DC United did what good teams should do against a team with no points – score before most of the fans are in their seats and score again just before halftime to extend the lead. However, Toronto FC players are on scholarship too and for significant stretches between those two goals and quite a bit after, the visitors won more balls and took more cracks at goal than United.
But all told, after a pivotal tactical adjustment on the fly in the first half and a sterling response to second half tally, United held off Toronto 3-1, sending the spiraling Reds to their ninth straight defeat to start the season.
Dwayne De Rosario nodded home a perfect Branko Boskovic free kick at 57 seconds and then added a sitter off a Chris Korb cross in the 43rd minute for his fourth and fifth goals of the season.
The first goal was the fourth fastest in team history and fastest since 1997 when Jaime Moreno set the team record tallying at 40 seconds. Steve Rammel had scored at the 54 and 56 second marks in the inaugural 1996 season.
United was by no means clean at either end of the park. Danny Koevermans was far too open on an innocuous, straight away free kick into the penalty area that created Toronto’s goal in the 73rd minute, that young goalkeeper Bill Hamid sorely misjudged as well.
“There are a lot of shaky moments there. They had some shaky moments too and we capitalized on them,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “They had very good energy but the one thing we struggled with was the inability to keep the ball for long stretches and make them work. That’s fatigue, that’s guys not moving for each other and the brains getting tired so the touch isn’t as quality.”
The match had all the familiar symptoms of another United meltdown and another draw, especially after the Koevermans goal. But the experience and abundant soccer IQ of the available players was enough to overcome the evident fatigue.
“No, we were in trouble there. They get that goal and I thought we were in some trouble,” said Olsen. “It was going to take a goal to make us respond on a day like that; 2-0, everybody’s tired, we are just defending, we’re just grinding it out and the goal woke us up.”
In the first half, Toronto overloaded the middle and taking the game to United despite the early deficit. The conditions forced Olsen to make a quick formation adjustment in hopes of getting more time and space for De Rosario on the ball.
“Good players. We’ve got some good players sitting on the bench and good players on the field. Good players let me make adjustments,” said Olsen about his ability to make the necessary adjustments.
“Early in the game the 4-4-2 wasn’t flying with Branko out wide and Dwayne inside and it was more because of the way they were shaped,” said Olsen. “So we switched Wolfey from forward out left and brought Branko in next to Perry (Kitchen) to sure up the middle a bit where we were outnumbered and I thought it might help us with some possession. I thought it helped because we started to take the game over a bit.”
Sliding Wolff from a forward position to the left freed up De Rosario to go a bit higher and collect the ball while still maintaining good shape and left Salihi alone up top.
The situation was compounded when Danny Cruz pulled a hamstring chasing a ball down the flank in the 23rd minute. He was replaced by Dejan Jakovic three minutes later who assumed a central defense role, pushing Daniel Wollard to right back, freeing Najar to slide from that spot to a midfield role.
“We made that adjustment and it stabilized us at first and got us a few more numbers and ideas in the middle that we could keep the ball and get into space and switch the field a little bit more,” added Wolff, who was making his first start of the season.
De Rosario took it even further. “For me it was trying to find space in there and trying to find space for my teammates. Sometimes I will stay out wide and I knew they were having a hard time trying to figure out what to do,” said the reigning MLS Most Valuable Player. “I stayed out to the left and told Wolfey to push inside and we got them off balance a little bit and you know, we have players that can adjust and adapt. We have players that can play numerous positions on the fly.”
Hamdi Salihi scored a classic poachers goal for his sixth of the season, getting loose in tight and sniffing out the ball to finish some classy dribbling in the penalty area by Andy Najar. But the important facet of the goal was not the execution but the decisive response by the entire United team.
“Probably not,” said Wolff if he thought some of the previous United teams could have held that lead. “You could certainly look at the last 18 months since I’ve been here, as far as getting a real quick response like that. We said it, the next goal is either going to kill the game or turn the game upside down. When they got the one to make it 2-1, obviously you know you’re in for it over the next 15 to 20 minutes…It was a great response for us and very important at that moment. You get guys to contribute around the field in different spots and it’s more and more a team.”
You can also find other Soccer Report Extra.com contributors on Twitter by following this link.
Have some thoughts and opinions you want to express? The Training Ground is your chance. Just click on the link.
Please refrain from posting comments that;
The House reserves the right to delete any such comments and to block further participation on the site.