But that that never happened. Instead, he made two critical saves when United were wobbling, perhaps providing the rest of the defense with reassurance and confidence that they feasted on to make things look more comfortable than anybody who’s seen United’s defense this season could reasonably have expected down the stretch.
It could have been very different. Seattle always looked just on the edge of creating something dangerous, but whether through their own failings, improved commitment from United, or Bill Hamid’s quick reflexes, the Sounders never found a way to the net, save via the Whistleman’s assist. Let’s begin there for the talking points shall we?
Yes, the Seattle PK was a touch soft, but that’s one you see given about half the time. Montero stepped away from the ball and into Jakovic’s lunge to draw the contact. Does make you wonder about Kitchen getting bundled into on the edge of the box and White getting hog-tied in the area on McCarty’s chipped free kick, both certainly as clear cut, if not more so, than the PK that was given1. That said, it’s hard to complain when United’s opener had a whiff of suspicion about it as well. On first viewing, I was absolutely certain Davies got away with a shove to set himself free for the cross. The second and third viewings looked more like Hurtado’s momentum taking him out of the play2.
Speaking of the United goals, I suppose it has to be a positive seeing the two forwards lay goals on for each other3. Up until that first goal, I was readying my poison pixels for another attack on Wolff’s being in the starting XI. But, like Najar, and, to a lesser (some might uncharitably say “much lesser”) degree, McCarty4, he grew into the game. Up until that point, he was coughing up the ball, providing little in the link-play department, and generally not looking particularly useful. Those all changed as the game wore on, particularly the link-play. I’m still not convinced that he should be starting, but there’s precious little else waiting on the bench, is there?
I’m still curious as to what changed in this game, because it wasn’t just the goal. Seattle were looking really comfortable doing the usual anti-United tactic. Defend narrow (since we don’t insist on getting balls wide–more on that later), let us play possession in midfield, and wait for the inevitable loss of possession, usually in a bad spot. Then it’s just a matter of pouncing, getting at our defense quick, watching them trip over each other and lose their tenuous organization, and slamming the ball in the net. It’s not like it’s a secret. But then, just before the goal, United suddenly seemed to be finding seams, getting the ball into spaces for the forwards to run on to. The gap between Seattle’s back line and midfield spread, allowing Simms and McCarty to alternate penetrating this space, along with dropping forwards and pinching wings. Strange thing to happen to a Sigi team, particularly one with Alonso in the mix. Doubly so when United didn’t seem to be doing anything to force the issue. Did Seattle just get greedy and overconfident?
While we’re on curious tactical changes… For the great majority of this match (nearly 80 minutes), United had little that resembled width in attack. Najar and Pontius both kept pinching in positionally and always seemed to want to dribble towards the middle as well. Usually when that happens, and often in combination with the style of midfield possession that United tries to maintain, the fullbacks push on to provide the missing width5. Wollard and Kitchen? Not so much. Which is why is was so strange that both were seen bombing forward on the flanks in the last ten minutes. An adjustment to the midfield four being even more central? Perhaps, but not the expected behavior when you’ve not been getting them forward all game, you’re desperate to hang on to a one-goal lead, and, most damningly, the rest of the team doesn’t seem particularly interested in getting forward. Weird.
Hope Pontius is okay. Thankfully, the trainers didn’t seem to be looking at the hammy.
After some early signs in this match of continued suffering from the dreaded Ronaldo Syndrome, this was the most like his ROTY self Najar has looked all season. Long may it continue.
United was perilously close to conceding shortly after the opener in typical fashion. The notes I jotted as the goal replays were on? “Stay focused, keep possession, build confidence.” So nearly thrown away.
Why weren’t we running at Wahl more? Seems like an obvious move.
Nearly punished for our two forwards not quite being sharp enough in potential goal-scoring situations up 2-0.
Despite being shaky early on crosses and set pieces, United’s defense seemed to grow in confidence and stature there at the end. Confidence instilled by Hamid’s saves? Fear of Olsen’s wrath? Sigi pulling Jaqua and Fernandez? Think I’m leaning to that last one.
So those are three huge points, especially coming as they did against a team that’s been hot of late and has enjoyed success in our house. A clean sheet would have been sweeter after the recent deluge of goals United has suffered, but if Hamid can build on his MOTM performance… Let’s not get carried away. There are still big flaws in this team. I’m happy to see the team recover from its wobble and grab a win against a top-half team, but it’s a sustained level of performance that will breed confidence and belief. Two more games in the home-stand. Can United make them count and revive hopes of an outside shot at a playoff spot?
“Outside shot at a playoff spot” doesn’t seem like much to hang your hat on, but it’s a hell of a lot more than “at least we’ll probably finish above Toronto.”
Kitchen was probably fouled outside the box, but in the land of notional penalties, anything goes! ↩
Still the whiff of a subtle shove from Davies hanging about the joint though. ↩
Even if those might have been the only effective crosses in the match. Seriously, what is with those weak early crosses (I believe I used the word “abomination” to describe a cross at least three times in my notes), particularly given that three of our attacking quartet are 5’10” or less? ↩
Absolutely awful early, transitioning to mediocre, decent for a stretch, then dipping below average again. Think that qualifies as his best game this season, right? ↩
Alternatively, a team looking to stay defensively sound will keep four at the back and rely on forwards pulling wide to spread the opposing defense. Indeed, United did employ this tactic, notably on the goals, though not consistently. ↩