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RSL victorious, but Timbers get a lifeline

Posted on 11 November 2013 by Aowabin Rahman

Real Salt Lake clinched the first leg of the Western Conference final, defeating Portland Timbers by 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday. Chris Schuler, Robbie Findley, Devon Sandoval and Javier Morales registered for the home side, while Will Johnson and Frederic Piquionne scored for the Timbers.

Real Salt Lake probably had the psychological edge over their rivals, having beaten the TImbers twice this season at home and being unbeaten against them in their last eight outings. The home team, however, had to contend without star forward Alavaro Saborio , who suffered a hip flexor injury against LA Galaxy in the second leg of the Western Conference semi.

Timbers coach Caleb Porter fielded a positive XI, with playmaker Diego Valerie sitting behind the forward trio of Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson and Rodney Wallace. The Portland side also had good form under their belt, going into the game with a 10-game winning streak.

RSL shaded the possession in the opening exchanges, but it were the Timbers who drew first blood. After playmaker Diego Valerie was fouled outside the box, captain Will Johnson stepped up to take the free-kick. The ex-RSL man brilliantly capitalized from the dead-ball in the 14th minute and beat Rimando at his bottom-right.

RSL began to enjoy a good spell of possession as the half progressed and had a couple of decent half chances from Kyle Beckerman and Nat Borchers. They finally made it count in the 35th minute, when defender Chris Schuler rose well above the Timbers defense and slotted home from the corner to draw the home side level.

The Timbers fans would’ve had their hearts in their mouths again in the 38th minute when another the ball bounced ominously in the box following a Moales corner, before finally cleared off the line by Valierie. Soon after, defender Nat Borchers also had an opportunity from a Beckerman cross, but the RSL man shot over the bar from close range.

Nonetheless, the home attendance did not have to wait long for their home side to pull ahead, as Portland defender Mamadou Danso failed to control a fairly simple ball in Timbers defense. Robbie Findley slipped in behind the defender to calmly finish past keeper Donovan Ricketts in the 40th minute.

RSL soon stretch get the two-goal cushion following a second-half kickoff. Morales, who had constantly found space between the Timbers midfield and defense, threaded Robbie Findley down the flank. The forward’s low cross found Sandoval in the box, who finished neatly in the 48th minute.

A relatively quiet phase of play followed. Portland were probing, yet not sufficiently threatening. Substitutes Khalif Alhassan and Frederic Piquionne  attempted a couple of long-rangers, but none of them tested Rimando.

It was RSL, however, who stretched the lead even further with a goal from Javier Morales in the 81st minute. The play started with an excellent RSL chance, when a Morales header was glanced goal-wards by Luis Gil, but then brilliantly kept out by keeper Ricketts. The resulting corner from substitute Plata was met by Morales low in the box, whose diving header went past Ricketts.

Portland Timbers, were thrown a lifeline in the dying minutes of second-half injury time, when a deep cross from full-back Paul Jewsbury was brilliantly headed in by Frederic Piquionne. The header sufficient power and direction to beat keeper Rimando and kept the Timbers in the two-legged series.

The six-goal thriller was a repeat score-line of an earlier encounter between the two sides in the regular season at Rio Tinto. Both coaches could take positives from the game: Jason Kreis probably would’ve taken a two-goal lead before the start of the game, while Caleb Porter could take heart from the last-minute goal and would feel that they’re capable of overturning the two-goal deficit on their own turf.

The teams face again in the second leg on November 24 at Jen-Weld Stadium.



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Timbers Get Historic Win In Seattle

Posted on 03 November 2013 by Kyle Alm

Sounders have not been able to advance in a two-legged playoff series in MLS Cup. After beating Colorado Rapids last week in the 4th and 5th place play-in It looked like Sounders had gotten over being snake-bit in the MLS Regular Season, not having won a match since September 13th. Seattle earned a shot at their I-5 rival, Portland Timbers. Caleb Porter had been up scouting his potential opponents in Seattle and his team appeared prepared to face a new-look lineup for Sounders. Both teams nearly at full-strength at the end of the season, there was plenty to be excited about with this Cascadia fixture.

