Heading into their third match this season against the Philadelphia Union, the Black-and-Red haven’t been the greatest at putting the ball in the back of the net. In fact, they’ve struggled mightily in that department as they’ve scored just 24 goals in 22 games. United made a trade last week to address that specific issue, acquiring the services of a proven goal scorer in Alvaro Saborio. Fortunately for D.C, he lived up to that billing as he played a big role in their come-from-behind victory over the Union. He was that missing piece of United’s attack and he spearheaded the run of three unanswered goals to give D.C. the 3-2 win. All of which came after a horrible start from the home team, Coach Olsen wasn’t happy about that at all, but we’ll address that later.
The visiting Union got off to a great start on the road in RFK, hushing the excited crowd that was looking forward to the reunion of Fabian Espindola and Saborio. Philadelphia almost went up 3-0 in the first four minutes of the game after goals from C.J. Sapong and Sebastien Le Toux. There was also a near miss from Union midfielder Cristian Maidana, but there’s a reason that saying a “two goal lead in football (soccer) is the most dangerous type of lead.” The statement is more of a warning, but for good reason. A team that goes up 2-0 or 3-1, by two, is in a precarious position. Since there isn’t typically a ton of scoring in the sport, the lead can give the winning team (at that time) a sense of false security. It also doesn’t demoralize the losing team, it actually gives them the liberty of playing completely free. They have nothing to lose and can just attack, whereas the winning team takes the pressure. No one wants to be the team that gave up a two goal lead. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they would be that team when it was all said and done.
Like countless other times this season, the Black-and-Red seemed to get settled in after finding themselves in a hole. For the remainder of the game, it was all about United’s ability to combine and create scoring chances. Their first quality chance was in a sequence in which the ball was moved, but it happened with minimal touches by each player involved. Nick DeLeon pushed it to Chris Rolfe who played a clever pass to the running Espindola (Fabi) who placed a shot past the charging keeper just a bit wide.
One of the biggest differences in this game, was United’s new found ability to play the ball ahead down the center of the field. “Sabo” gave DC a target up top that could win position and play it to teammates. United’s main way of scoring this season has been from balls played out wide that were serviced back into the box. With Saborio occupying the centre backs, it allowed Rolfe, Fabi, DeLeon and others to operate out wide. Especially their backs in Chris Korb and Taylor Kemp.
It was important for the home team to get on the board before the first half ended, they had two such opportunities before the official would sound his whistle to end the half. Davy Arnaud had a good game and has his chance to put his team on the board taken away. He and Fabi combined well on a give-and-go right at the top of the box. Upon receiving the ball from Fabi, Arnaud was taken down before he could shoot, resulting in a penalty situation. Espindola chose to step up and take the kick, Brian Sylvestre would guess the wrong way as the keeper. But Fabi had a bit too air on the touch and sailed the ball out of bounds, which brought on a smatter of boos from the crowd. Then, “it” happened. United would get on the board with a goal from Saborio, the play was made by Korb on the right flank. Coming up and putting pressure on the Union, he got the ball out wide and faked as if he was going outside to cross the ball, but cut it back in and lofted a soft ball over to the far post. From there, Sabo took care of the rest, striking the ball past the diving keeper to wake the fans at RFK.
The second half was all about the home team, that first half goal and close chances gave them nothing but confidence. The attack was fun to watch as Fabi and Sabo rekindle their chemistry while showing an ability to combine with everyone around them. Rolfe and DeLeon were special all game, but really made a difference in that half. They were both playing as wide midfielders, on their perspective sides of the field they caused pure chaos for the Union defense. More often than not, using their skill and poise on the ball to cut in and put pressure on the center of the defense while opening up the flanks for both Kemp and Korb.
DeLeon got his first goal of the season off of pure hustle in the 66th minute.. Fabi got a bit of space in the box and fired a shot at Sylvestre who made a great save. He wasn’t able to catch the shot cleanly and Nick was there to fire it into the back of the net. It was just a great example of the type of pressure that Fabi & Sabo caused in the middle, allowing DeLeon to crash the weakside and pick up the easy goal.
The third and final tally was from Espindola, atoning for his earlier flub of the penalty kick. Again, it was a ball from Korb that would do the trick. Espindola, like Saborio, doesn’t need much urging to shoot. He collected the great pass from Kolb and beat the keeper with ease in the 79th minute.
It was a quality game from the home side after they surrendered the two early goals. It was the first game of Sabo’s tenure as a member of the Black-and-Red and it’s quite evident that he’s going to change the way they attack.
- C.J. Sapong is a beast. He’s a physical specimen that has the skill on the ball to match, there was one particular play in which he held off three of the four members of DC’s backline so that he could win a corner for his team. His blend of size, speed, and skill was a treat to watch
- DeLeon is a factor. His contributions tend to fly under the radar, but as of late his play has been great. He’s really starting to use his talents to impact the game on every level. His ability to sustain possession while using his vision to find others really stresses a defense that is already worried about those two forwards up front. He’s a perfect complement to those in front of him and his partner opposite him in Rolfe
- Sabo is the truth. He’s what DC’s been missing, the true forward up front that commands attention. He’s the ideal complement to Fabi and DC’s attack should take off, they might finally have an attack strong enough to match their typically strong defense
- Korb/Kemp provide excellent service. Without their ability to break down a defender long enough to play a ball into the box, United may not have generated as many quality chances. Both backs did a good job servicing their teammates in the box, they seem a bit hesitant to play those balls into the center (to Sabo) prior to being level to him on the field, once they get comfortable with that, this attack could hit a different level
- Dkystra isn’t Hamid and that’s okay. With Hamid still out, Dykstra has answered the bell like a true pro would, he’s stepped in and contributed. He’s never going to be the guy that was playing in front of him, but he’s still an above average keeper and deserves credit for his performance