It wasn't easy last night for D.C. United against Sporting Kansas City, but a moment of brilliance from Paul Arriola was enough to give the Black-and-Red a 1-0 win. SKC were undermanned, with injuries and international call-ups leaving them with just 15 players available for the game in Washington, D.C. But for a team that had conceded 24 goals in their last seven games in all competitions, KC was able to limit United's scoring chances for most of the game.
But a moment like the one that Arriola produced can change a game in an instant. Usually those types of plays are expected to come from Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta, who showed off their game-winning ability last summer. But if United can get Arriola to produce more game-winning moments, even if they are less spectacular than this one, then the Black-and-Red would be better off during times when opposing teams succeed in shutting down Rooney and Acosta.
The win gave United their second in a row and helped them keep course near the top of the Eastern Conference. But this next week will test their depth and resolve, as two tough trips to Toronto FC and the Houston Dynamo come on short rest. Before we get into those games, here's three talking points from last night.
Marquinhos Pedroso Makes Solid Debut
It's almost been a month and a half since Joseph Mora went down with a broken jaw, and the Costa Rican left back isn't close to returning yet. Since his injury, United hasn't had much luck at left back, forcing Ben Olsen to change formations to cover for the position. But Pedroso, signed last week from FC Dallas, came into the starting lineup on Sunday night and put in a good shift at left back.
"Pedroso, for his first game, I enjoyed watching him. He did fine," Olsen said after the game last night. "I think he’s a good defender, and it’s not easy to come into a brand-new team and get a start."
The Brazilian left back is known for his defending, not necessarily his ability to get forward, which was something that United was missing with the absence of Mora. However, against Sporting Kansas City, Pedroso was able to get forward and help aide in several attacks for United, even if he usually wasn't supplying the final ball.
One cross from Marquinhos was sent in dangerously, and though it didn't find a teammate, it at least showcased some offensive threats that the left back can add to the attack. The comfort level between Marquinhos and his teammates will grow with the more playing time he gets, but it certainly was a good start on Sunday.
"I felt great. The teammates received me very well, supporting me, and now let's move on," Pedroso said after the game.
3-4-2-1 Worked Well When Needed, But...
United is still better off in the 4-2-3-1. There's a better understanding in that system, United seem to create more chances, and the outside backs can provide plenty of support from this look. With the emergence of Donovan Pines, the Black-and-Red seem to get more and more comfortable with the three center back setup with each game. That the formation resulted in three wins in four games leads credence to its usefulness, but the look had some effect on United's attack.
The attack wasn't at its best on Sunday night, but there seemed to be an extra level of comfort amongst the players as United went back to the 4-2-3-1. It allows Acosta, Arriola, and Lucas Rodriguez to all be closer to goal where they are the most dangerous. That was the biggest negative of the three center back look: the fact that one of Arriola or Rodriguez was asked to start further back, negating their influence in the attacking end.
Olsen said as much after the game last night.
"Offensively, you could tell there were some real sequences there where things were clicking, and there was a real understanding of where players needed to be," the head coach said of the change in formation. "Our specific players that we feel are dangerous, we put them in dangerous spots."
Arriola, who has been asked to play many roles over the past couple of weeks as United tried to get through a period without many natural options at outside back, agreed with Olsen, saying that he's much more dangerous when his starting position is further up the field.
"It allows me to be in a more attacking starting position, constantly around Lucho, around Wayne," Arriola said of the formation. "Being able to give the team some width and depth with runs in behind and stretching the defense, that’s one of the greatest things I can bring to the team, a dynamic we need at times. Today I was able to get in quite a bit, and create some chances."
Back To Winning Ways At Home
The month of April wasn't kind to United at Audi Field, as the home team failed to win any of their three games at Buzzard Point, while scoring a grand total of zero goals. That was a far cry from 2018, when United only dropped points in three of the 15 games played at Buzzard Point. And what made the fruitless April even more perplexing was that the Black-and-Red were picking up wins left and right on the road at the same time.
But with last night's win, a bit of normalcy has returned to Audi Field. The 1-0 win over SKC came a week after a 3-1 triumph over the Columbus Crew. Grinding out performances at home became a staple of this team last year, when they climbed out of the basement in the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs.
Of course, D.C. would love to make easier work of teams than was required last night, but winning on a tough night when things might not be going your way is a sign of a good team. Now, United will be tested on the road, playing three games away from the District over the next two weeks. That meant even more importance was placed on last night's game, even if no one from United's camp talked about that beforehand.
"Behind closed doors, these were very important points to pick up," Olsen said. "Especially after we weren’t the sharpest here leading up to these last two home games. But we understand, you’re going to Toronto and a tough environment in Houston, two of the best teams in the league right now."