Tampa Bay Sports Day

2-0 loss leaves DC United seeking answers

DC United has always had a tough time against Steve Nicol’s New England Revolution. The local team has a long history of possession soccer and the Revolution has a coach who knows how to frustrate them.

Curt Onalfo and United are left seeking answers

The new DC United Coach, Curt Onalfo, correctly analyzed his opponent and set his team up to play more quickly to deny the Revs’ time to organize their defense. For the first 15 minutes his ploy prevailed and even as late as halftime his squad looked comfortable and strong.

In Onalfo’s words, “It was a game where we had a lot of the ball. We knew that they were going to come in and drop off and play low pressure. I thought we moved the ball, I thought we created chances. Unfortunately you have to finish those chances.” And therein lay the rub.

At Friday’s practice the team held a 20-25 yard shooting drill, but the running kicks of the moving ball were not well placed, a sign of things to come.

The only exceptional shot, a blast by Santino Quaranta, was stopped by an amazing Preston Burpo foot save in the first half. Forward Chris Pontius saw his own clear attempt at a header go just wide. He observed that, “I had the one (scoring opportunity) that could have made the difference in the game, and I need to work on putting those chances away.”

In fairness to him, his shot was one of the few that the team took all night. Again and again, United would bring the ball into attacking range only to pass away scoring chances. New England held their centrally focused packed defense and fouled only when they needed to protect their space.

On several of those occasions, DC chose to send a large number of players into the area in front of goal, a sort of cluster attack that seemed designed mostly to generate a favorable bounce in a dangerous area. The tactic was especially evident on corner kicks. Given the pre-existing Revolution crowd, it could have been a sort of

Ironically, New England’s first goal came from a double deflection in a less crowded scenario. Chris Tierney, given a bit too much space by Julius James, swung a driven cross that skipped off the Revs’ Kheli Dube and DC’s Dejan Jakovic.

Juan Manuel Pena froze for an instant as the ball’s change of direction wrong-footed him and left the racing Kenny Mansally free to tap it home. DC keeper Troy Perkins had no chance to respond.

Only two minutes later, Mansally forced enough separation to get off a superlative strike that sent the Revs up by the two goals that marked the final score. After the shot looped over him and found the far netting, Perkins was left to observe, “I think he (Mansally) had too much time to pick his shot. He set it up, and it was a great goal.”

Defender Dejan Jakovic explained how the looser coverage came about, “I thought we were pretty comfortable for the whole game, we kept the ball really well during the first half and I thought we created some chances, and in the second half we started pushing forward a lot, and the last 15 or 20 minutes we weren’t really holding our shape as we were pushing forward.”

That pattern had begun to develop late in the first half as Onalfo observed, “I thought we were too casual on the ball… There was some good soccer for good portions of the game, we had the better of the game and we walked away not winning.”

Given his accurate description of the sometimes random results so often found in soccer, Onalfo took a positive view, “As far as I’m concerned there are a lot of good things to build on and that’s what I’m going to focus on. Sometimes the game is very cruel and tonight was a perfect example of that.

“I’m just going to make sure our group stays positive and that we learn from these issues we had today. Also at the end of the day we’re going to have some work and over the course of the season all that stuff will even out and we will continue to get better. The performance tonight was much better than last weekend and that’s what I’m going to focus on.”

A strong soccer team will first create a solid foundation from which to launch attacks while holding their opponent at bay. Despite their poor result on Saturday and the horrible performance at Kansas City last week, DC seems to have the makings of a reasonable foundation.

In this latest game, no one player stood out as especially good or bad, a sign that this is a more balanced team than last year’s. Possession was generally well-earned and maintained via speed and positioning. The weakness came from a lack of final creativity and finishing strikes.

Width was better maintained than last year. While Cristian Castillo drifted inside almost as often as Fred and Santino Quaranta did last year, he also stayed wide more often and thereby left more space inside. On the occasions that he went inside, Rodney Wallace provided solid overlaps.

The entire back line simply rotated about the team’s center of mass to provide good shape. This was largely due to Pena’s experience and Jakovic’s speed which allowed them to cover as the situation demanded.

Soccer aficionados frequently speak of the rhythm of the game and the beauty and effectiveness when a team achieves it. To my eye, United has a more solid rhythm than last year although it is still quite immature and limited mostly to midfield.

The defense with Pena and Jakovic should quickly grow more comfortable, leaving the link to attack and finishing as major areas to develop. The season is young and so is the team. While Onalfo’s positive attitude is the standard cliché, he may be correct.

D.C. UNITED NEW ENGLAND

Shots 12 8
Shots on Goal 3 3
Saves 1 3
Fouls 12 11
Offsides 3 0
Corner Kicks 5 2

New England Revolution — Preston Burpo, Kevin Alston (Darrius Barnes 89), Cory Gibbs, Emmanuel Osei, Seth Sinovic, Sainey Nyassi (Zak Boggs 69), Pat Phelan, Niouky Desire, Chris Tierney, Zack Schilawski (Kenny Mansally 68), Kheli Dube.

Substitutes Not Used: Khano Smith, Michael Videira, Bobby Shuttleworth.

TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Kenny Mansally 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (Kenny Mansally 2); FOULS:11 (Pat Phelan 4); OFFSIDES: 0; CORNER KICKS: 2 (Chris Tierney 2); SAVES: 3(Preston Burpo 3)
D.C. United — Troy Perkins, Carey Talley (Julius James 76), Dejan Jakovic, Juan Manuel Peña, Rodney Wallace,Brandon Barklage (Andy Najar 70), Kurt Morsink, Santino Quaranta, Cristian Castillo (Thabiso Khumalo 62), Jaime Moreno, Chris Pontius.

Substitutes Not Used: Adam Cristman, Devon McTavish, Danny Allsopp, Andrew Quinn.

TOTAL SHOTS: 12 (Chris Pontius 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (Santino Quaranta 2); FOULS: 12 (Thabiso Khumalo 3, Chris Pontius 3); OFFSIDES: 3 (3 tied with 1); CORNER KICKS: 5(Santino Quaranta 3); SAVES: 1 (Troy Perkins 1)

Referee: Baldomero Toledo

Referee’s Assistants: -Nate Clement; Eric Boria

4th Official: Jorge Gonzalez

Attendance: 20,664

Time of Game: 1:50

Weather: Cloudy and 70 degrees