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The Last Word on D.C. United 3-2 Philadelphia Union: On Alvaro Saborio's Impact on the Team

In which we wonder what kind of role Alvaro Saborio may play for the Black and Red, and how it impacted others in his first game.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

It was kind of weird to see D.C. United down two goals after four minutes to the Philadelphia Union and wonder just how they would score two, considering it had been a month ago today that they scored their last one. You remember this, right? But they righted the ship and not only caught up to the Union, but passed them in a 3-2 come from behind win, keeping pace with FC Dallas in the Supporters' Shield and firming their Eastern Conference lead to boot.

Their Words:

Our Words (Steven Streff): "In search of ending a two game losing streak in league play, D.C. United could not have gotten off to a worse start on Sunday against the Philadelphia Union. The Black-and-Red fell 2-0 very early before storming back to win 3-2. CJ Sapong and Sebastien Le Toux gave the Union their two goal advantage within four minutes, and on top of that Fabian Espindola missed a chance to get United back into the game from the penalty spot. Debutant Alvaro Saborio pulled one back for United in the first half, before Nick DeLeon scored in the 66th minute, setting the stage for Espindola's winner in the 79th."

Washington Post (Steven Goff): "Alvaro Saborio scored in his first game since being acquired from Real Salt Lake, Nick DeLeon scored his first league goal in more than a year and Chris Korb contributed two assists on splendid service from the right wing. Fifth from last in goals per game, United equaled its largest haul of the season and produced more than it had in the previous four games combined."

MLS Soccer (Ian Quillen): "Alvaro Saborio scored in his D.C. debut to spark the rally, and Nick DeLeon tied the match at 2-2 with his first goal of the season, giving the Eastern Conference leaders three goals in a match for the first time since June 3.

Chris Korb provided the service on both Saborio’s opener and Espindola’s match winner to help United (11-7-5, 38 pts) snap a three-match winless run and put them level with FC Dallas in the Supporters’ Shield race."

Brotherly Game: "However, things would soon begin to take a turn south for the Union. Fabian Espindola found himself with space and a shot at goal, but despite getting the ball past Brian Sylvestre it rolled just barely wide. In the 32nd minute, United were given another golden opportunity to get back in the match when Ray Gaddis fouled Davy Arnaud in the box. The official rightly pointed to the spot, and Espindola had a chance to put United on the board. Instead though, he launched the penalty kick over the bar and out of play giving Gaddis and Union fans a huge sigh of relief. Gaddis's bad afternoon would continue though, and the afternoon for Union fans only went downhill from here."

Quotes via the team website:

Ben Olsen (on coming from behind): "You’re down 2-0 so everybody’s aggressive and playing with a certain desperation, a desperation that needs to happen from the start of the game. It’s pretty simple. And then, for 87-88 minutes after that, we were pretty good. I thought Sabo was great; he’s exactly what we ordered. I thought Davy Arnaud had a fantastic game. Chris Rolfe, Fabi [Espíndola], there were great performances out there. But if we’re going to do something special here, we have to kick this habit of coming from behind because against some teams’ were’ not going to get away with it. I’m asking for perfection out of these guys. It’s just been a little of a habit, having to come from behind at home, and I think we’re better than that."

(On Saborio's debut): "He knows how to play that position very well, and I thought the way he maneuvered in the box was fun to watch. He’s strong. His work ethic and the way he led our first line of defense was very good. And obviously, there’s a pretty good understanding with Fabi. They were off a few times, but overall the relationship looked good. Fabi has freedom to drift out wide and add extra numbers, and he becomes a guy that can create service for one of the better guys in the league in the box."

Alvaro Saborio (on his goal): "I think the goal before the half was very important for us because it gave us a little confidence to play a little bit higher the second half and try to make the second and the third one happen. I think the crossing was very good, and I tried to finish [them all] like that one."

Nick DeLeon (on getting the offense going): "Getting Saborío as the new addition up top was really helpful. He draws a lot of attention, and he’s a big presence up top so he’s a big pick up for us."

My Words:

We were wondering last week after last week's loss at FC Dallas just where D.C. United was going to get their offense from. Then they go out and send Luis Silva to Real Salt Lake for out of favor forward Alvaro Saborio, score three goals, and all is right in the world, right?

Sure! Though while Saborio got a goal and D.C. scored three for the second time in six weeks, I have a hard time reconciling the fact that a 33-year old target forward is the panacea for their ills, and that all is well. But, like a lot of things in life, let's try and wildly speculate how Saborio's deployment will benefit the others around him.

The first image is from D.C.'s home game last October with the Chicago Fire. I include this because the last time there was a holdup guy of sorts at forward to play with Fabian Espindola, it was Eddie Johnson. The first two screens are Johnson's actions from that game, followed by Saborio's yesterday:

As you can see, Johnson played closer to goal a little, and went out to the wing on occasion.
So now let's incorporate Fabian Espindola into the mix:

Welp. Certainly looks like at least as far as yesterday goes, Espindola-Saborio had more chances around the area than Espindola-Johnson did. And Espindola got to start things slightly further up the field on average to boot.

For kicks, let's see what happens when I throw in the wingers (Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon in last year's example, Chris Rolfe and DeLeon in yesterday's):

So, more of an upfield presence, but also a bit more of one centrally as well, as Rolfe likes to come in centrally, and Espindola can play right but also (mostly) left in support if need be as well.

Additionally, Saborio having more of a presence upfield not only allows the team to keep the ball longer and more often in other parts of the field: looking at boxcars from said Chicago game to yesterday found D.C. have more action on the ball (488 passes yesterday compared to 416 vs. Chicago) but time to boot (55.8% possession yesterday compared to 44.1% vs. Chicago). Getting the attackers up the field to attack also would seem to liberate less inclined players like Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen, giving them some space to work. By giving players a bit more space and more importantly, interdependence. A synergy. A feng sui, put together by something like a rug, for instance, to tie the whole room (or in this case team) together.

There is the huge chunk of salt of small sample size when it comes to yesterday, along with the fact that the Union ran for 120 minutes in Tuesday's Open Cup game against the New York Red Bulls, but by giving players a bit more space and more importantly, interdependence. One would presume that heading into 2015 that a 34-year old Saborio would not be the answer, regardless of the money that would be sacrificed on his behalf to stay with the team, but the promise of a player with similar qualities should get Dave Kasper, Ben Olsen and Kurt Morsink together to speculate on finding someone free younger and cheaper who could fit that bill.

The Last Word:

D.C. United seems to have lucked into a bit of a spot here following their win over the Union. They play an RSL team who is about to undergo a brutal road trip (D.C. is the first stop over a 12 day period that will see them also go to Guatemala for CONCACAF Champions League play, then to 2nd in the West/3rd in the Shield race Vancouver Whitecaps, then down to Sporting Kansas City who have only two games since April, albeit one to this very same RSL bunch Friday night). They've also scored the 4th fewest goals in the League. This game does have some red flags attached to it.

Here's hoping nobody (least of all themselves) decides to pee on our fucking rug.