Going into the game, D.C. United scored 9 goals on the road in the whole 2015, whilst new Montreal Impact signing Didier Drogba had scored 5 goals in 391 minutes. Based on those numbers, along with the winless streak of the former and the undefeated of the latter, the result, a 2-0 victory by the Impact, really shouldn't have been a surprise. So let's talk about what we learned from the game:
Drogba Bullies, Birnbaum Burned, Bombed
Here's what Jason said 20 hours before kickoff:
United's defenders have to be ready for a bigger test than normal. In particular, Steve Birnbaum needs to be hyper-aware when stepping in to challenge Drogba when the ex-Chelsea striker has his back to goal. Birnbaum has been struggling for the past 2+ months with target men in that situation, and Drogba is better than, say, Devon Sandoval. Any over-commitment to one possibility, and Drogba's going to shed his defender.
So yeah, particularly after our GIF barrage earlier today, we know how that turned out. Moreover, his defensive actions have taken a slight dip, aerials aside. Steve's going to have to find his Rocky III training montage soon, or he may find himself without his customary spot beside Bobby Boswell in two weeks when D.C. plays the Chicago Fire. Hopefully it will be a game that D.C. will have rendered meaningless as Kofi Opare will help lead the team to victory against New York City FC. Right?
Nick DeLeon as a central midfielder: Difficult but not Impossible, but not the Answer
Someone had to pinch hit as central midfielder next to Markus Halsti (as Perry Kitchen was suspended due to yellow card accumulation), so with Davy Arnaud still out to concussion symptoms and Michael Farfan playing 90 minutes in Jamaica midweek, DeLeon got the call. The result wasn't terrible (DeLeon led the team in key passes on the night and was second to Sean Franklin in passing accuracy), but his performance was in a word, timid. Not helping matters was Halsti's performance, particularly on the second goal which to his credit, he owned up to after the game.
With a full week's rest for DeLeon and Farfan, presumably the latter would start due to his possession-based proclivities. Maybe Arnaud will have recovered and will get some minutes. However, it should be stressed that neither DeLeon or Farfan has shown themselves to be a viable long-term option at that position when given the chance to play it. Unfortunately, it's likely remain to that way until the team signs someone from abroad, presumably in the spring/summer of 2016 so that whomever it is can acclimate to the play in MLS and be in top form when the stadium opens in 2018 (call it the Javier Morales education).
D.C.'s confidence is shot right now and the league knows It
After their loss to the Columbus Crew SC last week, Matt Doyle's Armchair Analyst last Sunday included an interesting tweet about the Crew's defending with the ball, particularly after they scored their second goal. After Montreal scored their second goal Saturday night in the 11th minute? The Impact, without Ignacio Piatti and Justin Mapp at their disposal (and using 31-year old Nigel Reo-Coker and 36-year old Patrice Bernier behind Drogba in midfield) held onto the ball for 69.1% from minutes 15-25 in that game, until D.C. eventually found their footing and the ball.
I didn't grab this as a GIF, but if you look around the half hour mark, both Boswell and Sean Franklin make passes to teammates that have them subsequently throw up their arms in exasperation. Even in moments where DeLeon perhaps had the opportunity to create, his targets on the flanks and forward were static, with little off the ball movement. I got the chance to see the team in person against the Colorado Rapids and at home against the aforementioned Crew club, and away from the crowd, you can see that fuses are short even on the most talkative people in the locker room.
Know Kitchen, Know Win. No Kitchen, No Win.
This follows up on a stat that Jason pulled in his preview thread, a stat that frankly, I surprised still existed; coming into Saturday's game, since his 2011 arrival, when Perry Kitchen is not in the D.C. United lineup, D.C. United does not win. Saturday was their 12th such game, and D.C. is now 0-8-4 in such games. And D.C. United's starting central midfield Saturday afternoon was a guy who was playing out of position and another guy who, by his own admission, is still learning some of the subtleties of Major League Soccer.
There is also the looming issue about what occurs this coming offseason, whether D.C. United re-signs Kitchen, potentially at a low-end DP level like he is rumored to be asking for, or if D.C. grins, bears it, and hopes that Halsti and a more offensively inclined partner can be the ticket D.C. wants and needs in 2016. But it can be agreed that games like Saturday from Halsti may give little trust in the latter at this point.