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D.C. United finally got back to their winning ways at Audi Field on Saturday night, defeating the Columbus Crew 3-1. Of course, the big story from the game was referee Ted Unkel chalking off a goal for Columbus in the first half, calling a foul on Wil Trapp in the lead-up to the goal that unsurprisingly caught the ire of Crew head coach Caleb Porter. But there was still 75 minutes to play after that decision, and United were the better side for the rest of the game.
There was one more check of the video review during the game, with Trapp conceding a penalty that Wayne Rooney converted just before the end of the first half. And two other times Unkel went to his ear, and while he didn't then go to the monitor, both calls favored the Black-and-Red.
The win helped United keep pace with the Philadelphia Union at the top of the Eastern Conference. A three-game winless streak at home came to an end, and United also scored their first goal at home since March 16. All in all, a good night for Rooney and company. Here are three talking points from the game.
The Story Of The Game
After the game Ben Olsen said, "I don't think the story necessarily should be all about the [video review]. Our guys put a really good shift in."
Olsen, of course, is right to praise his team after the tough month of April they had — the poor form at home, injuries mounting, and a switch in formation that made the offense sputter a bit. Against Columbus, United seemed to get out of a rut, with Luciano Acosta, Wayne Rooney, and Paul Arriola all scoring goals. Other than a rare mistake from Bill Hamid, it was a great night for the Black-and-Red.
That said, the story of the game still has to be centered around the call that Unkel made in the first half. The game could have gone either way after the call, but making a call like that — taking away Pedro Santos' goal — has an effect on the outcome of the game, even if United comes back to win. Yes, there was a bit of contact from Trapp on Acosta. But it certainly didn't seem enough to warrant a review, much less overturning a goal.
It was an awkward play, with Unkel right in the middle of it as Leonardo Jara tried to pass to Acosta at the midfield line. Porter said after the game that he thought Unkel bailed himself out of having interfered with the play, by going to the monitor and calling off the goal.
Certainly it was a difficult call to make, and the call might have long-term repercussions. Video review will help make the game better in the long run, but decisions like the one Unkel made on Saturday night mean that there is a long way to go in terms of ironing out all the details within the system.
Luciano Acosta Shines
Olsen also said in his post-game press conference that he thought his side had shown some swagger, something that might have been missing over the past couple of weeks. Maybe that was most evident in the play of United's No. 10. Acosta has had some detractors of late, as United struggled offensively during the month of April. There was a moment of visible frustration against Minnesota United when Acosta and Paul Arriola confronted each other on the field.
That wasn't the case on Saturday against the Crew though. Minutes after Columbus' goal was called off, Acosta struck for his third tally of the season, giving United the lead, and their first goal at home in 307 minutes of play at Audi Field. That seemed to relieve a lot of pressure on not only United, but Acosta himself.
Circling back to Olsen's swagger comment, here's a little stat from Saturday night that might show that Acosta is back to his normal self: After attempting just 14 dribbles in the prior three games, Acosta attempted eight against the Crew. He completed five of those, and while none of them directly led to any goals, it certainly felt like Acosta had found his rhythm back.
There are still a lot of questions moving forward regarding Acosta's future, but in the meantime United need to have him playing at his best. On Saturday, Acosta showed that after a tough month he can bounce right back to help United pick up wins.
Leonardo Jara's Offensive Contributions
Last Sunday Jara had to leave the game against Minnesota United at halftime due to a groin injury. Luckily for United, the Argentine was good to go on Saturday — right back in the starting lineup. The Boca Juniors loanee has played well for the Black-and-Red so far this year but might have had his most impactful game against the Crew, at least on the offensive end.
Jara came into the game with one assist on the year, but essentially picked up two against the Crew. The first, which didn't officially count, came when Jara knocked down Rooney's free kick in the box, which eventually led to Acosta's goal. It might have not been how United drew the play up, but the right back — at 6-0 — gives United another option in the box, with defenses having to worry about Steven Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant, and Donovan Pines.
Jara then spent plenty of time in the second half being the furthest forward player for United. That high pressure paid off for Arriola, too, when Jara won possession in midfield and then made his way into the box to set up Arriola for the third goal. This time, the Argentine did get credit for his second assist on the season.
United should be able to move back to a four-man back line soon, allowing them to get another attacker on the field. That should help the team get over the struggles they've had recently in the attacking half, but knowing that there could be another dimension to their attack, in getting Jara further up the field at points during the game, could help United elevate their offense.