Quick summary? Packed midfield, poor passing, few chances, no goals. In both directions. From that “no goals” bit I suppose there’s some heart to be taken. Given the torrid time the young defense has been having of late, a clean sheet has got to be a confidence-builder.
But there’s something about this United side that’s reminding me of the USMNT of not so long ago. Lots of collective effort and energy, relying on a few individuals trying to create on the dribble rather than creating chances through passing, forwards constantly facing away from goal rather than towards it, a creeping sense of tactical naiveté — like the other team is just letting us run ourselves out before sticking the dagger in, and the frustration that our team-wide technique just doesn’t seem up to snuff.
Fortunately, the late-dagger scenario never came to pass, though with David Ferreira still in the picture it would have been more likely1. As in the Seattle match Wednesday night, Dallas shot themselves in the foot a few times with poor finishing or ill-considered attempts.
That said, all blame for Dallas’ futility can’t be laid at their own door. White’s inclusion in central defense seems to have added a solidity that was lacking with Kitchen in the mix. White is a more physical player and wins more balls in the air. You can also tell that he’s comfortable with the ball at his feet, but — either because he’s been coached to do so or is wisely keeping things simple in the early stages of his professional career — is playing safety first with the hoof clear.
There has also been limited improvement in defending set pieces, though that’s still a weakness. United did better on corners, but continues to look in all sorts of trouble on long throws. Still, I wasn’t getting the feeling that I have in previous outings that every set play was going to end up in the back of the net.
At the other end, the attack was once again very narrow, though you’d perhaps find some argument i United needing to compact their midfield four to help balance FCD’s superior numbers in the middle of the park. You might even have seen this as a tactical adaptation if you weren’t familiar with United’s previous work this season (which has all been of a similar piece).
Another lingering issue that I’m seeing, perhaps a causal factor in the lack of width because we don’t hold the ball up well enough on outlet passes, is the first touch of our forward line. It ranges from inconsistent at best to downright amateur at worst. The number of heavy touches (by no means limited to the forwards, but most flagrant there) is astonishing, and though some of the energy and commitment on recovering the ball and getting to second balls acts to mask the problem, I still can’t help but conclude that we’d see more overlapping runs into wide areas and need to expend less energy if we were cleaner on the ball.
Of course, all of the niggling problems aside, there were two glorious chances to win this match, one for Davies/Najar in the first half on a Brek Shea defensive miscue and the second pinging off Fred’s noggin in the second half (also traceable back to a Shea error). Two big Hartman saves and a clearance off the line kept United out. I suppose I could count King’s two solid looks in with the big chances here, but anybody who’s been watching his United career knows that you assume those are either going to end up high, wide, or as slow dribblers to the keeper.
In the short term, keeping clean sheets and generating a few chances to win is probably how we roll. No Boskovic, a misfiring McCarty, and lead-footed touches from the front line put an upper bound on any expectations of free-flowing, plethora-of-chances soccer. I was interested to see the second half strategy that saw McCarty sitting deeper than King in an effort to give him time and space to pick out forward passes or spread the play. Sadly, we all know how the song ends with the ball at McCarty’s feet thus far. Still, it’s not a loss, and that has to count as progress of sorts, right?
United was suffering the same sort of bug, having nobody that seemed capable of picking the defensive lock to create consistent chances. Najar provided that last time around, but this is where we’ll miss Boskovic in the long run. No footnotes within a footnote, but rather a general MLS aside here. Another quality attacking player was savaged this weekend, RSL’s Morales drawing the short straw this time. How long until either (a) we’re reduced to teams of thugs brutalizing each other’s thugs or (b) one of the media-marquee players (Donovan, Beckham, Henry) gets their leg snapped like a twig? ↩