The last time D.C. United went on the road to play a team in hot and/or humid conditions, the results were less than ideal. It is a little surreal to ponder than it has been six weeks since that point, but up until Friday night D.C. United had not won in their last four matches, including two losses to the New York Red Bulls. In those last four matches, it is of note that the goal scorer from Friday night was not a part of those games as well. So, is it a matter of 'know Luis Silva, know win' and 'no Luis Silva, no win'?
Our Words (Jason Anderson): "Despite being outplayed for long stretches and relying largely on Bill Hamid's heroic performance in goal, the Black-and-Red walked out of the Citrus Bowl with a 1-0 victory over Orlando City thanks to a stoppage-time free kick goal from Luis Silva. With the smash-and-grab win, United moves into first place in the Eastern Conference for the time being."
Washington Post (Steven Goff): "First and foremost, after such a long layoff caused by a series of leg injuries, (Silva) needed the minutes in a competitive match to begin the long process of regaining rhythm. Then, just maybe, if Orlando City’s defense parted or a free kick opportunity within range presented itself, he could take a stab at the goal.
With the scoreless match entering stoppage time, Silva’s chance arrived. On a free kick from 25 yards, he stung the ball into the lower-left corner of the net, culminating a triumphant return and a 1-0 victory."
CSN Washington (Dave Johnson): "Six points over the last two weeks are vital in a more competitive Major League Soccer and United is almost through Fabian Espindola’s six-game league suspension. On the winning free kick Luis Silva showed the quality that intrigued United when they acquired him from Toronto FC in 2013. Yes Orlando’s defensive wall had issues, but Silva is a crafty player with a quality touch and his invention now that he is back from leg injuries will be needed to add spice to United’s attack. From four games United has only scored three goals."
MLS Soccer (Pablo Maurer): "In truth, though, the real United hero was goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Both sides carved out some gilt-edged chances in a surprisingly open game but Hamid was much the busier of the two keepers and came up big repeatedly to leave the Lions frustrated and still looking for their first home win of the season."
Orlando Sentinel (Paul Tenorio): "D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid provided highlight-reel saves to keep Orlando City off the scoresheet in the first half, Brek Shea’s kicksave kept United’s best chance out of the net and the Lions’ inability to finish in front of net was magnified during a loss that should’ve featured four or five Orlando City goals."
The Mane Land (Michael Citro): "It was the same script as last time against Vancouver, as the Lions largely outplayed last season's Eastern Conference champions for 90 minutes and had more than their share of excellent scoring chances, but couldn't finish, sending shot after shot either just wide or too close to goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who made five saves on 17 Orlando shots. DC (3-1-0, 9 pts) finished with 11 shots and also had five on goal."
Last week, we talked about what the default setting for D.C. United appears to be while they were missing some of their more attack-minded players. This week against Orlando we saw more of this, hardly a surprise. But if there are a couple of minor takeaways from this, it is that when it comes to playing an expansion team on the road in a perceived fortress, D.C. United would seem to be the ones that have no qualms with grinding mud into couches, with a 9-1-2 record overall in first games with expansion teams. If you are about to play D.C. United at home and have not lost yet, your cherry will be picked.
Also, the team has reversed course when it comes to goals in late and/or added time from early in 2014 when they would drop points and leads and share or lose points. In fact going back to last season, of the team's last 13 goals over all competitions, seven have been scored in the 85th minute or later, and seven standings points have been claimed from them. I wonder if this means we are the new goonies and if so, heaven help us whomever our Steven Lenhart may be. Nevertheless, the team appears to be owning the 90 minute mentality their coach once espoused.
The Last Word:
We are certainly having fun and enjoying the fact that so far at least, D.C. United has picked up where they left off, with the whole first place in the Eastern Conference thing. We also realize that once again, D.C. gave up a pantload of shots to their opponent, with Orlando firing 17 shots on or around Bill Hamid. So let's try to haphazardly answer the question our own Ben Bromley posed over the weekend via Twitter. Is Bennyball 'sustainable'?
Let's try and figure out if having a goalkeeper handling most of the work results ultimately in playoff success. In looking at the Top 5 goalkeepers in Shots Faced each year since 2011, only three goalkeepers who stood on their head for the whole year actually made the playoffs and hey, Bill Hamid was one last year! As was Luis Robles, so I apologize for bringing that up. Past that, there is one other keeper who saw a lot of shots, and he's the only other to have made the playoffs, the only one to get to the MLS Cup. That's Tally Hall back in 2011. And Tally Hall had a not yet in his thirties Brad Davis, youngsters like Kofi Sarkodie in back (learning alongside our own Bobby Boswell on the outside of the defensive backline coincidentally) and Will Bruin at forward, vets like Corey Ashe and Geoff Cameron and a localbra in Brian Ching seeing out his last playing days in orange. So I guess the question becomes is this year's D.C. United team better than the 2011-12 Dynamo, or something along those lines.
Looking at things from a longer perspective, D.C. are on pace to allow more shots from dangerous areas (read: Zones 1-5, in front of and just to the side of the net) than they did last year, and so far anyway, Hamid is seeing more shots that arrived from through balls than last year, though admittedly they are not getting beat on as many crosses as last year. Or to put it another way, they are going to lean on Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Sean Franklin, Chris Korb and Taylor Kemp as much as they can until Luis Silva becomes 90 minutes fit, Chris Pontius gets closer to his norm, and Fabian Espindola comes back from his suspension.
I said on the Filibuster podcast last week something to the effect that I felt that D.C. could absorb a ton of shots over the next couple of weeks and hang with their opponents while Espindola was out, and I still believe it. But I think for Hamid to have an increase in saves over last year and have that increase reflect itself week after week for the next 6 months is going to be difficult, and I believe that just as much. Blocking all the shots and saving all the shots is going to be so ingrained in the minds of D.C. United players, that when they realize that shots need to go the other way like say, the first game of a two-leg playoff series, things may not go their way once again. And we'll be right back where we are now.
So Bennyball in this current incarnation might be sustainable, but not for the right reasons.