Sounders got the better of play early, created chances, but were unable to finish them. Brad Evans found himself with a decent shot early that went wide of the Timbers net. Ryan Johnson returned fire a minute later on mirror image chance, perhaps a few yards further, that went similarly wide. Sounders came right back at Timbers when Adam Moffat made an uncharacteristic run with the ball down the left wing and skinned Diego Chara to the inside with a precision that made you wonder if Sounders had the Portland Timbers on the ropes.

Portland’s attack looked anemic and too willing to take speculative chances from distance. Will Johnson sent a couple of shots into the Brougham End and the Emerald City Supporters’ section. But it was boys in Rose Red that would draw first blood. ‘Captain’ Jack Jewsbury overlapping from his right back position sent a short cross to the near post that somehow found its way to Ryan Johnson. Somehow in this instance means that Jhon Kennedy Hurtado didn’t follow his mark, Ryan Johnson, although he was closer to the danger-man than Djimi Traore the entire time he inexplicably quit following him. Marcus Hahnemann didn’t cover his near post. The ball may have even hit him on the way in the 15th minute.

Dempsey added weight to a cliche within five minutes on a set piec that forced Donovan Ricketts into an incredible save. Another Ricketts was able to push just over the crossbar.

Lamar Neagle came out of the locker room and earned a yellow card within moments of the second half kickoff. A foolish and unnecessary infraction against Diego Valeri that will cost him the return leg. Luckily for his coach Obafemi Martins may be available.

Alonso got caught ball watching when Nagbe went wide where Rosales was shadowing him. Traore was there to cover but missed his tackle and left Marcus Hahnemann with no chance at saving Nagbe’s shot. It’s curious to note how deep the Sounders backline is when Nagbe receives the ball, he’s exactly (thanks to the magic of gridiron technology) 14 yards from the endline. That’s too deep when the ball was passed from 25 yards out, the line needs to be higher, especially if Adam Moffat is going to be 3 yards off of Khalif Alhassan when he plays the ball in. In defense of the Scotsman, he brought the defensive pressure from the middle of the park where he was put similar pressure on Will Johnson who supplied the ball. Traore missed his tackle but Hahnemann should have pushed his defensive line higher.

At the last possible moment it was Alonso who brought a glimmer of hope for his team when he took Shalrie Joseph’s flicked on header from Mauro Rosales’ corner and gave the Sounders a fighting chance going to Portland.

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Sounders Knock Out Colorado

Posted on 31 October 2013 by Kyle Alm

Seattle Sounders found a way to win against Colorado Rapids. A most unusual way.

The MLS Playoffs got off to a memorable start in Seattle as the Sounders knocked out the Colorado Rapids. Although the most talked about subject will be the referee and some of the unusual decisions that Silviu Petrescu made. But for the second match in a row the Sounders were the beneficiary of the officiating.

Sounders brought out the the interchangeable midfield lineup of Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso, Adam Moffat, and Brad Evans that was effective against LA Galaxy. Rapids Coach Oscar Pareja deployed a 4-3-3 against the Sounders 4-4-2. Sounders had the better of play in the midfield with their numbers advantage for possesion while the Rapids appeared content to defend and look for their opportunities to counter-attack and get behind the Sounders defence.

Lamar Neagle had a noteworthy performance, not because he played particularly well, but for all of his histrionics. Neagle had a verbal warning in each half for fouls. In the 12th minute Neagle found space behind the back line of Rapids with German Mera let a long ball from Michael Gspurning bounce past him for Clint Irwin. There was clearly a miscommunication between the two players and Neagle attempted a header that went wide when he may have had time for a touch. A minute later Neagle had a ball drop in front of him in the penalty box on a ball in from Adam Moffat.

Rapids found space on a counter-attack 17 minutes in when Martin Rivero got behind the Sounders backline. There really wasn’t much of a threat from it, Sounders defense was able to recover on Rivero and no Rapids player came to support the attack. Dempsey had several shots that were around the frame, one from 25 yards just to the right of the semi-circle that went over the bar and appeared to have Irwin beat.

Sounders would get on the scoreboard first in the 28th minute when Leo Gonzalez overlapped Adam Moffat and crossed the ball in.The Rapids were not able to clear the ball from the penalty area and Brad Evans trapped the ball with his chest and hit the back of the net with his volley. A big relief for Sounders who have not been scoring many goals recently. Evans who missed two sitters in Dallas now has a club goal that compares with his USMNT goal against Jamaica.

