The Black-and-Red are finally coming home after a three game stretch on the road, suffering two losses and garnering a point via draw. Even with a not so great road trip, they come home with the chance to avenge that loss to Philadelphia a few games ago. The last leg of the road trip was in Portland, after giving up an early goal, DC just couldn’t finish in the final third to tie the game.
During the stretch, Coach Ben Olsen has used several different lineups. None quite like last night’s though, bringing Kofi Opare to call it ‘makeshift’ in a post game interview. Not too be taken as a huge negative, but in the context that this group has seldom seen any time together. There have been several times where a small group of the players had been in the starting 11, but not all together.
DC started Kemp, Opare, Birnbaum, Korb, Aguilar, Jeffery, Halsti, Mishu, Doyle, and Arrieta. There have been several different variations on the backline, but this was the first time these four had been out there in a game situation together this season. That was evident when just five minutes into the game, a sloppy pass from Kemp turned into a scoring opportunity for Portland. After the giveaway, Portland’s Gaston Fernandez got the ball on the top of the box on the right, played a beautiful pass to the left to a running Maximilliano Urruti who put it past Bill Hamid for the game’s only goal.
The first half was all about Portland as they were given ample time and space to operate on the ball, they have several dynamic playmakers and they were on display. Especially on the right side of the field, where Miguel Aguilar and Taylor Kemp were. Dairon Asprilla, Fernandez, and Urruti took turns creating magic on that sideline. They were able to pierce the backline of DC with several anticipatory thru balls, so well timed were the passes and the runs that it appeared that United’s defenders were lost. That wasn’t the case, it was just the timing and the athleticism.
The Black-and-Red looked lost when in possession of the ball, rushing and not making runs for each other. The Timbers applied that high pressure that had shocked DC a few games ago, but that bunch that had adjusted to that, weren’t on the field. Outside of Halsti, there wasn’t any patience shown when on the ball. With the visitors unable to sustain possession, it just helped the home team step up a bit more and apply pressure.
Steven Birnbaum had a chance to deliver the equalizer, but his header on a corner went right of the goal post. It was struck well, just a bit off. Jairo Arrieta also had a great opportunity in the half, after Jeffery won the ball outside the Portland box. Jairo put a move on one defender which brought him closer to the goalie, he attempted one more cut back before shooting, but a sliding Timber defender knocked the ball out of bounds for a corner kick.
The second half was all DC for the first 25 minutes, they started the half by applying the pressure. Pushing Portland back on their heels and even creating several prime scoring opportunities. The attack started to come together when Perry Kitchen came on as a sub, along with Facundo Coria. The midfield group of Coria, Halsti, Kitchen, and Aguilar were able to sustain possession.
It wasn’t all about the visitors that half as Portland put together several scoring chances right on the doorstep of one Mr. Bill Hamid. The United keeper lived up to that billing for last year’s best net minder. There was a three minute stretch in which he displayed remarkable reflexes, anticipation, and coordination. Stopping three point blank shots and one attempt in which he had several screeners in front of the net. It was truly an awesome display of goalkeeping, unfortunately it may have been overlooked in the loss.
- Birnbaum/Opare pairing. It wasn’t bad, there were a couple of moments at the start of the game in which they didn’t look ‘comfortable’ but there was communication throughout the game and the pair got stronger. They both did a good job in the second half when DC started applying more pressure, both came forward on occasions to assist in the attack
- Halsti/Coria pairing. As soon as they were both on the field together, it changed the attack for DC. Two savvy playmakers that played a big role in sustaining possession in that second half.
- Aguilar. The rookie had a few teaching moments, as he sometimes held onto the ball too long. But he showed his dynamic ability to win in 1v1 situations several times in the game. He should continue to get better with more minutes.
- Hamid. Simply outstanding in this game, he’s been great for United all season long. This may have been his best moment thus far, even with surrendering a goal. The degree in difficulty of the saves in that second half were absurd.