A point on the board, a clean sheet, on the road, and probably the better team by a slight margin. All without two starters. Considering the struggles of the MLS Eastern Conference versus their Western Conference counterparts, that’s not a bad return.
Those less charitable might point out that Vancouver isn’t really all that great and will struggle to be involved in the playoff picture. Of course, that’s ignoring the possibility (probability?) that United are occupying the same leaky vessel.
In contrast with the previous games, United actually looked like a team. The ball movement was quick, players looked like they had an idea of what they wanted to do with the ball prior to receiving it, and the defense was far better organized. How much of that was down to playing a team that didn’t impose themselves on the game so well as previous opponents and how much is United starting to gel remains to be seen, but it did seem promising, particularly given the number of changes in the starting lineup.
While the defensive organization was better, I feared for United every time they got heavy numbers forward, particularly on set pieces. With the play in front of them and Vancouver lacking the requisite lock-pickers, the defense looked solid. On the break, United was stretched, scrambling and vulnerable.
While the possession play was better, Santos and Salihi seemed to have little understanding between them up top and chances were few and far between. That said, Salihi probably had two of the better opportunities, and though he had to find them from set pieces, only an excellent save from Cannon kept him from opening his league account. United had better chances when De Rosario moved up top, though that seemed more a function of the play getting more ragged and open in the latter stages. Of course, United seemed to exploit their width a little better with Boskovic looking to spread the ball about and De Rosario being more mobile and popping up in the wide channels more than either Salihi or Santos.
Part of my criticism in the previous match was how reactive United’s play was. We’ve already discussed United actually having ideas with the ball and executing those ideas quickly and with relatively good precision, but what also stuck out to me – as a defender – was Dudar’s habit of winning balls from attackers. You’d assume, given his height, that he’d be a menace in the air, but it was his feet that impressed me, not in passing but in the handful of times he robbed attackers on the dribble. With McDonald’s pace and a former-midfielder’s confidence on the ball, they look a more able “stopper/cover” pairing than anything else we can field. Hassli and LeToux are a handful but didn’t accomplish much.
Props to Woolard. I’ve been really critical of him and of the team for trusting him as a starting left back. But he played pretty well last night and certainly looked more competent than Russell, who alternated decent patches of play with being caught out for pace and speed of thought. Still, when Woolard did manage to get into attacking positions, he looked pretty much lost. I’d like to see more out of that position, but fair play to him for a decent outing.
- Dudar’s hair. Anybody else getting a Morrissey vibe? Dudar from the corner, I know, I know, he’s dangerous. Or how about...Panic in the box on set pieces. Here comes Dudar. Here comes Dudar. Here comes Dudar….Here comes Dudar! Sigh.
Conclusions? Not a bad outing. “Crawl before you run” and all that. I was pleasantly surprised at how much better United looked both with the ball and without it, where before they looked plodding and bereft of ideas. The lack of goals is worrying, but at least Salihi and De Rosario had the best of the chances, and those are the guys you want in those spots.
After the disjointed pre-season and first two matches, with the full complement of players either not available or struggling with fitness, Olsen is still mixing and matching, looking for the best combinations. I think he found one in McDonald/Dudar at the back. Given the fluency of the possession but lack of goals, finding a successful pairing up top has to be his biggest concern.
At least my viewing wasn’t punctuated by a series of exasperated sighs as United stupidly conceded possession again, and again, and again… ↩