pieces against one of the better set piece teams in the league. I would've liked to do less of that, but it's good to know we have the ability to deal with that stuff when it comes our way."

Travis Worra (on his debut): "At all times, you have to be prepared to play. All day today, I mentally prepared and watched tape. I acted like I was going to play. That's what you have to do as a backup. When you're called on, you can go in and make the saves and keep the ball out of the back of the net. That's what I did and I felt confident. I felt nervous, I can't lie, I was excited, but most importantly, I'm just happy to get the win for the team."

Kofi Opare (on closing out a match): "Coming out here to Vancouver, we wanted to leave with at least a point. To come out with three points is definitely a great thing for us. Especially after giving up late goals in the last couple of games, it's definitely great for our confidence to close a game out, especially against a good Vancouver team."

Carl Robinson (Whitecaps coach, on the Octavio Rivero non-PK call): "I haven’t seen it. I couldn’t see it. You get caught up in the emotion of the game. Every foul, you shout for. Ben Olsen is going the same, every foul he’s shouting for. I think you see that in the first tackle where Sam (Adekugbe) goes into Perry Kitchen. Until you see it, can’t comment. If I say it’s a blatant penalty and it’s not, I’ll look silly. If I say it’s not a penalty, and it is then, again I’ll pass judgement on that one if I can."

David Ousted (on Worra coming in): "It’s always difficult. We’re 10 men and we want to put pressure on him but they did really well today. They delivered a professional performance keeping the ball and making us run. I think the young guy did well coming in and it’s difficult coming in with a game like that. They pressure on it, so kudos to him."

My Words:

We were all surprised that D.C. United would be without not one but two starters when lineups were announced Saturday night. But as the game went on, the bigger surprise was that D.C. employed a formation change to boot, opting to put Perry Kitchen behind Chris Pontius, Michael Farfan and Nick DeLeon in the middle while Fabian Espindola and Chris Rolfe got a chance to be forward (and Rolfe has said in the past he tries to give Fabi space to create a la when he was with the Chicago Fire and another Designated Player in Cuauhtemoc Blanco got a chance to headbutt team officials create and involve his teammates). And as Jason alluded to on gameday, if the terms and/or pace can be controlled against the Whitecaps, then the Whitecaps can be contained. File this under "the possession number can be misleading," but D.C. did have their biggest advantage to date (53.8%) and their passing accuracy was their best of the year to date (79%), both of which easily surpassed their season numbers that Matt Doyle posted about (in a weird coincidence about this week's opponent) Columbus Crew SC. This I think can be attributed to two things, albeit somewhat intertwined.

The first is Farfan and Kitchen. Between the two, you had a passing completion percentage of almost 86%. Kitchen completed 93%. Farfan's percentage alone is cause for comfort (and despite his limited minutes this year is a slight drop from his season percentage!), but Kitchen's role and effectiveness on the field was different than in previous ones, and I don't think just because Fabi was back.The first chart is Kitchen and Davy Arnaud when D.C. tied the New York Red Bulls 2-2.

Kitchen-Arnaud

Now the one from Saturday:

Kitchen-Farfan

Fabi helps in terms of attack, but more importantly possession was kept, other players linked to it and at least in one case, #WhiteRooney made them pay for it (I kid).

When you break out Kitchen, I think the results are a little more illuminating:

Kitchen

Pretty much box to box. Even against the Red Bulls you can see he played a little more forward (that he was being greedy and looking for a hat trick aside). He didn't have to do that Saturday, playing more of a dedicated #6 and save for a brief moment or two looked damn comfortable doing it without any help.

Which leads me to the second factor, more of a musing. We see D.C. play more of a 4-4-2, but it looked like with a 4-2-3-1 and a central mid (in Farfan for the game, at least) who wanted to include attackers in the attack with bolder passes while still maintaining possession, seeing D.C. handle things with a fair amount of composure, this presents a quandary of sorts for Ben Olsen. On one hand, Arnaud's groin injury that prevented him from traveling may have been precautionary, and his return to the starting XI is predestined and thus we're back to the status quo. On the other hand, there would seem to be a versatility that the team showed that can be used in the future. Rather than using this formation as strictly a tactical ambush of Carl Robinson (and it was, no matter how much narrative you want to force on it), perhaps this is a 'door opening' with many repercussions, particularly as players continue to get healthy and/or go 90 minutes.

The Last Word:

So now D.C. hosts the Crew Saturday, one team unbeaten in their last five, the other unbeaten in their last four. D.C. also plays their first match of seven during the month. We know the depth has been tested already this year (I wonder what Jorge Geddes is doing?), hopefully the tactical acumen and this new wrinkle in the Black and Red fabric gets just as much attention.