There's no need to pretend that D.C. United's game with the New England Revolution was anything other than a boring match. There are things to learn, sure, but overall it had next to nothing to offer in terms of visceral entertainment. This is early season MLS, it happens.
Instead of trying to turn this into a Serious Thinkpiece, I'm going to steal an idea from one of my favorite Simpsons episodes. Here are 22 short stories about United's trip to Foxboro:
Touch wood, but Worra's MLS career has started with a 122 minute shutout. And since we know that a) Andrew Dykstra is missing at least one more game and b) Charlie Horton has been with the club for 13 days after going months as a free agent, it's safe to assume that Worra is about to start 2-3 games at a minimum. So far, he has gotten the job done. Fans can be concerned with his composure when the ball starts pinging around the box, and anyone with his lack of experience will run into some decision-making issues, but when it comes to fundamental stuff like making saves, Worra looks better than the average MLS third-choice GK (and a bunch of the back-ups). We'll find out a lot more about him soon.
It is staggering that Franklin didn't get a second yellow card in the 80th minute. Juan Agudelo had him beat, running onto a ball in behind United's back four. Franklin did what he had to do: Prevent a potential breakaway with a tug. It was clear as day, and for a moment it was a two-handed grab. Silviu Petrescu missed the whole thing, which really calls into question his ability to judge fouls, objects, and colors.
I want to see more work done with set pieces to free Birnbaum up. An injury is the only reason that I can think of that would justify Birnbaum ending this year with only 1 or 2 goals. He should be able to put 3-4 on the board over a full season. The problem right now? Service.
Other than a block on that Charlie Davies bicycle kick with an empty net behind him, Boswell had a strangely muted game given that the Revs had 60% of the possession and attempted 18 shots. There's a certain credit due here to his organizational abilities with Worra stepping in, but otherwise he just didn't give me much to remark on.
Other than a huge block in the 68th minute to defuse a 2v1 Revs attack, Kemp had kind of a quiet game. And that's good! Remember how facing a big, strong, fast, direct right winger last year was pretty much a guarantee that Kemp would struggle? Teal Bunbury didn't accomplish much on the ball Saturday, and New England had just one key pass from the right flank. Signs of progress.
It was a weird site to see a midfielder/forward stuck defending so much, but the Revs pushed Chris Tierney up aggressively for 90 minutes. Vincent was clinging by his fingertips for a lot of that time, but ultimately he held out. Tierney attempted 5 open play crosses, but he didn't complete a single one. That's not all on Vincent, but he held his own doing the grunt work that isn't really what got him here.
Marcelo Sarvas: 11 tackles, 5 interceptions, 2 blocked shots, 86.5% passing (only starter >72%). #DCU— Seoul Train (@BlasianSays) March 12, 2016
This is very good. Sarvas was probably United's best player in New England, much like he was at Queretaro. Here's the problem: He's 34, and United's current stock of potential defensive midfielders include Markus Halsti, who was just hung out to dry over his fitness, a rookie in Paul Clowes and in Jared Jeffrey a player who has not broken through in 3.5 seasons with United.
This is going to become a real problem for United. Either Sarvas will run himself into the ground and simply not have the legs for the back half of the season, or he will pick up an injury (like he did last year) and miss weeks. Sarvas needs help from his teammates, and United needs someone to step up and emerge as a viable alternative so the Brazilian can rest at some point.
Against the Galaxy, I thought DeLeon took a real step forward in his on-the-job training as a central midfield. Unfortunately, that wasn't replicated against the Revs. I didn't see much in the way of driving the attack forward, and a 68.4% passing accuracy for a central midfielder is not good enough. He was fairly busy defensively, but when Sarvas has the numbers we see above, he needs some help from his central partner.
WhoScored has Rolfe only getting 25 touches. Part of that is New England pushing the game to the opposite flank, but part of that too was simply Rolfe struggling to find the game. However, I will say that he had a stretch in the middle of the first half where he nearly scored with a deflected shot and also connected a couple of passes to Acosta in threatening moves forward. Still, United's attack isn't going to be a threat until Rolfe is seeing more of the ball and doing more with it for longer stretches of the game.
There's not much to read from Acosta's first MLS game on turf as far as what he can do. He'll have to adjust now that teams have 3 games of tape on him. That's what concerns me here: Against five-man midfields in particular, United is going to have to figure out how to keep feeding Lucho the ball in spots where he can make a difference. Acosta can be the spark that this team has been crying out for, but it's not as simple as putting him on the field and waiting for the magic.
