After a brutal nine-game stretch with just a single win, D.C. United hurled the monkey off their back, across the room, and into a pile of cardboard boxes. That had to have felt pretty darn good.
A questionable penalty threatened to turn three points into one, but the Black-and-Red roared back behind a deflected goal from Lucas Rodriguez followed by insurance tallies from Wayne Rooney and Paul Arriola. Those three points could prove crucial down the stretch as the playoff picture continues to shape up. DCU’s upcoming slate of games will go a long way in determining the postseason pecking order: Atlanta United, New York Red Bulls, and the Philadelphia Union (twice) await.
But first we review the 4-1 victory over FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium. There were two small things I noticed that worked very well for Ben Olsen’s side. The first was Titi’s ability to play all over the field in a more traditionally Luciano Acosta-occupied role — No. 10 was of course still suspended for his red card in Dallas — and the second was rookie Donovan Pines stretching our understanding of what a center back can do.
Rodriguez scored twice and assisted once, easily collecting man of the match honors for the visitors. His first goal was an absolute beauty and that’s what’ll stand out in the highlight reel, as it rightfully should. The second goal had some luck en route to the back of the net, and then he sprayed a lovely ball out wide for Arriola to seal the deal. But what really impressed me was Titi’s ability to excel as an acting No. 10.
Customarily the 22-year-old favors the left side of the pitch by a fair margin; he doesn’t quite get chalk on his boots, but his touches are usually on that side of the field, even if he does occasionally drift back. Against FC Cincinnati, Titi ran all over the field. He logged touches outside both far edges of the penalty box and as far back as the final third. While he still tended to drift left, the center and center-right of the pitch felt a lot of his influence, too. Overlaying Arriola’s touches shows how frequently the two were overlapping; the nominal 5-4-1 that D.C. United fielded was anything but fixed with the freedom Olsen gave his attackers, and that freedom paid dividends in the second half when the visitors reeled off three goals in 14 minutes.
Second thing I noticed: For the second game in a row, the 6-foot-5 rookie Pines has been a cross between a right center back and an actual right back. There were times during yesterday’s game when he was three quarters of the way up the field. In fact, nearly a third of his touches (18/59) took place in FCC’s half of the field, and more than half of his touches took place in the right horizontal third. And, craziest of all, Pines’ 59 touches were the second-most of any D.C. United player, just a single touch behind Junior Moreno.
In his first four appearances this year — against Colorado, Columbus, Minnesota, and Columbus again — Pines played the central center back position, but Olsen switched him to the right side against New England, and suddenly this was happening:
Donovan Pines (!) overlapping into the box from open play onto Rodriguez's pass, but it doesn't pan out. Later, Roone's shot is denied by a brave block from Anibaba. #DCU— Black and Red United, a Rose Lavelle site (@blackandredU) July 13, 2019
Pines on the right side worked again yesterday, and I’m 100 percent here for it. Whether Olsen slides back to a four-man backline or rides the momentum of this newfound trick, flexibility is important to withstand injuries, like D.C. United have been doing all season. There are still a lot of points to play for in the coming weeks ahead of the postseason.