Neagle found himself with another scoring opportunity from Dempsey on a simple give and go that the Federal Way native was not able to put on frame. Rapids were only able to create two shots in the first half, it was in the 45th minute that Gspurning was called into action to save a shot from Rivero.

DeAndre Yedlin suffered an injury as the half drew to a close and would not be able to continue. The goal scorer, Evans, filled his space at right back and Marc Burch moved into the left mid position to start the second half. Burch showed his worth with a left-footed set piece that beat Irwin but didn’t get past the crossbar.

Colorado showed much more life in the second half and Deshorn Brown got Colorado’s second shot on frame 10 minutes into the second half. It didn’t really get any better for the Rapids.

Petrescu had some curious decisions in the match to say the least. There were two verbal warnings given to Lamar Neagle. Neagle was given a verbal warning for a foul away from the ball on former Sounder Nathan Sturgis in the first half. Given another verbal warning in the second, and was eventually shown a yellow card in the 78th minute for shoving a defender into Irwin.

Colorado narrowly escaped a penalty kick on two separate and consecutive handballs. Both seemed obvious from the press box, and defenders were clearly not in natural positions when they handed the ball in the area. Advantage was gained but no penalty kick was awarded. Hendry Thomas could be seen shaking his hand after the ball hit it and it still wasn’t called. A truly interesting moment happened with Clint Dempsey and Clint Irwin outside of the penalty area. Irwin came out to win a ball with Dempsey bearing down. The Rapids goalkeeper was levelled by Dempsey, who jumped in the air into Irwin. Irwin was incredulous as he was booked.

Gspurning was also booked when he came out of the box in the 85th minute and deliberately handed the ball and then knocked Edson Buddle to the ground. It was unclear whether Gspurning was shown red for the deliberate handball or violent conduct. He will miss the home leg against Portland Saturday and may have lost his starting position for the remainder of the playoffs.

Sounders went to 10 men and Lamar Neagle made way for Marcus Hahnmann to replace Gspurning. Zach Scott came on moments later for Adam Moffat to defend the one goal lead. Shockingly, Rapids conceded a goal shortly after Gspurning was sent off. Eddie Johnson gave a ball back to Dempsey at the top of the box and his shot missed narrowly. Minutes later EJ had a go of his own, kept the ball for himself, and was able to finish past Irwin for the final goal.

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Reserves lead Galaxy past Montreal

Posted on 18 October 2013 by iyeo

It’s not often reserve players would be a factor in a playoff race.

That was the situation the Los Angeles Galaxy and Montreal Impact found themselves in as the two teams faced off on Wednesday night. The Galaxy were without Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez, who picked up injuries during their time with the U.S. National Team last week, while the Impact were missing numerous players due to injuries and suspensions.

The Galaxy reserves proved to be the better of the bunch. Center Back Kofi Opare scored his first career MLS goal in the second half and backup Keeper Brian Rowe turned in a shutout as the Galaxy defeated the Impact 1-0 at the StubHub Center.

“It felt great, it is great to get a win, especially a shutout, the guys did great tonight,” Rowe said. “We had a game plan going in, and it is nice when you actually execute and get the results you wanted, a great team win.”

The win vaults the Galaxy (15-11-6, 51 points) into third place in the Western Conference. LA is actually tied with Seattle points wise, but the Galaxy have the advantage based on goal differential with two matches remaining in the regular season. The Impact (13-12-7, 46 points) remain in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, tied with Chicago and New England in points, but ahead of Chicago on goal differential.

“I was happy, we had a lot of young players that played tonight and we made a good point, maybe not three, but I think some decisions from the referee was against us,” Impact head coach Marco Schallibaum said. “It is a pity, because the performance from my team was very good today.”

After 69 scoreless minutes, the Galaxy used a little bit of chaos to edge ahead. Juninho sent a corner kick into the Impact penalty area, Center Back Leonardo headed the ball on goal, but keeper Evan Bush parried the ball away. Robbie Keane did prevent Bush from fully grasping the ball, which went back into play. Jose Villarreal then struck a ball towards goal, but that was deflected, but it went to Opare, who shot a ball past Bush into the back net. Opare then celebrated by showing a shirt that read “R.I.P. Arif,” which Opare described as a tribute to his friend, Arif Merani of Niagara Falls Ontario, who tragically passed away in a car accident Monday night.

