D.C. United Must Continue To Succeed At Defending The Box vs Real Salt Lake

Brillant: Defense Is Confident

Last week, D.C. United went to Yankee Stadium, looking to win for the first time ever on the road against New York City FC. United were confident after their opening day win against Atlanta United and could have taken a first-half lead on two occasions, if not for the stellar play of keeper Sean Johnson. The game ended 0-0, which was probably the fairest result, even if both teams felt like they could have walked away with a win.

United are still winless in five trips now to the Bronx, but they have at least taken a point home to D.C. on their last two trips. Yankee Stadium continues to be a tough venue to play at, especially so in the rain, with what appeared to be a newly sodded field. Over the course of 90 minutes, there were a couple of things that United excelled at, which is why they got the point on the road. 

Here's what we saw tactically from Olsen's side, who kept their second clean sheet in two games to start the season:

Defending The Box

In the first game of the season, the Black-and-Red didn't let Atlanta get much of a sniff at goal. Atlanta completed just one pass in the box, and that came late in the game when the result was already decided. Josef Martinez was stranded up top, starved of service as United shut down Zone 14

Against New York City, there was no repeat performance of that domination, but United instead consistently defended the box well. Doing so is always a high priority on Olsen's list of things to accomplish during a game, and it's a large reason why United kept another clean sheet. Time and time again, United got numbers into the box while City was attacking, ensuring that there never was an unmarked attacker to threaten the goal.

A prime example of this came in the 15th minute when Alexandru Mitrita got into the box. Leonardo Jara, who otherwise had a solid game in one on one defending, decided not to dive into a tackle, which could have led to a penalty. Instead, Mitrita got by and tried to center the ball. At this point, though, United had nine players in the box, with just Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney outside of it. That was compared to just four options for Mitrita to pass to, which led to Steven Birnbaum clearing out the initial pass. Junior Moreno then headed out a secondary cross, and Lucas Rodriguez blocked a follow-up shot.

It was the kind of team effort that United consistently need, without a stand-out defender in their ranks. City ended up with 21 shots in the game, but only eight of those came inside the box, two of which were blocked, and three that were off target. 

United won't play as deep at home against Real Salt Lake, but being smart about defending in and around the box will continue to lead to good defensive performances for the Black-and-Red.

Picking And Choosing Times To Press

D.C. aren't a team that will press opponents for an entire game, but instead they'll press at certain moments. On Sunday United's line of confrontation, for the most part, was at midfield. They were willing to cede the ground to the midfield stripe before engaging the Pigeons in an attempt to not be beaten on the break, and with the numbers not in their favor. 

However, United's best two chances of the first half came when United applied pressure in City's half. The first came when Acosta chased down Johnson, who tried to play the ball out wide to Alexander Callens, who slipped trying to gain possession. That lead to a DCU throw-in, where United overloaded the right-hand side, which ended in a fortunate deflection taking the ball into Paul Arriola's path. That lead to Acosta's great look of the game, which was expertly saved by Johnson.

In the 24th minute, Acosta lost possession in the City half but then immediately followed that up by chasing down Callens. The defender tried to clear the ball in a rush, but Acosta blocked the ball, which dropped to Rooney. Rooney played Arriola into the box, who saw his bid from a tight angle kicked away from Johnson.

United's pressing didn't create any more chances like that, but on another day, those two shots could have ended with goals. At home against RSL, expect United to push the envelop more like they did in the opener against Atlanta.

When All Else Fails..... Call On Bill Hamid

United did well in defending the box against NYC, but there were three occasions that New York found a way through United's defensive line. Valentin Castellanos headed wide early in the second half but probably should have tested Bill Hamid from close range. Hamid was challenged a couple of times late, though, most notably on Alexander Ring's diving header in the 89th minute. 

Hamid, in his 200th appearance for D.C. United, has plenty of experience on making game-altering saves. On Ring's attempt, NYC had quickly moved the ball out to the right, where a cross in found Ring unmarked. His diving header bounced in front of goal, which is what you're taught to do with a header. However, Hamid denied Ring thanks to quickly getting back in front of goal after the cross, and getting himself in a good position, with his feet set, to make the save. Hamid needed to react quickly, but that alone wouldn't have been enough to make the save, as he had to dive to his right to deny Ring the winner.

And in stoppage time, a cross over the top of United's defense found Jonathan Lewis, who tried to center the ball for Ring. United seemed to expect that Lewis was going to be called offside, but that wasn't the case. It didn't matter though, as once again, Hamid was in the perfect position to punch the centering pass away, before it got to Ring for an easy tap-in.

Defenses can't be perfect for 90 minutes every week, so having a keeper that's as good as Hamid will help United grab points when they might otherwise slip away.

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