United ran out in what looked suspiciously like the 4-2-3-1 I employed so successfully in my DCU|FM Challenge. I'm curious as to whether this was enforced by our lack of fit forwards or reflects a larger shift on Onalfo's part. Whatever the case, there were patches, mostly early in the second half, where United were able to string together some pretty sequences of possession. Key to those sequences were the mobility of the attacking line, particularly Cristman in the lone-wolf role up top. When he pulled wide or dropped deep, allowing the three in support to flood into dangerous spots, United did something that it has been struggling mightily to do in league play: cause discomfort for the opposition's defense.
That said, I was disappointed that we didn't control possession better. True, Dallas had equal numbers in midfield, but there were large chunks of the match, particularly in the first half, where the ball didn't seem to leave United's end. But for a handful of wasted finishes by the Dallas front-runners, this could have been a very different story.
Sorry, had to do it. The kid looked good floating beneath Cristman, combining with the latter on two goals. While the chip into space for Cristman's opener was the highlight of the first half, his persistance in chasing defenders and confidence to run at them when in possession (best moment: Najar strips the ball in midfield and charges immediately into attack, splitting three Dallas defenders before one of them knocks the ball loose. Cristman, trailing the run, fires over from distance) belied his tender years. Not that we can hitch our wagon to a 17-year old, pray for the best, and hope somehow to make the playoffs, but the kid definitely deserves serious minutes, and he took his goal well.
With Perkins' struggles early this season, much has been made of the fact that both Hartman and Busch, solid, reliable MLS veteran netminders, became available shortly thereafter and would have come much cheaper than Fred + a first-rounder + cash. Hartman certainly didn't make the United FO question their decision in this match. He gifted Castillo the soft second and charged out to flap at Cristman's header for United's decisive fourth.
As for Perkins? He made a couple of good stops, but still showed a bit of hesitation in controlling his box and clearing balls. I'd expected Hamid to get a look in this match and wonder if starting Perkins was a confidence move on Onalfo's part. Here's hoping the win gave him some, because our defense doesn't look like it's going to shut down anybody anytime soon.
I hesitate, as I said, to put too much weight on this performance. We'll get a much fairer picture this weekend when the Bulls come knocking. In the meantime, I'm left wondering if United's success in non-televised, sparsely attended matches thus far (Carolina Cup + Open Cup qualifier) reflects an inability to handle the intensity a packed house brings or demonstrates our current level of quality (USL2 Charleston, TFC and Dallas at the wrong end of the MLS table and likely to stay there, RSL struggling out of the gate). Food for thought.