“One of my good friends (Arif Merani) past away a couple of days ago, so, I said I was going to score and I was going to dedicate it to him,”

Opare said. “I had a feeling that something was bound to happen today so I’m just glad I was able to get a goal for him and obviously for Galaxy the three points, that’s what we need to make a statement.”

Opare’s goal wasn’t LA’s only chance to find the back net. Gyasi Zardes had the Galaxy’s two best scoring chances in the first half. First came a header off a cross from Right Back Sean Franklin in the the 31st minute, but the header went directly into the hands of Bush. The Impact keeper denied Zardes again in the 42nd minutes, as he parried the midfielder’s volley off the crossbar and over the end line. LA continued to create chances in the second half. Villarreal had a chance in the 60th minute, as he dribbled the ball across the top of the box and fired a volley that just missed the far post. Even after it went ahead, the Galaxy continued to create chances, but shot attempts by Keane and Marcelo Sarvas went off the framework.

“All I told our team was a great win, maybe not a great game, but a great win,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said.

While the Galaxy didn’t have Donovan and Gonzalez, LA did feature Robbie Keane, who returned from international duty just hours after getting off a flight from Ireland. Keane entered as a substitute in the 60th minute and energized the Galaxy’s attack. 

“I just made him (Arena) aware that I was fairly happy following the game last night in Ireland so I was ready to sit in the bench if I was needed,” Keane said. “At 60 minutes there was not much happening and he put me on. This was a massive game for us I think it was very, very important for us to get the three points, that was one of the reasons I wanted to come back because I knew this could put us into playoffs.”

The Galaxy will look to continue to build momentum as they host the San Jose Earthquakes in its last home game of the regular season on Sunday evening. The Impact meanwhile now face another crucial match against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday.

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Red Hot Sounders Win Big Against Top Ranked Dallas FC

Posted on 19 May 2013 by crouchinho

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Seattle Sounders looked to keep the winning streak alive by making it 3 in a row versus FC Dallas on a mild night in Seattle. Dallas had been red hot riding a 9 game unbeaten streak (6-0-3) and are 1st on the table comfortably with 6 points on the next in line Portland Timbers. They have been stellar this season at home (6-0-1) but haven’t showed the same strength on the road (1-1-2). Seattle was looking to heat up and keep their winning form as they are slowing moving their way up the table with another 3 points in their home match tonight.

The Sounders brought high intensity high pressure game to the first half and it paid off big. Seattle struck first and quickly with Eddie Johnson hitting his first goal of the night in the 15th minute off of a goal kick that went unchallenged and headed by Ozzie Alonso to split the defenders as Johnson ran on, brought it down and hit it into the side netting after breaking behind the Dallas defense. 15 minutes later Lamar Neagle struck for a second goal for the Sounders. Neagle earned his goal with strong work rate intercepting a pass defensively and taking off on a run to get the ball back on a through ball from Evans. Neagle would go one behind the defense one on one with the keeper and dribble around him to earn his 4th goal of the season and make it 2 consecutive games with goals. Brad Evans missed 2 big opportunities, at 33 minutes Dallas keeper Raul Fernandez made a big save in a one on one and in the 42nd minute Evans missed wide of the goal both on fast breaks served by Mario Martinez.

The top team in the MLS would not be shut out for long though and more scoring came in the second half. At 54’ Dallas earned a corner kick and capitalized on the opportunity. Kenny Cooper went un-marked in the middle of the scrum just outside the 6 yard box and it was an easy finish for the big target forward to put Dallas back in the game. This would end a 272 minute shutout streak for Michael Gspurning. Dallas would go on to score their 2 goal off of a corner kick when Michel placed a beautiful ball into the upper corner directly in from the corner service.

