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Three Things we Learned from D.C. United’s scoreless draw with Toronto FC

And musing on well, you know.

D.C. United got done playing a game in an intermittent downpour about 3 days before I wrote this, so naturally folks who saw a 0-0 tie transpire against Toronto FC in the 6 had to have some idea it was coming right? RIGHT? Let’s touch base on several things:

Wednesday night was Bennyball, and everything you thought was that beforehand wasn’t close.

There have been a lot of pixels, neurons and brain cells expended through the years to tell us the particular match a Ben Olsen-coached team has done, and if it was “Bennyball” or not. But let’s be clear on this: Wednesday night was Bennyball. Nothing else has been to this point and if you thought it was, or even suspected it, your expectations should be recalibrated.

For several years, D.C. United would roll out a Davy Arnaud-Perry Kitchen central midfield dozens of times and hope for the best. Not impugning either player specifically by any means, but a starting XI with similar looks, a flat 4-4-2, would be termed Bennyball by people. The only response I really have for that is, given expectations were low for those teams (and if they weren’t, they should have been), is what exactly did you expect? Moreover, what do you think was on the bench for all those years that would have reversed their play?

So when you bench your Designated Players and your multimillion dollar players on loan from Argentina for rest, and you get in your starting XI:

  • Your first round draft pick playing his first MLS minutes (Akeem Ward, congrats by the way!),
  • A player returning from injury for his first minutes in almost six weeks (Chris McCann), while,
  • another player made his first start in almost six weeks (Zoltan Stieber)
  • A player in his first start with his latest MLS club (Quincy Amarikwa)

This is what you’re going to get. In lieu of other alternatives, it was what it was. Wednesday night, you had grinding it out for 45-60 minutes and hope for 3 points because of the ammo on the bench, something past Olsen coached teams lacked. So in sum, Bennyball is probably better defined as stealing a point or more in places where there was no business to take it. And if you acknowledge that, then perhaps getting blood from rocks for a half decade was what Olsen did for all those years, rather than whatever your definition of Bennyball is.

However, compared to past years when D.C. would absorb everything, and maybe a shot or two squeaked through with guys that were getting starting minutes consistently, using a clear second choice lineup this time, they were fortified:

Given that Toronto had the most shots in a game without scoring a goal and their xG looks as it did, it goes to assert that TFC should have had MUCH MORE chances to test Bill Hamid than they did. But they didn’t, Ben Olsen dropped a 5-3-2 into the mix in the hopes that bodies could get in the way of Alejandro Pozuelo creating a pant load of quality chances, and that worked. I’ll note here that the joint/sole Eastern Conference leaders have experienced their third different formation in 32 days (and 7th game), and there’s still two more weeks in May. That Ben Olsen, so tactically rigid.

As far as those new players go, Amarikwa was fine, Ward and McCann were okay, Stieber had his moments, but...

Exhibit A of why Ben Olsen doesn’t make substitutions often was on display.

A common concern from people is why Ben Olsen doesn’t include Stibi, or Quincy, or (whomever isn’t on the field starting at that particular point), and I get some of them. And I also understand how game states and quality of teammates may not put them in the best positions. Though before tonight, Stieber had 2 shots, and Amarikwa had 3 in 2019. After tonight, only Stieber added to his total, getting 1 in 90 minutes, or as many as Wayne Rooney had in 42. You need to take advantage of the opportunities you get, or you will get fewer of them, QED.

It wasn’t a complete wash though, as...

This helped show us that what was needed for the club is...still needed.

Amarikwa is good for closing things out at this point, but the matter of a second (and more importantly dangerous) striker is still there, as in some talented help on the wings. Lucas Rodriguez was an unused sub on the bench though a former teammate of Luciano Acosta was watching the game while his current club omitted him from YET ANOTHER game.

D.C. is sitting at 25 roster players, with 18 senior roster spots filled. The team has 5 roster spots (2 that count towards the salary cap), and an international roster spot that they can use when the secondary transfer window opens on July 7. Figuring out Lucho’s future remains key, addressing the team’s needs for a (even) deeper playoff run than last season may put the former in the rearview mirror.

So D.C. goes from 65 and overcast tonight to 85 and 77% humidity to a Houston Dynamo squad hard done by a home draw with the Portland Timbers. Those are my takeaways, what are yours?