Heading into Saturday night's match-up between the first and second place teams in the Eastern Conference, D.C. United was looking to rebound following a subpar effort against the Philadelphia Union, while the New England Revolution wanted to gain ground despite a midweek loss to Sporting Kansas City. The Revs saw two players sent off but a shorthanded D.C. squad could not convert, with a late goal salvaging a 1-1 result for the Black and Red.
Our Words (Steven Streff): "Coming off a disappointing 1-0 defeat last Sunday against the Philadelphia Union, D.C. United had a great chance to get back to winning ways on Saturday against the New England Revolution. Down by a goal in the second half, the Revs saw Chris Tierney and Lee Nguyen get sent off within minutes of each other...Playing the last 30 minutes with a two man advantage though, wasn't enough for the Black-and-Red, as they had to settle for a 1-1 draw after Jairo Arrieta scored his third of the season in the 80th minute."
Washington Post (Steven Goff): "From D.C. United’s perspective, there are two distinct ways to look at the 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution on Saturday night...The positive view: United recovered from a halftime deficit with an undermanned squad on the road against the Eastern Conference’s preseason favorites and retained first place...The negative angle: United had a two-man advantage for more than 30 minutes — a benefit few players will experience in their lifetime — and managed to score just once."
MLS Soccer (Craig Forde): "Playing down two men for the first time since a 3-0 loss at Sporting KC on Aug. 10, 2013, the Revolution hunkered down and continued to hold D.C. without a shot until the 80th minute, when the breakthrough came for the visitors. It was at that time that D.C. substitute Taylor Kemp slid a pass across the box from the left side and Arrieta found it on the near post, ushering it home to level the game."
The Bent Musket: "In the match’s early-goings both teams struggled to assert themselves and take a hold on the proceedings, as the Revs were forced to patiently probe around DC’s narrow and disciplined defense...Despite that, numerous half-chances fell the Revs way, as Lee Nguyen showed glimpses of his phenomenal vision that defined his 2014 campaign. On two different occasions, Nguyen darted centrally and feigned, only to then slip Juan Agudelo through DC’s tight lines. However, a combination of goalkeeper Bill Hamid and center-back Kofi Opare quelled any danger and kept the Revs frustrated in front of goal."
Ben Olsen (on anything missing while up two men): "Look, credit them. They dug in. There’s a lot of guys on their squad that were doing everything it took to make it difficult on us. I thought we could’ve just played with what’s there. 10 v eight, you just give it to the next guy, side to side and eventually you’re going to get your looks or you’re going to get service in better spots closer to the goal, in and around the 18 and the passing was a little bit off at times but I thought Facundo (Coria) came in and did a good job and obviously Taylor (Kemp) – the introduction of Taylor helped from a service standpoint. So look, all in all, I don’t know how to feel to be honest with you. I’m a little confused right now."
Davy Arnaud (on how the game played after the red cards): "It clogged the middle of the field; it can become a little more difficult if that makes sense. But, I thought once we got the goal we were still a little bit impatient at times. If we had just moved the ball a little quicker to the next guy, that’s where the goal comes from, that’s how you find chances. But, we get a point at the end of the day which isn’t bad."
Jay Heaps (Revolution coach, on the opponent): "I think what they have, it’s not tangible, you can’t look at it all the time on film and I think on film they show vulnerabilities, but at the same time their X factor of having this senior group of guys that know how to win games and tie games, comes from, I don’t know how many chances they had tonight, but they scored a goal to tie and for me it’s the guys like Bobby Boswell and Davy Arnaud. I think Perry Kitchen is just excellent, I think he’s just a great player. So the group of them with the additions of a Rolfe and tonight Arrieta scoring the goal. You put those group of guys together you can’t really say, oh he plays like this every night, they are versatile enough to be deceptive, but I think it’s the collective strength of the group that makes them good, that X factor of knowing how to win a game or how to pull out a game or not to extend too much here and hit them later and not overreact and all those things that you want your team to be, to be winners, they are."