The Sounders answered quickly with a 3rd goal in the 62nd minute more through ball service, this time from Lamar Neagle to Eddie Johnson. Eddie went on to beat the keeper and deliver an accurate shot for his second goal of the night. It was a physical game all night but an elbow to Leo Gonzalez eye would leave him bloodied and sent Blas Perez out of the game with a red card. Center referee Mark Geiger referred to the 4th official and line judge after seeing the injury to Leo and confirmed the flagarant foul before ejecting Perez. The Sounders took advantage of the man up advantage in the 83rd minute with a right footed goal from Obafemi Martins, his third goal of his MLS career. Brad Evans played a crossing ball into Oba after receiving a deflected shot from Eddie Johnson. Obafemi Martins celebrated his goal with the usual round off to double back handspring and the stadium went nuts.

Seattle found many opportunities to get in behind tonight. They played with intensity looking to play the deep ball immediately after winning it with hard work. Lamar Neagle’s goal was a great example of this type of play. DeAndre Yedlin is proving himself to be one of the Sounders’ most dynamic and exciting players. He continues to create unique opportunities for the Sounders with his blazing speed up and down the pitch, his defending is solid state, he rarely gets beat and he is so dangerous going forward. When you have a player like Yedlin it helps the style of play the Sounders are looking to build, he can jump a pass win the ball and play directly into the attack with support creating greater numbers. With the strength at the center mid field with Alonso and Carrasco holding this gives safety in defending for our outside backs to get forward. Alonso had to leave the game with a left groin injury in the 31st minute but his replacement Shalrie Joseph played the best we’d seen of him so far this year and the Sounders didn’t really skip a beat in the mid field. Seattle had 11 shots on goal, this would set a club record breaking the previous high of 10 on June 16, 2009.

In the post-game press conference head coach Sigi Schmid spoke of the importance of this game and the game well executed, a direct style that would look to get in behind the defense. “We want to win our games at home. That’s super important. Being able to measure ourselves against a first place team in our conference is important. Being able to show that once our weapons are healthy that we can score goals on the offensive end was another important factor, as well. We’re trying to use the abilities of the guys we have. We’re using our speed so we’re attacking a little more direct. We also knew this was a team that we could be direct against-we could get behind them centrally and we did that often in the first half. We had a couple of opportunities to get more goals. They had some opportunities, as well, off their set pieces.”

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Galaxy sends Whitecaps to Fourth Straight Loss

Posted on 02 September 2012 by iyeo

One team is heading in one direction while another team appears to be clinging onto its postseason life.
The Galaxy entered Saturday’s matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps looking to continue its climb up the Western Conference standings while the Whitecaps came in mired in a three-match losing streak. When 90 minutes were up at the Home Depot Center on Saturday night, it was mission accomplished for LA, as they sent Vancouver to its fourth straight loss courtesy of a 2-0 win.

“We needed it to be a good performance,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said. “”We’re happy with the win, at times we could’ve played better, but overall, we’re happy with tonight.”

Beckham Juninho were the goal scorers, and both goals came in vintage fashion for the two, as Juninho blasted a trademark long-range volley just before halftime while Beckham’s goal came on a trademark free kick late in the second half. The Galaxy at the moment sit in third place in the conference pending the outcome of the Seattle Sounders matchup against FC Dallas on Sunday.

The Galaxy broke through in the 41st minute when Hector Jimenez crossed a ball to Robbie Keane, who then quickly touched it to a charging Juninho, and the midfielder’s volley from about 30 yards out beat keeper Brandon Knighton right post to put the Galaxy ahead. Los Angeles continued to maintain possession throughout the second half while holding down Vancouver on the other side of the field, and the Galaxy got a chance to put the game away in the 78th minute when Keane was fouled by Martin Bonjour 25 yards away from goal, giving Beckham a set piece opportunity. The Whitecaps’ John Thorrington initially covered the left post area, but with Keane making his way into the penalty area, Thorrington was caught in the middle of trying to keep the left post guarded and marking Keane in the box. Beckham then sent the free kick over Thorrington and the Vancouver wall into that left post area to give the Galaxy the two-goal cushion they rode all the way to victory.

“The Juninho goal was huge, and in the second half, I thought the energy Vancouver put into the first half fatigued them,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said.

In addition to moving up the conference standings, the Galaxy are just seven points back of the San Jose Earthquakes in the Supporters Shield race, though that point differential could change when San Jose hosts Chivas USA, also on Sunday. The Whitecaps remain in the fifth spot and still five points back of FC Dallas.

“It’s something we’re going to have to fight through,” Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie said. “We’re still in a good position, but we must find our form and now’s the time to find it.”