We may soon run into a problem relating to Neagle: For this system, he probably fits better as a forward because he stretches the field in a way Fabian Espindola doesn't. However, he's probably also a better fit for the overall job requirements at left midfield than Rolfe is. It's a weird situation, because in a vacuum Espindola and Rolfe are better players than Neagle. With Acosta on the field, though, neither of those two really fit the roles left over. Neagle does fit those roles, and I suspect Olsen is going to keep him on the field as a result. United needs his speed, his direct nature, and his willingness to get physical.
He did play in this game! There's video evidence.
Somehow, Buescher ended up with half of United's accurate crosses in this game (mostly because United completed 2 crosses in 90 minutes). He was the wide open man robbed by Je-Vaughn Watson's ballet-style block in the 85th minute, and he found Boswell with the ensuing corner (a play that saw DeLeon flash a shot narrowly wide from a sharp angle). In other words, he had a bigger impact on the attack than several others.
This is how you demand more time.
Ben Olsen has swapped his center backs for a reason:
Plenty of people will balk at the description of Boswell's passing ability, but that's not really my concern. What I'm taking from this quote is that United - a team that in some circles gets treated like an old school, backward, dinosaur of MLS 1.0 that won't just go away - may have made a change based on some decidedly new school observations. Those could include analytics and advanced video analysis. Remember, they hired someone to provide that sort of information back in January. Fingers crossed.
What happens when the injuries recede?
Patrick Nyarko was cleared to train yesterday, and Espindola apparently just needed a little rest for his sore hamstring. Nyarko is probably going to step right back into his spot provided he stays symptom-free after a concussion, but will he just get 90 minutes automatically? Against what will be a conservative Rapids team, I'd like to see Nyarko go hard for an hour before letting Aguilar loose. Colorado's selection of left backs (Marc Burch or Eric Miller, who isn't even really a left back) is just begging to be torched down the right.
As for Espindola, I kind of tipped my hand earlier. Basically, on a team with Acosta, I think Olsen has to choose between Espindola and Rolfe right now. Neagle is making more of an impact on games and provides something that the offense lacks. That's a good problem to have, by the way. Last year, Espindola could have shown up with his right leg detached and in a wheelbarrow and I'd have probably still said "You know, we have to give him a chance to pull a rabbit out of his hat." Same for Rolfe.
The New England Revolution
Lots of people are buying on the Revs. I'm not one of them. There's a lot to like about New England: They're awash in talented attackers, they play a fun style, and they are largely the same group that made a run to MLS Cup in 2014 and got into the playoffs last year. You know what they don't have? Dominant players inside the box. They don't have a top-tier player in goal, up front, or at center back. They might not even hit the second tier (i.e. "comfortably above average") player in the defensive spots if we're being honest. Do you think either MLS Cup finalist would trade their 4 equivalent players for New England's? No, and they would laugh while dismissing the offer.
The Revs will make the playoffs. They aren't lifting any hardware in 2016.
Sorry, this is my favorite segment in the episode that inspired this approach to an article.
8 shot attempts in 90 minutes with 3 on goal is not a fun figure to look at. It's a flashback to 2015's lesser outings, for sure. However, I'd take a second to point out two things:
First, this was the first time in 2016 that United has been outshot. Before that, they'd been very steady: 17 shots (9 on goal), 16 shots (9 on goal), and 16 shots (6 on goal). So before we start the "DCU doesn't attack or shoot ever" talk - admit it, we all know that #narrative hits top speed pretty quickly - let's keep those numbers in mind.
How's the "work in progress" going?
For a team that has given up gut-punch goals either very early or very late in all three of their previous outings - games in which they conceded 7 total goals - getting a shut out marks progress. It builds belief within a team that started 4 players who only joined the team this year, another in a brand new position, and yet another who entered the game with under 100 minutes of MLS soccer to his name. It's not sexy, it won't be a game you talk about next year - or even next week - but it's a confidence boost for a team that probably needed it.
This made me laugh.
A home game against the Colorado Rapids, which...let's be honest: We preach a lot of patience around here, but you've gotta beat the Rapids when they visit your place. Jermaine Jones won't be making the trip because of what happened the last time he was in town. It took them 95 minutes to put one past a Galaxy team that looked like they would have rather just stayed home than play at altitude last week. There are no "must wins" in March, but there are "really really should wins," and this is one of them.