Getting the obvious out of the way, while I understand how the optics of having a two-man advantage and failing to score more than one goal look, I think one can be both disappointed in the effort and realize that not a lot could have been done about what occurred before the Jairo Arrieta goal that led everyone to share points Saturday night. This is not to say that with any or all of a healthy Fabian Espindola, Nick DeLeon, Luis Silva or (at least for 38 minutes) Michael Farfan that things would have automatically changed. But the team did do about as much as could be expected with the pieces in front of them, and did come away with points for the second time in third games.
Before I go on here, I did want to respond to something I saw over the weekend that D.C. United's place on top of the Supporters' Shield race, while still being in first place and all, was disingenuous since the Seattle Sounders were playing even better than D.C. As such, any boasting by D.C. fans should be taken as hollow. Moreover, there was a bizarre conflation to D.C. fans making such a boast as those of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the Randy Carlyle era, before things got pear-shaped for fans of the NHL team and eventually resulted in Carlyle's firing last year. First off, the big difference between the two teams, sport aside, is that the Maple Leafs spend, and spend poorly. You can set your watch to it. D.C. has in the past, and would appear to have righted that particular ship. Second, anyone who's comparing a franchise worth more than a billion dollars to one that has been losing millions annually in ANYTHING without taking this into consideration is trying to drive narrative, and poorly at that.
Another issue that would (or perhaps should) gets omitted is that the D.C. depth has been tested early and often. Apparently teams in the Western Conference can use this as justification for things I guess. That isn't to use the statement of having all the bullets back in the D.C. holster that this team will be unstoppable. But to use your ninth different lineup in twelve games, along with being forced to use a substitute before halftime because of injury, coming out of a road game against an Eastern Conference rival who also hasn't lost at home in a year is something. Also something, with Arrieta's goal Saturday night, D.C. substitutes have now salvaged four points with goals following their appearances. Part of it may be luck, another part of it guile, part of it the awareness of what Ben Olsen has on his roster to make the necessary moves that led to those points.
With the depth comes discovery. I was disappointed with Conor Doyle like a lot of other people were, but I also realize he saw his first start in more than a year Saturday night. His last start came against the Portland Timbers and coincidentally enough, I would expect to see him get a start against the big bodies of Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers on Wednesday. I also realize that he has to do better in his role, as do more vital pieces of the machine like Chris Rolfe. Consider that D.C. has scored 14 goals in their first 12 games of 2015. By comparison, they scored 17 after their first 12 games of 2014, but had slightly less roster instability (going through 7 different lineups), and blew out an F.C. Dallas team which eventually found themselves...down two men (ducks). But D.C. has fired shots against Tim Mejia, David Ousted, Bobby Shuttleworth and Luis Robles, twice. Lump in Steve Clark and Tyler Deric and that's seven games against goalkeepers with goals against averages at 1.27 per game or fewer. By comparison, 2014 goalkeeper of the year Bill Hamid had a 1.13 GAA. Up next for D.C.'s offense? Adam Kwarasey (1.08 GAA). D.C. can and should do better, but they have not been facing tomato cans minding the opposition net.
The Last Word:
As you read this, D.C. is maybe trying to score some donuts from Blue Star or getting all food truck crazy. They face a Portland team that has scored four goals in their last seven games, and has been shut out six times already in just 12 games. The phrase "season on the brink" was just used over the weekend. If D.C. learned anything from their loss to the Union a little more than a week ago, it's that a cornered animal is a dangerous one, even if that animal is missing Diego Valeri, and is only just reintroducing Will Johnson to the mix. One would presume that Doyle, Markus Halsti and DeLeon may feature Wednesday, resulting in another shuffling of bodies into the lineup. If there is a chance for D.C.'s makeshift starters to show some offensive prowess, on the road against a team that they seem to get into dogfights with would be that time.