DC United was supposedly a poor team, right? After being outplayed and earning a draw in Montreal the week prior, the New York Red Bulls contrived to lose 1-0 versus their arch-rivals in the nation’s capital and gifted them their first, back-to-back victories since October 2012.
Still playing at rickety RFK stadium, the home team capitalized on an early corner kick taken by former Red Bull, Fabian Espindola. His in-swinging ball eventually found Davy Arnaud at the back-post to score. A second half full of quality chances for New York was unforgivably wasted by multiple attackers. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra was relatively untested as only three shots were on target out of a total 19 recorded for the away side.
Starting lineup: Luis Robles; Kosuke Kimura, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya, Roy Miller; Lloyd Sam, Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, Johnny Steele; Peguy Luyindula, Thierry Henry.
Espindola, the Argentine who scored nine goals for New York last year, took little time to join the myriad of former Metrostar/Red Bull players to haunt his former team. In the third minute, a corner (won after a poor Jamison Olave touch) was swung in, left-footed by the Argentine. It found a near-post run by defender Bobby Boswell, to flick to an open Arnaud on the far side, for a routine diving-header.
A few half-chances occurred for both sides within the next 20 minutes, but a penalty shout and potential red card in favor of DC happened around the 21 minute mark. Arnaud, looking lively after his goal, ran onto a ball over-the-top, only to be halted by a Ibrahim Sekagya lunge. The referee refrained from blowing his whistle, but replays suggested the Ugandan defender may have timed his effort wrongly.
The first of many opportunities for current US international and former Seattle Sounder, Eddie Johnson, was missed in the 27 minute. A deep cross by Espindola on the left found Johnson at the far-post. Luis Robles, in-goal for New York, tipped away the resulting header.
In similar fashion, New York forward, Thierry Henry, misplaced the first of a few aerial prospects after quality service from the right-wing. Eric Alexander shimmied away from his mark and had a cross find the Frenchman isolated on DC right back Sean Franklin, but his header went wide.
The first half ended with a Johnny Steele, first-time effort at the back-post that he skied over the bar, which basically epitomized the Northern Irishman’s poor performance up to that point.
After the interval, the left two-way winger again wasted a promising opportunity at the far-post. In the 48 minute, Peguy Luyindula drew two defenders and flicked the ball to Alexander. He passed inside to Henry, who, in turn, found Steele inside the box. His low shot sailed far wide.
New York’s dominance became the theme of the second period. Another Henry header in the 54 minute around the six yard box, was inexplicably headed over. Two minutes later, a Sam cutback found Alexander, whose first-time curler just missed the opposite upper corner.
DC finally responded through Johnson in the 68 minute. A bizarre deflection from McCarty landed at the feet of the former Sounders striker. Returning to an onside position, Johnson turned to goal. With plenty of space, he somehow overpowered his shot off target.
The Red Bulls would not be silenced, however. A mere minute later, McCarty played a give-and-go with Henry in the box to find himself in open space. Instead of side-footing the ball into the far corner, the central midfielder elected to square to substitute, Bradley Wright-Phillips, and DC cleared the danger.
Some might argue that was the best chance for an equalizer. In the 72 minute, Sam, who came inside the central channel, played a ball out wide to Luyindula peeling off the defense. Wright-Phillips accidentally slowed him down, however the French veteran still managed to hit the near-post with a hard, high shot.
United created one last opening to end hopes of a comeback. Defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen intercepted the play and squared to an open Nick Deleon. His through ball found Johnson’s run in the box. Kosuke Kimura managed a block on his effort with a late tackle.
If they did not already, observers definitely knew the 2013 Supporters Shield winners were not in-form in the 77 minute. One of their star performers of the season thus far, Sam, skewed a shot wide with time and space near the penalty box after a Miller feed from the left. The newly dubbed, two-way winger did well to notice how deep DC dropped, however, he should have scored.
The match finished 1-0, and the two former teammates turned rival head coaches, Petke and Ben Olsen, embraced on the sideline. New York have a quick turnaround with a home game against Philadelphia this upcoming Wednesday.
- Luyindula must be frustrated. At the ripe age of 34, he found a team that realized he is a central midfielder, not a striker. So far in 2014, he has mainly played as a central play-maker, which is fine but not quite as deep a starting position he probably desires. Distribution instincts are, at the least, somewhat satisfied. With Henry returning for the DC game, Petke forced Luyindula back up top. The French league veteran looked confused. Often times, he was the highest target in the final third as Henry had the license to roam. Simply put, Luyindula should spend more time facing forward, looking for combinations and outlets, not flicking long balls over the top.
- A switch to a three-man midfield became a possible tactical idea as the match wore on. Besides Kitchen, the DC midfield did not off much in terms of possession or defensive pressure. Arnaud and Deleon both tucked inside to fill the gaps, but they struggled to connect passes and contain the plentiful amount of New York open looks. Why not drop Luyindula just in front of Alexander and McCarty and play Henry as the lone striker or substitute Wright-Phillips for Steele? Petke experimented with a 4-3-3 formation early in 2013. Perhaps, he should consider the formula again.
- Look at that. This still-shot was taken in the 79 minute. Sam chose to kill the momentum of a counter by cutting inside rather than sending Alexander down the right channel. McCarty, not known for his creative abilities, literally had no forward options. He could either pass sideways or backwards. Honestly, multiple forwards waiting in the box for service is fast becoming a common sight in 2014. Petke must address this issue of impatience and general ineptitude with the possibility (some might say probability) of trailing the Union late in the Wednesday night game.
- Also, the above image illustrates how well former Metrostar/Red Bull, Jeff Parke, and his defensive partner, Bobby Boswell, handled Henry and company. Boswell actually was more effective in the offensive third, especially on set-pieces (more on that later), while Parke quietly, yet expertly, went about his duties.
- Lloyd Sam excelled once more. Finding the Englishman isolated against the left back near the box appears to be the only systematic and planned offensive threat this season. His new two-way play was highlighted in the 31 minute. Sam tracked DC left-back Christian into his own box, resisted the urge to dive in and contained the Spanish veteran toward a safer zone. If only the team had a more consistent threat on the left side to ease the pressure on the right.
- One question: WHY WAS ROY MILLER MARKING BOBBY BOSWELL ON SET-PIECES? Am I missing something?