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The Last Word on D.C. United 6-4 Real Salt Lake: Making Sense of the Nonsensical

In which we try and to figure out anything from a couple of anomalies.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you've heard this before: D.C. United gives up two first half goals, including one in the opening moments of the game, but rally to match and surpass their foe, in this case Real Salt Lake, in what ultimately became a wild affair, defeating the Claret and Cobalt 6-4 in one that will be remembered for quite a bit.

Their Words:

Our Words (Ryan Keefer): "Things started to get crazy in the 53rd minute when Sandoval pulled Bobby Boswell in the box, and Baldomero Toledo awarded a penalty kick. Rolfe buried the spot kick over Attinela to level things at two. Six minutes later, a headed clearance from Justen Glad came out to Taylor Kemp, who hit a glorious, first-time rocket from 25 yards out to give D.C. a 3-2 lead."

Washington Post (Steven Goff): "After the last of 10 goals howled into the net and RFK Stadium updated its scoreboards with the tallest tally for an MLS regular season match in 20 seasons, D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen’s overused voice was reduced to a scratchy whisper.

His players were lost for words in trying to explain how they had overcome another two-goal deficit Saturday and tied a club record for scoring, how they had struck six times in 43 minutes and recorded multiple goals of extraordinary distance."

MLS Soccer (Pablo Maurer): "Just a week after giving up first and fourth minute goals to the Philadelphia Union and then storming back to victory, United gave up a pair of first-half strikes to Real Salt Lake before storming back to win once again, riding a Chris Rolfe brace and goals from four other contributors to a wild, wide-open 6-4 victory at RFK Stadium on Saturday evening.

The 10 goals are the most-ever scored in a MLS game at RFK and the win stretches United’s lead atop the Eastern Conference. The win also gives them sole possession, for now, of the Supporters’ Shield lead. RSL remain just below the playoff line in the West."

CSN Washington (Dave Johnson): "Once Chris Rolfe on the left and Nick De Leon on the right side of midfield became more involved in the game, the momentum started to change in United’s favor. With RSL using a 4-3-3 formation with a diamond in midfield, there was room for United to exploit on the outside which it started to do in the final 20 minutes of the first half."

RSL Soapbox (Matt Montgomery): "It wasn't until the second half that the match truly started to turn batty. Defending a corner, Devon Sandoval hovered his hands somewhere near Bobby Boswell, who proceeded to dive — or, if you don't like that word, simulate contact — and "win" a penalty for the opposition. The call? "Shirt pulling," but video shows nothing of the sort — and if there was any, then certainly none that referee Baldomero Toledo could have seen."

Quotes via the team website:

Ben Olsen (on the outburst of goals): "Well, honestly at 2-0 I thought, maybe this is the game that’s going to teach us a lesson. Thankfully it wasn’t and it allows us to address it again. We talked all week about the starts but we’ll keep addressing it this week. They understood the importance of starting strong tonight but it still happened. It is something we’ll need to figure out together. I thought Nick DeLeon was magnificent. The best I’ve seen him play in a long time. Fabi [Fabian Espindola] and Sabo [Alvaro Saborío] continue to be a real threat. But I’ll tell you one thing, Morales is still one of the best players in this league. He’s a handful."

Fabian Espindola (on the slow starts): "It’s not good. I was so pissed. I was like here we go again. The first one was unlucky but the game; losing at home, it would be pretty tough. You have to figure that out and start better."

Chris Rolfe (on having two goals in the game): "Not when it’s only 20% of the goals in the game."

Taylor Kemp (on his goal): "I mean we were pushing high and I think Rolfe got a ball in. they cleared it and it was kind of bouncing around. I mean there was a guy coming pretty fast so I didn’t want to take a touch or anything so I thought why not? It came out well and I was happy to get a goal."

RSL Coach Jeff Cassar (on the outcome): "It was exactly how we wanted to start and talked about starting and what happened in the second half was what we talked about not allowing. There were some individual errors, maybe some decision-making by myself, but we created a lot. The game just got too spread out in the second half and that is not what you want. You do not want to get into a track meet, especially on the road in warm conditions. Guys get tired and sometimes decisions get a little bit fatigued as well and I think that is what happened."

My Words:

Let's get something out of the way: when you see your team tie their regular season record for the most goals scored in a game, and see them score almost 25% of their goals in 2015 in one sitting, in August, it is a bit to take in. Our own Jason Anderson was one of several voices I know who said something similar to the below, and this includes D.C. broadcasters Dave Johnson and Santino Quaranta:

But there is at least one salt to consider when it comes to these last two games. First off, when it comes to the road, Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia Union are bad. To clarify, the Union is bad in general, allowing 40 goals with a third of the season left (worst in the League), but the Union and RSL are a shambles on the road, allowing the most goals on the road in their respective conferences. RSL was missing Jamison Olave, Demar Phillips and Chris Schuler in back, and had to start an 18-year old as one of their center backs. It is easy to say that Saborio's acquisition = goals, and it has on a couple of different degrees, but Saborio's arrival to D.C. should not mask the fact that D.C. was playing two poor defensive clubs, the last one using a makeshift back four.

With that said, let's try to look at something here, now that we have essentially 180 minutes of Alvaro Saborio to digest.

As you'll recall, Saborio's actions map from last week is below, and Saturday's immediately follows:

It would seem at least to this observer that Saborio had to play a little further back than last week, partly because he (and Espindola) had to deal with Kyle Beckerman at times, partly because the outside midfielders (Rolfe and DeLeon) got the chance to work and get others involved. Here was last week's map of Saborio, Espindola, Rolfe and DeLeon, followed by Saturday's:

A little more evenly spread in the attacking half this week versus last in the middle of the field, perhaps a ramification of Nick DeLeon's increased confidence in play

OK, so let's look at one other person, who for the sake of illustration I'll isolate:

Arnaud vs. Doop

Arnaud vs. RSL

Yeah, this is Davy Arnaud, but notice he seemed to be further up the field than he did compared to the Union. Partly this was due to the lineup each team employed, but also, Arnaud had a key pass and a shot Saturday as a result of his forward (npi) thinking, and this was playing on a D.C. team that had roughly half the touches that they did Saturday compared to the Union game. Arnaud's accuracy might have been down this week but hopefully there is the thinking to get him involved more, so Perry Kitchen can work in support with Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum. And if Rolfe and DeLeon have to come back in support, so be it, and if the actions from Saturday are any indication, Espindola is willing to come back and be the next link in the next move forward.

The point being, I think that Saborio's impact in the middle as a 9 continues being a work in progress. Rolfe and DeLeon seemed to have found a relative comfort with their new forward, perhaps there is someone else to consider that may reap those benefits, be it Arnaud, Kitchen or Markus Halsti, when the time comes. One thing is for sure, in between 6 goals vs. RSL and 3 vs. Philly, I'd put money on regression, the only question is how Olsen et al are going to set the new mean.

The Last Word:

So D.C. goes up north to play the Montreal Impact, sandwiched between midweek games with the New York Red Bulls and Vancouver Whitecaps, the latter of which being the first leg of the Canadian Championship. A weekend game would seem to pretty much scream the first start of new signee Didier Drogba for Montreal, a team with a bunch of games in hand on the teams in front of them, so they would presumably be ready to go and fire on all cylinders.

Moreover, D.C.'s 6 road goals are a league worst, so the time to not fall asleep at the wheel early in the game while maintaining some form of a torrid offensive pace late is going to be key, especially with a game the following Thursday at New York City FC. Hopefully the sense they rediscover is common.