Before Columbus Crew, Wayne Rooney & D.C. United Must Fix Offensive Issues

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The month of April has come to a close and there’s plenty to be happy about for D.C. United. They currently occupy first place in the Eastern Conference and have done so for much of 2019, Homegrown Player Donovan Pines has emerged as a bonafide starter, and the team has been able to deal with injury issues at the back en route to five clean sheets.

Despite all this, the Black-and-Red have experienced a goal drought in recent weeks and need to get their offensive pieces clicking once again if they are to successfully navigate a stretch of seven games before the Gold Cup break. Ben Olsen’s men were shut out on four occasions over the last month and managed just four goals in six total matches, and the shortage of quality moves going forward has captain Wayne Rooney on alert.

“I think we do well on set pieces, but we’re not creating enough chances,” Rooney said following the 1-0 loss to Minnesota. “I think that’s partly because, well a lot because the second half of games we’re letting teams almost get the ball to the edge of our box and get crosses into the box, and we’re relying too much on someone to defend and clear the ball. It’s something of course that we have to address, and we will address that and try to get that right.”

Rooney-less D.C United had eight fewer points through the first 10 matches of 2018, yet scored one more goal than the current side. So what’s to blame for the lack of production up front? The obvious first place to look is who is helping the Englishman shoulder the load in the goals department. Only two players have found the back of the net more than once — Luciano Acosta and Lucas Rodriguez  — and they’ve scored just twice each.

Have opposing teams truly learned how to stifle the Rooney-Acosta connection? Is Acosta’s head elsewhere with contract talks ongoing? Who knows, but only one goal and one assist in his last eight outings is certainly nowhere near the level of play we came to expect last year. Sunday’s match was yet another in which he failed to leave a lasting impact, and he managed a solitary shot off target.

The key passes statistic helps paint a picture of how well a team is doing at creating scoring chances. According to WhoScored, the Black-and-Red are next to last in the league in key passes per game. Acosta’s key pass and dribbles averages are down from each of the previous three seasons, meaning his creativity and ability to pull defenders out of position has largely been missing. Paul Arriola was forced to drop into a deeper role for much of the month with outside backs out with injuries, so his return to a more advanced role will hopefully add a spark in attack.

An additional discrepancy when comparing last year’s early numbers to 2019 is the glaring absence of Yamil Asad. The Argentine was just shy of double digit scoring (nine) and added five assists, and he had three goals and an assist to his name at this point last campaign. He led the attacking unit in passing percentage and was a wizard at delivering incisive passes and drawing fouls. Rodriguez has shown signs he can be a worthy replacement down the stretch and will need to continue dictating play in dangerous areas to help overcome his team’s offensive woes.

D.C.-Columbus round two takes place on Saturday, and United will be hoping they can rediscover their scoring form against a side experiencing their own share of offensive struggles. The anticipation continues to grow for an Audi Field crowd that has not witnessed a goal since the middle of March.

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