The Galaxy will be off next week due to the international break, as will most MLS teams. Los Angeles returns to the pitch on Friday, September 14 when they host the Colorado Rapids. The Whitecaps meanwhile brace for perhaps its biggest match of the season a day later on the 15th, as they go on the road to face FC Dallas.

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Posted on 14 June 2012 by wpengine

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DC United steps it up for a 4-1 win

Posted on 23 April 2012 by Steve Long

It takes more than just attitude to take over a game, but combined with team rhythm and smarter tactics, it sure helps. DC United finally put two good halves together to knock off the Red Bulls 4-1 as Chris Pontius charged into the role of instigator and finisher to earn an MLS Player of the Week accolade. He did not do it alone.

The game began with both sides struggling unsuccessfully to create a rhythm. The same lack of flair that cost DC United a win against the Montreal Impact seemed to linger in the damp and chilly air of RFK Stadium. Then Pontius surged past Thierry Henry, fairly charging him off the ball and streaking toward the goal. He found a bit of space for his right foot and slammed home the opening goal.

A few days before, the same sort of move would have encountered several more defenders as the forward would have had more distance to cover. While the Impact had imposed their line of restraint well into United’s turf days before, United learned the lesson and set their own collective resistance well into the Red Bulls’ turf with great good effect.

Nick DeLeon explained, “We can’t afford to have that start (against Montreal). We came out bangin’.“ He went on to point out how at practice the team emphasized total defense up front, “We preached that pretty hard….bring the energy right from the get go.” He clearly enjoyed the approach and wants more of the same against Houston next Saturday, “We gotta keep that going.”

The emergence of DeLeon and Danny Cruz as aggressive players who also maintained their width freed up the entire center of the pitch for the trio of Dwayne DeRosario, Maicon Santos, and Pontius. Yet, it was an attack from the left side by Santos, who refused to give up the ball until he was almost on the goal, which gave Pontius a deflection with which to put United up 2-0.

Attitude combined with variety left a depleted Red Bull side with too many problems to solve. Not to be outdone, Dwayne DeRosario took on a series of players and forced the issue to set up DeLeon who happened to show up in front of the net just in time to make the score 3-0.

Deleon, whose selection by DC United had been panned by some, has proven himself to be a most aggressive and confident rookie. He believes that the main thing he learned from his father, a former professional player himself, was to have confidence and to use, “My attitude of going at defenders without fear. Sometimes you lose it, sometimes you get by them; but you just gotta keep going.” It was this quality that inspired DC’s Coach Ben Olsen to choose him.

The stunning success of both Deleon and Cruz pushed Pontius out of the starting lineup as he continued rounding into form after his broken leg from last season. Andy Najar, a former rookie of the year was also pushed aside as he went off to have a successful tournament for the Honduras National U-23 team.

Both had become too predictable for MLS opponents who knew that both tended to attack too directly into the center, thereby closing off options for their entire team. The switch of Pontius to forward simply played into his natural style.

Najar has been coming off a minor illness after the Olympic qualifying U-23 tournament, but seemed to stay wider in his stint on Wednesday and should continue to push for a starting slot.

Perry Kitchen, who suffered through a horrible spell as a central defender for the US U-23s, has grown rapidly into a leader in his defensive midfield role for DC. He could be seen directing traffic constantly while working smoothly with Emiliano Dudar, whose communication comes mostly from confident body language.

United’s strength down the middle left the Red Bulls with some options down the wings, but Daniel Woolard was just strong and wise enough to keep Dane Richards from wreaking havoc down the Red Bulls’ right. Good backup by the rest of the defense and hard work by DC’s wings kept the score sheet clean until Henry curled a classic free kick in to console his teammates.

The win continues the recent alternating win/tie pattern but the margin of victory and obviously improving team cohesion may portend the first successive MLS victories in Olsen’s coaching career when Houston comes to town on Saturday at 7:30.

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DC United seeks more strikes

Posted on 20 April 2012 by Steve Long

The 1-1 tie on Wednesday showed yet again that it’s parity time in MLS. DC United has barely lost to the extremely hot Kansas City and barely tied expansion Montreal. Even their big win against FC Dallas was not as easy as it looked. Most games this year will be close.

