May 10, 2014, 7:14 PM EDT
Though 10 games, Philadelphia’s problem was painfully obvious, so painful that they were willing to trade away a player who was once a treasured prospect in search of a solution. Particularly from open play, the team just could not score goals. The Union where scraping together enough converted corners and opposition gifts to average a goal per game, but thanks to the inefficiencies of Jack McInerney (now traded), Conor Casey, and Andrew Wenger, the team came into the weekend winless in eight.
On Saturday, John Hackworth decided to change things up, not that reverting to last year’s 4-4-2 for a half helped. Losing Chris Rolfe in the penalty area in the sixth minute, Philadelphia gave up the only goal D.C. United would need to take a 1-0 out of PPL Park, the Union’s attack again proving inept as the team fell to is third straight loss.
For D.C. United, it was the type of controlled performance that’s defined the team’s unexpectedly strong start. Having now exceeded its 2013 win total (4 vs. 3), United’s used early goals against New York, Columbus, and Philadelphia to pull off what’s becoming a regular thing: score first; play smart, collect points. Perhaps Ben Olsen’s squad isn’t the most talented in the league, but they seem to be among the most prepared week in, week out. With the exception of last week’s loss in Portland, D.C. is proving potent when presented opportunities, stingy when asked to concede their own.
Today’s opportunity came early, with Philadelphia’s central defense and midfielders staying on their heals as a blocked shot fell to Rolfe:
For most teams, 84 minutes to overcome an early goal wouldn’t be debilitating. For Philadelphia, it was practically game over. The Union didn’t register a shot on target until the 64th minute, after it’s switched back to a 4-2-3-1. Though that sequence required a great read from Bill Hamid to get off his line to stop Wenger and Casey, it was the Union’s closest call. As shutouts go, this wasn’t one of Hamid’s more difficult ones.
So despite going with last year’s approach — a scheme that had a previously ball-on-the-ground team play 37 crosses — Philadelphia ended the day where it started; though along the way, the Union may have answered a question. If there was any doubt about whether the team’s preseason switch to a new formation was stifling scoring, throw it out the window. It’s quality, not quantity of forwards that’s killing them.
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