D.C. United 

Arrieta, stellar defense fuel United in opener

The Black-and-Red faithful showed out strong for the team’s season opener against Montreal, 11,459 strong to be exact. The atmosphere was electric from start to finish as United won a very gritty game against the Montreal Impact, 1-0.

It as the eighth time in club history that United started the season at home, a record of 8-7-4 in those games. Already missing several starters, the Black-and-Red would be without one of their top forwards in Fabian Espindola. He’s out until March 15 due to a suspension, fortunate for United they have two weeks off following this game. Montreal on the other hand, decided to have one of their off-season acquisitions come off of the bench in Dominic Oduro.

It was evident from the start that United was focused, there weren’t any of those mental lapses from their CONCAF match earlier this week. The midfield was involved early and often, controlling the pace of play and collapsing down on the Impact’s attacks. Due to the alignment of Coach Olsen’s 4-4-2, it’s imperative that the back line win their inevitable 1-on-1 (1v1) situations. They routinely answered the bell today. Bill Hamid confirmed as much, “The defense did an amazing job. It was extremely organized from front to back”.

With Espindola out, Chris Pontius got the start up front opposite Jairo Arrieta. While Pontius isn’t quite use to playing that high up, he did a lot of positive things today for his team. The pairing of him and Arrieta shows promise going forward. Arrieta continued his stretch of good play as well, doing everything he did well in Wednesday’s game. To touch on the play of the midfield, Chris Rolfe played an integral role in the victory. Probing the Montreal defense, displaying “his ability to combine in the midfield” per his head coach. Near the end of the first half, Rolfe was dominant. Both on the ball and the runs he made for his teammates, giving them a target to keep the attack alive.

“The way he occupies center backs, all we’re really asking him to do is connect passes. Be in good spots, make it difficult on the two center backs and then get it to our wide midfielders, or the underneath forward…and then, be in dangerous spots in the 18. He did that tonight, I thought he took the goal very well. That’s a very tough finish and I’m happy for him, that’s two goals in two games, so he’s feeling pretty good about himself.” – Ben Olsen

The start of the second half may have been the only time that the Impact had United on their heels, but the Black-and-Red were able to scramble and get stops. The two wing backs, Franklin and Korb did an exceptional job of covering ground during that stretch of play. Often marking players across the middle of the field and box, while avoiding getting in their center backs path.

The game’s lone goal, came in the 58th minute on a beautiful counter attack by the Black-and-Red. It started with Franklin getting a stop on the right side of the field (in United territory), after winning the ball, he passed it to Arnaud in midfield. After a couple of dribbles, Arnaud played it ahead to a running Rolfe. Who then placed or lobbed a beautiful thru ball to the right corner of Montreal’s box. From there it was simply a foot race between Arrieta and Bush, the Montreal keeper. Jairo gathered the ball with his left foot, transferred it to his right before placing a soft dribbler to the right of the charing Bush. It was a truly a marvelous display of skill by the United forward.

Nearly two minutes later, Arrieta had another chance but missed as his shot hit the crossbar, than the goal line, but didn’t go in the net. Justin Mapp had a very good chance to score on a counter attack from a miss on a United set piece. He beat Korb on the outside and ended up 1v1 with Hamid. The keeper didn’t hesitate, he immediately charged Mapp and won the ball. Unfortunately for Mapp, he was injured in the collision. That brought on Oduro (taking Mapp’s place up front), who immediately got off two shots within the first few minutes in the game. Montreal definitely could of used that burst of Oduro early in the game, he was able to create space for himself against United’s defenders unlike many of his teammates.

The Black-and-Red hung their hats on their ability to defend last season, that was evident in the win over Montreal. Not only was the back line on a string and in near perfect sync, but the midfielders played their part. The two lines were working in harmony, the back line pushing the Montreal attackers back towards midfield while the DC midfielders were collapsing back towards their defensive teammates. Montreal was able to create a few opportunities throughout the game, but rarely enough to challenge Hamid. On those rare occasions, United’s keeper took care of business. The lone exception being when Montreal played a cross into the box, Hamid was a bit out of position and the shot went to the keeper’s right. It would have been a goal if not for Connor Doyle, the forward came back and stood on the mouth of the goal, deflecting the shot with his shoulder.

Doyle, Aguilar, and Farfan were all second half substitutions for the Black-and-Red. While Farfan made an impact in Wednesday’s game, it was Aguilar that gave the fans something to remember late in the game. The first round pick in the 2015 MLS Super Draft displayed his skill as he took on and defeated several Montreal players in a stretch in stoppage time. That dazzling exhibition drew a smattering of applauses from the crowd. Doyle and Franklin both had scoring chances late in the game, but were unable to convert them.

United could have won this game by much more than a goal, but that’s just the way the ball bounces, there’s nothing wrong with starting the season 1-0. The home team controlled the game from start to finish, it was a very good showing and a great start to the season considering the talent they are missing. United showed off it’s immense depth in the win over Montreal, nothing but “good problems’ once the roster gets healthy.

Observations

  • The wing backs were nearly flawless in defending 1v1 as well as their forays upfield to assists in the attacks (Franklin, Korb)
  • Birnbaum and Boswell did a good job closing out on shooters, sacrificing their bodies. Also winning the attempted long balls played by the Impact
  • Rolfe was amazing, a bit hesitant in the first half to take his own shot. But played a great game, creating for others and himself at times.
  • Arrieta continued to carve out space up front, distributing the ball once that space was established
  • DeLeon, Kitchen, Arnaud, and Rolfe owned the middle of the field. Controlled the tempo for long stretches
  • Aguilar is an exciting young player, his ability to win 1v1 should get him more playing time as the season goes on
  • Bill Hamid starts the season with a clean sheet

 

 

 

 

 

 

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