The team that reads its opponent well, devises a good strategy, and then has the discipline to execute it will win more often than not and rise toward the top. DC United is not quite there yet, but has settled into an interesting pattern that resembles a frustrating bowling game, strike, spare, strike, spare, but no real strings that pile up the points.

Still, at that rate, the team will finish the regular season with 64 points and a playoff position. Just as the coaching staff analyzes each opponent, the other side reads DC’s tendencies and plans to exploit them. No side in MLS is sufficiently superior to simply impose its style on the other side.

Josh Wolff points out how the Montreal Impact resemble United and why the game was so often contested in midfield, “They’re an up-tempo, hard working team. They come at you pretty much all over the field. They want to try to force you to play. We didn’t deal with it that great in the beginning.”

That pressure by both sides had a predictable effect, “Obviously, we didn’t have a good bailout as far as going long. They’re physical in the back; Shavar and Ferrari were good for them. Those are tough balls for Pontius and DeRo to hold.

“So at that point we needed to do a better job of switching the field of attack, getting out of pressure, so that we could get some numbers on the weak side. When we did that we were OK, but we just didn’t do it enough.”

This season, DC United has generally played stronger in the second half than in the first. Wolff was one of many to observe, “I don’t think we were particularly solid in the first 25 minutes … the balance of being inside and then getting outside was sort of lacking a bit.

“As the game went on, I thought we did a bit better. The more we had possession, the better we were. It took a half for us to get that.”

It has become clear that other teams choose to pressure United higher than has traditionally been the case in soccer. For example, most away teams will begin serious resistance near midfield or slightly into their own half. The concept is to contain the other side and counter.

Montreal came out and made it immediately clear that they would play as if they were a home side, setting their restraint line ten yards inside United’s half and having their forwards pressure defenders almost constantly. This was a wise exploitation of United’s depleted defense and it forced adjustments.

Wolff explained the appropriate response to higher pressure, “We talked about being a bit more patient, not giving balls away.” As the game progresses, a good team will become more comfortable, “In the second half we did a better job of certainly moving the ball, creating a few more numbers out wide.”

That led to good results, “We got some good service and obviously the introduction of Maicon (Santos) was a big difference. When you have a guy that can hold balls continuously that can just batter their backs, and it provided us with a goal.”

Perry Kitchen had the huge burden of protecting his backs as the pressure game and switches of play forced him to cover both wide and deep. He responded well, “I just try to keep the pressure off the backs. Overall, I think it was decent.

“We weren’t our sharpest in the back. We gave up a goal; you never want to see that. Saying that, I think we showed well in the second half to come back and get it tied up.”

Switching to a bit of an attacking role, Kitchen provided the ball that set up Santos’ tying goal. He was modest about his first assist, rightly crediting the Brasilian’s skill, “When he came in there was an instant change and we started getting more chances, becoming more dangerous.” He went on to state the obvious, “He can do special things with his left foot. When he lets it rip it can create dangerous plays.”

Santos has two skills that combine to give defenders big headaches. Either he holds the ball, which allows his teammates to move and find space, or he is played more aggressively, which means he can beat his man to get enough space to crack a good shot on goal.

DeRosario presents a similar dilemma, but does it with guile and touch while Santos uses more strength. Thus, the Canadian does his best holding work a bit further out with a bit more space. In this particular game, he set an early pattern of quick one-touch flicks which sadly found no one running into the spaces where he sent the ball.

Finding no success, he changed tactics. Wolff was pleased to see the change, “It was good to see him moderate it. The flicks are tough to do. Certainly when they don’t come off you want to limit them a bit. For Pontius and DeRo it was tight up top. It would have been nice just to simplify things; when it comes in you hold, lay it off, and let’s get some guys in.”

With both Andy Najar and Danny Cruz reasonably fresh after limited time on Wednesday and Pontius having played the full ninety, I expect to see those two starting on Sunday while Nick DeLeon comes in later along with Pontius. It would be nice to see what problems Santos gives the Red Bulls’ defense.

He and DeRosario will draw double coverage, giving disciplined wide midfielders some room to maneuver. Najar has shown a greater willingness to keep wide, but Wolff explains why the Honduran is allowed to cut inside as often as he does, “Our wide guys have pretty good instincts, so you kind of want them to find the game as best they can.”

