The second leg of the CONCAF quarterfinals between DC United and LD Alajuelense left several players feeling black-and-blue afterwards. It’s not clear as to which was chillier, the weather conditions or the interaction between the two teams (six yellows issued on the evening). The Black-and-Red fell short of making history as they only won by one goal, 2-1. Still, it was a solid win after a horrible loss just days ago to the same team.
One of the focal point from yesterday’s preview was the level of play for United, while it wasn’t great, there were noticeable strides made between the two matches. At the same token, there were several negatives from the first leg that carried on into the second leg of this matchup.
The building wasn’t packed to the rim, but there were enough fans from both sides to provide a very good atmosphere. The Alajuelense crowd booed United during the intros and started the night’s lone ‘Ole’ chant late in the game.
Alajuelense chose to attack rather than sit back and bank on their aggregate lead, exploiting a soft part in United’s 4-4-2 alignment. This was something that didn’t go away all game, one of the biggest reasons as to why they had so many scoring opportunities. Although, it was DC attacking at the start of the game. It was clear that Jairo Arrieta was going to be a factor in this game, he routinely made himself available for his teammates by being an excellent target man up front. Despite his size, he routinely won the battle for ground in Alajuelense territory. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much help in the first half.
Obviously United had to press, they needed to score at least three goals on the evening. Alajuelense took advantage of it by putting together extremely sound counter attacks. Most of which started with pressure up the middle on the United defense, which seemed easy to exploit once you looked at how DC aligned their 4-4-2. The outside backs were asked to step up a bit and join the scoring attacks if not create them.
The officiating, as noted earlier, was nothing short of bad. The referee and his team seemed to lose control of the game at times, there sere several physical altercations that could have been easily resulted in red cards being handed out. One of those instances led to United’s coach getting ejected, Ben Olson was just trying to speak up for his players.
United went ahead 1-0 behind a one-timer from Arrieta, that was short lived as Alajuelense responded early in the second half. One of the big differences between the two sides was the willingness of the Costa Rican’s to shoot when any and every opportunity arose where as DC would continue to pass for a better shot, sometimes to a fault. No better example than when Ariel Rodriquez attempted an ambitious 50 yard chip with the hopes of beating a then out of position Ben Hamid. Hamid was able to backpedal and punch the ball over the post, just in the nick of time.
The Alajuelense trio of Jhonny Acosta, Jose Ortiz, and Jonathan Mac Donald caused all sorts of trouble for the middle of United’s formation. Mac Donald did an exceptional job of timing his runs all night, while Ortiz danced in and out of the box opposite Mac Donald. Each of them giving the other more than enough space to play and create chances. Acosta was the ring leader for every counter attack by Alajuelense, never seemed to be in a rush, but always knew where his teammates were at.
The first half ended in a tie, 1-1. The second half was filled with scoring chances for both teams. United was most dangerous out of set pieces, routinely placing great balls across the Alajuelense box. They were just flat unlucky at times, with several shots nearly missing the post and a few that hit the bar.
Alajuelense put the series out of reach behind a goal from John Venegas, United would go up for good (this game) after Espindola drilled a penalty kick home. That opportunity was created by Michael Farfan who had just come in off the bench.
United just couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities, it’s hard enough as is to just get one goal a game, let alone thee without surrendering one. While the Black-and-Red are out of the CONCAF field, they don’t have time to reflect. The 2015 MLS regular season kicks off on Saturday as United faces Montreal. There are plenty positives to take from this experience, there are also a few key negatives that have to be addressed.
- Jairo Arrieta is going to bother future opponents, he plays so much bigger than he is. Excellent job last night as a target up front, if he could get some help from teammates in terms of additional runs would be great.
- Sean Franklin, the right back did an exceptional job controlling his sideline. Defensively he was very solid, he also did more than his fair job in attacking that.
- 4-4-2. It’s a good formation, not yet a fan of the alignment. Anxious to see if that changes at all in any way against Montreal this weekend.
- Bill Hamid did his job and more last night. He could have given up another goal or two easy, but his experience and aggressiveness kept that from happening.