Soccer and statistics don't easily mesh; in many cases, the numbers will point to a completely different result. When it comes to D.C. United's 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact, we've seen that idea taken to a perverse extreme. Go ahead, let the numbers wash over you:
Seeing all the bad numbers at once is...well, it's something. This was a win? This was a game in which United didn't play 60+ minutes down 2 men? Somehow, yes.
Our Words (Steven Streff): "A week after putting six past Real Salt Lake, D.C. United set a dubious record on Saturday night en route to a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Impact. Chris Rolfe struck in the 13th minute after Jairo Arrieta's effort put him through on goal, in what turned out to be United's only shot of the game. That made United the first team in MLS history to win a game while only taking one shot, a record that seemed implausible after last week's goal outburst."
Washington Post (Steve Goff): "Bill Hamid had not played in six weeks, but if anyone in MLS circles had forgotten his level of excellence and importance to D.C. United, his art of goalkeeping on display Saturday night at Saputo Stadium provided a thunderous reminder.
Hamid made one-on-one saves and diving gems. He went high and dropped low. He used his hands and feet.
In an otherwise lopsided affair, Hamid was the dominant figure as United defeated the Montreal Impact, 1-0, to extend its winning streak to three and retain a healthy lead atop the Eastern Conference."
MLSsoccer.com (Olivier Tremblay): "Montreal center back Victor Cabrera stumbled on an ill-advised Marco Donadel back pass, leaving Jairo Arrieta to run at Wandrille Lefevre with Rolfe to his left. Lefevre went to ground to stop Arrieta, who slid to hook the ball into Rolfe’s path. Rolfe ran through and slotted the ball home to the right of goalkeeper Evan Bush."
United were rewarded for their pressing with the goal, but otherwise the visitors weren’t too adventurous. Montreal enjoyed a significant advantage in terms of possession (67.8 to 32.2 percent) and shots (25 to 1, a league-high shot differential since 2010) but couldn’t find a breakthrough.
Mount Royal Soccer (John_Richan): "As the match rolled on, frustration set in. Both Ignacio Piatti and Johan Venegas saw yellow cards right before halftime for unsporting behaviour and dissent. After dominating possession combined with the inability to score the Impact began to lose their cool. Of course any Impact match would not be complete without Marco Donadel joining the yellow card party, and the Italian picked up his 9th yellow card of the season in the 74th-minute. In his post-match press conference Klopas did not hide his feelings and openly criticized the officiating, a move that could see him fined and possibly suspended."
CSN Washington (Dave Johnson): "Bill Hamid is the best goalkeeper in MLS. Hamid returned from a five-game absence after surgeries on his left hand and right knee and didn’t miss a beat. The Impact had three breakaway chances that were calmly snuffed out by Hamid and in the end he was credited with eight saves. In short Hamid was the difference between a win or a tie and a loss. It doesn’t make sense that Hamid was not called by the United States Men’s National team for the Gold Cup."
Ben Olsen (on Hamid's performance): "Bill was Bill. He bailed us out a few times. But a shutout on the road is very hard to do in this league, especially against a team with the firepower they have, and they're getting more, so I read. They're going to be a real tough team to deal with in the East. We rode our luck at times and weren't at our sharpest. But we get our goal on the road, Bill makes a few saves, a few guys make some big defensive plays for us, and we take home three points."
Olsen again (on United's struggles in possession): "I would've liked to have played better, but we had a guy go down the day before a game and so some of our rhythms were off. You prepare all week, things go awry, and you change up and you adapt. This stuff happens, and you find ways to win."
Davy Arnaud (on the stats sheet): "I think it says three points to zero too. I don’t pay attention to the stats. We won 6-4 last week, and everybody was complaining about us letting in too many goals. We don’t concede a goal this week, and now we're talking about taking only one shot. But it's three points last week and it's three points again this week."
Taylor Kemp (on having to spend so much time defending): "That’s something we don’t really want. I mean they’re a good team that can play really well on a big field, and they’re at home. We don’t want that to happen that much. We’ll have to look back at this and figure out ways we can get out of the pressure, play through it and keep better possession. We would make it a little easier on ourselves."
Frank Klopas (overall thoughts on the game): "I’m extremely proud of the group. It’s not just the shots; I felt we dominated the game. Other than a mistake early on, it was just unfortunate. The only thing missing was the goal."
It's tempting to let Facundo Coria's post-game tweet stand on its own:
However, praising Hamid and moving on isn't really going to cut it here. This is the third straight game in which United won in completely unlikely circumstances. There's a reason MLS had never seen a team come from 2-0 down to avoid defeat (much less win) in in consecutive games in 20 years of play, and there's a reason no MLS team had ever won with one attempted shot in 90 minutes. It's hard to win soccer games like that at any level.
In fact, the nature of these three wins has left me wondering if this is the least-encouraging three-game winning streak in MLS history. The comeback wins at RFK were thrilling, and we'll all be talking about them decades from now, but that's not to say they were truly good performances. Similarly, United followed a pattern on Saturday that would surely lead to defeat most of the time (even against bad teams).
What United needs to be concerned about is that the other shoe will eventually drop. United can't assume that 2015's ability to come back at RFK is just normal or natural. When the level of play increases - and MLS's highest-quality regular season games are always in September and October - those games won't be wins. On the road, United can't expect success when playing like this (which is really just an extension of the withering pressure FC Dallas put United under, and a limited Seattle side did the same in the game before that).
I don't know about you guys, but I don't want that shoe to drop. I don't want to spend so much time talking about Bill Hamid, because it means that United was unable to control the match to a sufficient level. I don't really want to see more comebacks, either. I want to see United dictate the terms, take the lead, and then exact further punishment when teams start to get desperate. That's who this team is, and that's by far their best shot at winning something this season.
The Last Word:
United certainly has some work to do ahead of Thursday night's trip to the Bronx to face McNamara-thieving NYCFC. For one thing, the passing in the midfield has to be much, much better. That relates to a tactical move Klopas made that United had no answer for: Ignacio Piatti actually created more danger from aggressively pressuring Perry Kitchen - who had probably his worst game of the past two seasons - than he did from his normal playmaking role in possession. United never really adjusted anything, and while Kitchen's 2nd half passing was improved it was clear that this choice from Montreal was very effective in hurting United's attempts at possession.
Jason Kreis and other coaches around MLS will have surely noticed that. Granted, the NYCFC eleven that started against the Red Bulls Sunday is not cut out for that sort of approach; Frank Lampard isn't going to spend 90 minutes doing sacrificial running and destroying. However, Kreis has Kwadwo Poku up his sleeve, and Poku is arguably perfect for the job Piatti had some success with. We probably won't see it from the start - Kreis has no real choice when it comes to Lampard and Andrea Pirlo starting, and this gambit won't work without one of them sitting out - but if the game is tight you can rest assured that Poku will come in and try to do exactly what Piatti did.
It's not just that though. On Yankee Stadium's smaller surface, the things United has done badly during this winning streak will all be more exposed than normal. Loose, unfocused defending? In a high-tempo game, there are more moments in which you have to defend. Sloppy passing? This game is already going to resemble pinball, so a misplaced pass or a bad first touch will only be amplified. We may think of NYCFC as a bad team, but United's current troubles make this a deceptively difficult match-up. On the other hand, it's also a good opportunity to put those problems to bed and go live up to the the focused, dogged, street-smart reputation that United has earned.