A coaching staff can only lay out the overall strategy, it is up to the players to improvise and the best coaches will let them. DC United has only found a rhythm sporadically, but the tools are there.

Wolff believes that the team is doing well so far and should improve, “You go through years of finding different players, systems, coaches, so I think you’ve got good enough personnel now and we’ve gotta take care of it. You’ve seen when we play properly and move the ball around and are calm on the ball that we can possess it and when we do we have good success.”

Kitchen agrees, “If we can put 90 minutes together, a solid performance, I think we’ll be a tough team to beat.” Yes, it’s a cliché, but accurate nonetheless.

United is not in a bad rut. Averaging 2 points per game (after 2 initial losses) is OK, but that pace can continue only if Olsen can get his charges to start out focused as opponents continue to refine their own countermeasures.

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Close quarter combat yields 0-0 for DC and Seattle

Posted on 08 April 2012 by Steve Long

Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmidt is one of the best in Major League Soccer. He reads his opponents well, prepares a strategy to beat them, and relies on his well trained and motivated troops to execute his plan. He was moderately successful on Saturday, being deprived of a win by an industrious DC United side.

The best teams play compactly front-to-back and maintain width to create space. DC United has struggled to keep that sort of shape and indeed does best when their wings play mostly near the lines. It was reasonable to expect that coming off a nice win with that style, United would continue toplay that way.

After all, in a home game, most coaches will seek to impose their style on the visitor. Away, they counter the home team’s strengths. I think what we saw Saturday was Schmidt’s imposition of a good counter-strategy and United’s determination to prevail despite it.

Both teams played mostly in a voluntarily narrowed half width style. DC’s Danny Cruz described the result, “When we tried to switch the ball, there were so many people in the midfield that we didn’t have time“. He and Nick DeLeon couldn’t maintain as much width as they might like when their Seattle counterparts moved inside.

Each team wants width on attack, but, as Cruz put it, “It’s more like a puzzle. You want to get wide, but if you’re in the wrong spot and they counter, there’s a lot of thinking involved. We got a little too involved in the middle and maybe didn’t switch the ball enough.”

Inevitably, the center becomes crowded and playmaking becomes either long ball over the top or physical play all night. While Seattle’s choice to play inside neutralized DC’s new-found strength, it played into the tenacity that United coach Ben Olsen favors.

Cruz is in that mold, “We invite that. We’re a pretty physical team ourselves…It’s important that people are afraid to come here.” Deleon, his teammate on the other flank, also noticed how pressure was concentrated, “Their outside backs were staying kind of high on us.”

This leads to why I believe that Schmidt chose to narrow play as he did. DC’s defensive midfielder, Perry Kitchen gave Seattle’s dynamic Osvaldo Alonso a straightforward compliment, “He really controls that midfield. “ Pairing him with the creative Freddy Montero who also chose to stay central most of the game, offered Schmidt a better than even chance that his side would sneak a goal.

They nearly did, especially very late when a header by former DC United left back, Marc Burch bounced off the crossbar to the relief of most of the 15,651 in attendance. The emphasis on defense and a tightly fought game meant that either side could catch or create a break, and United’s Hamdi Salihi had his own ringing of the woodwork earlier in the game.

Statistics slightly favored Seattle and Olsen cited the play of United’s Joe Willis as the reason why he felt he was man of the match. While he needed to make only two saves to his opponent’s four, his positioning and confidence and the hard work of the defenders in front of him earned him a clean sheet.

There was a ten minute period in the second half when both teams tired enough to slacken pressure sufficiently to allow some nice attractive and effective play by both teams as the game opened up a bit. The development illustrates the wisdom of Kitchen’s comment on countering a crowded midfield, “The best way to break down pressure is to keep the ball and keep it moving.”

That’s easier to do when fatigue sets in, but the game soon settled back into tight quarter combat with some over the top attacking until the end as the substitutes brought renewed defensive pressure and a concurrent desire to score the winner.

DC United travels to New England on Saturday for a late afternoon game before returning to RFK to face Montreal on 18 April and The Red Bulls on 22 April. With the return of Jakovic from injury, Brandon McDonald from suspension and Andy Najar from a slight illness, Olsen should have solid depth to use in the busy week around the corner.

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