The Black-and-Red have been waiting for a result for six games, finally it came last night against New York City FC. The home side rallied from a 1-0 deficit with two second half goals to give them a 2-1 win. The victory also checked off another box, they are officially going to be part of the postseason as the three points helped them punch their playoff ticket. It’s been a quite a while since they’ve won, but it was definitely earned last night against a hot team. D.C. not only snapped their losing streak, but the win ended NYC FC’s three game winning streak.
“I cant explain the starts. We’ll continue to work on them, we’ve tried just about everything short of an exorcism to sort out the starts.” – Ben Olsen, D.C. United
True to form, the home side gave up an early goal just minutes into the game. United started the game well, applying high pressure and forcing the visitors to move the ball quick. New York was able to stop an early United attack, then quickly counter. It was a very fluid counter as the ever dangerous David Villa got a point blank shot on United keeper Bill Hamid, the keeper was able to block that initial blast, but Frank Lampard pounced on the rebound and placed a shot right over the top of Hamid’s hands. It was the 12th time in 15 games in which D.C. had given up an early goal. This early goal didn’t seem to have the normal sting or affect on the crowd. The home team had started the game aggressive with that high pressure and continued it, that activity up top really kept the crowd in it.
The first half would end 1-0 in favor of the visitors, but it certainly didn’t feel like they were dominating the game. The reason why? United had actually won the possession battle in the first half, by a large margin at that (58.5%-41.5%). The Black-and-Red were doing something they’ve struggled to do most of the season, sustain possession. They were passing the ball very well, switching fields as needed and building quality attacks. An example of their aggressiveness in the first half could be seen in the number of corners awarded, United had seven and New York City FC didn’t earn one.
The pressure of Esindola and Rolfe up top paid off in several instances, instead of United’s backline being under attack it was the opponents and NYC FC was sloppy on the back end in dealing with the pressure. The aggressive version of D.C. seemed to really put NYC on their heels, it was the visitors who were responding with quick counter attacks for most of the night. United generated several chances in the first half, taking six shots total with two of them being on target and couple being blocked. Still for a team that had a “toothless” attack just a week ago, it was certainly a strong display in the half.
The second half began like the first, United was in the attacking third causing trouble. Perry Kitchen got out wide and played a gorgeous ball into the box, but nobody from D.C. was at the far post to complete what would have been an easy play. While NYC FC would generate a couple of chances, none were really threatening as Kofi Opare did a very good job of keeping things out of the middle. The communication on the backline improved after the early gaffe in the first two minutes of the match, the visitors would finish the game with 10 shots on the night. Four of which came in the second half and none of which were on target.
The game would continue it’s course into the 70th minute, that’s when things finally changed for United. It’s also when Chris Pontius decided to make his presence felt. Starting on the wing last night, he played a solid first half. He kicked things up a notch in the second half by personally making life difficult on NYC FC’s back line. He was hustling to loose balls, winning 50/50 balls and using his pace to put pressure on the visiting team. In the 72nd minute, Pontinus got the ball on the right side of the box, he beat his man and began working his way to the top of the box. From there, he unleashed a vicious shot that Josh Saunders had no chance to catch cleanly. Similar to NYC’s first goal, Fabi was there to tap in the easy rebound giving the home team the equalizer.
“They’re not a fun team to play offensively but I was very happy with how we dealt with that down the stretch and how we used their aggression against them.”- Ben Olsen, D.C. United
As time continued to tick by, United continued to apply pressure. At a few points in the second half, there entire backline was across midfield, a great indication of how much pressure was applied to the visitors. Pontinus flashed again over the closing minutes of the match, he got on the end of a good cross but his header went wide. He took another long range blast that resulted in another rebound, only no teammate was around to clean it up. Lastly, it was he who drew the call that set up would become the game winning play.
There was an errant pass from NYC FC between their backline and midfield, Pontius tracked it down than turned on the jets. He raced by two defender and looked as if he was going to get a 1v1 situation with the keeper before being brought down right outside of the box. Coach Olsen made a subsitution in the 70th minute, bringing in Alvaro Saborio to partner with Fabi up top with Rolfe dropping back to midfield. The veteran forward had missed practice all week, he ended up getting his knee drained as well. In the last few games the goal scoring forward had multiple opportunities to score and just couldn’t get it done. He even got a 1v1 chance with Saunders in this game but his touch was a bit off.
Fabi took the kick, made eye contact with his former teammate and dropped a ball right in front of the goal. Sabo was able to hold off his defender long enough to slide it into the corner of the goal. Giving United a 2-1 lead in the 91st minute. There wasn’t much time left after that, United would punch their postseason tickets.
It was a much needed win for the home side, snapping their six game winless streak and clinching a playoff berth. This was probably their most complete performance of the season. It’s up to them to be able to replicate this formula, this can’t be the anomaly. Aggressive United won the possession battle and completed close to 81% of their passes. That quality passing allowed them to sustain possession to build attacks, but most importantly they were able to dictate the terms at which the game was played. The challenge is for this win to become a building block, not an isolated incident. Theres’ two games left in the season, it’s up to them not to rest on their laurels.