It’s been a rough couple of days for DC sports, the Capitals and Wizards both lost in the second round of the playoffs. It hasn’t been all bad as the Nationals remain on a tear and the Black-and-Red now have sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. This is the best start in franchise history for DC United, they have now gone eight games without tasting defeat. Their latest result happening against Orlando at home at RFK earlier this week, rallying to win 2-1.
This is a tough stretch for United as over the next month and a half there are many Sunday-Wednesday games where the team’s depth will be tested. The first test was against Orlando as Coach Olsen altered the lineup while having a healthy team for the first time his season. Their next challenge is tomorrow in Philadelphia as they take on Michael Farfan’s former team, the Union.
Philadelphia is in the midst of a four game losing streak, they’ll be trying to get back on the other side of things with a result against United. Much of the struggle for the Union this season has been their defense, it’s not about failing to get back, but making sound decisions in that part of the field. There have been far too many sloppy passes, failed clearances, and just bad decisions made in that part of the field. To this point in the season, they’ve given up 21 goals, good enough to lead the league. The Union would certainly like to emulate the way the opposition defends, as DC has surrendered just 8 goals in 10 games. Philadelphia is also going through injury issues, evident by a rebuilt back line. Maurice Edu and Ethan White won’t have the usual starters flanking them. No matter the situation with the injuries, expect the Union to come out and fight. A result against the top team in the conference can go a long way to changing the direction of the team.
As for the Black-and-Red, it’ll be interesting to see if Olsen and his staff make any more changes to the starting 11. Not interesting as in surprising, but interesting to see how the pieces are put together. Last match, Luis Silva and Chris Pontius started up top at forward with Fabian Espindola out with an injury and choosing to let Chris Rolfe return to his previous role of a super sub from last season.
DC has put this streak together by taking it just one game at a time and that mentality has allowed them to avoid overlooking any opponent. In two matches against the Union last season, DC won 1-0 both times.
Here’s what the Black-and-Red must do to not only keep the streak but avoid a draw or loss to a team on the opposite end of the tables:
Apply Pressure. DC United is a different team when they are the aggressor, known mostly as a counter attacking team, their ability to defend gives them an advantage when pressuring teams. It’s not just the back line that are good at getting stops or breaking on passes, the starting 11 is fully capable of playing sound defense. Last match against Orlando, Rolfe and Aguilar’s willingness to drop down and trap Orlando between the DC midfield sparked their attack.
Defend. It’s what makes the Black-and-Red who they are. When playing a team that’s struggling, it’s imperative that DC shuts them down early and instill that sense of doubt in them. Nothing more dangerous than a desperate team knowing they have a chance.
Dictate the Tempo. During the last eight games, the Black-and-Red have done a fairly good job of seizing the tempo for large parts of the game. It goes back to the pressure they apply along with taking their time on the ball. Since the Sporting KC match, there was a noticeable difference in the patience United players had when on the ball. That must continue going forward.
Capitalize. United has created quality scoring chances in each game, in the more recent matches they have gotten into a rhythm in the final third. While that is a positive, they still haven’t peaked on that end of the field. There have been several instances this season where DC could have walked away from matches with three to four goals. As Coach Olsen continues to say, they could have been sharper on that end of the field.