There's not much more that D.C. United can do to win games. Head coach Peter Nowak had his team re-focused after a disappointing loss in Chicago last weekend. The team started Saturday's match against Colorado with a lot of energy. The attacking players were very creative when going to goal. The defenders held their shape well and denied the Rapids many good scoring chances. Still, United was denied a victory.
United created quality scoring chances, dominated the possession and dictated the play for the entire match. It seemed like almost the entire game was played in the attacking half for D.C. Nevertheless, as has been the case several times this season, United couldn't score.
The weekend was not completely filled with bad luck for D.C. because three other Eastern Conference teams lost. So even with the tie, United move one point closer to Chicago and the MetroStars and increase their lead in the standings over New England by a point. The only team from the East that United did not gain points on was the Columbus Crew, who tied Kansas City. More good news for United is that the Crew, the hottest team in MLS, comes to RFK Stadium this Saturday, so D.C. has a clear chance to gain ground. Everything is now in place for D.C. United. All they need to do now is score some goals.
The attacking play for United has been very good. The ball has been in the attacking penalty area for D.C. an awful lot, and the chances have been spread out throughout the team. The strikers, midfielders, and defenders all had clear chances to score against Colorado, but nobody managed to put the ball in the back of the net. Some credit should be given to the Rapids goalkeeper Joe Cannon. Late in the first half he made a great save to deny Ronald Cerritos. Jaime Moreno chipped a perfect ball to Cerritos who smashed a powerful header bound for the top shelf, but Cannon reacted very well to keep D.C. United off the board.
D.C. United players know that they need to do a better job finishing, but there is another way to help score goals. United had possession in the attacking third for long periods of time, but there were not an abundant number of great scoring chances because of the final pass. In order for a team to score, players must put their teammates in scoring positions. In the history of MLS no player did this better than Marco Etcheverry.
El Diablo read the game so well that he always knew exactly where the ball needed to be to give his teammates the best chance of scoring. Etcheverry always made it look easy, but to be fair the ability to earn assists takes precision and concentration. It came naturally to Etcheverry (United's only player to earn 100 career assists), but without him on the field, the current players need to concentrate as much on the final pass as they do on the finishing touch. Moreno has sort of taken over the role of distributor, but when he tries to predominantly create for his teammates, he becomes less of a threat to score. Nowak has the option of playing Moreno as an attacking midfielder and then adding another striker to the mix, but that move might disrupt the balance defensively. The difficult task for Nowak would be to determine if the value of adding another goal scorer would outweigh the potential defensive liability.
There really isn't anything that United could have done much better this past weekend other than finishing, and you can never guarantee goals even with more possession and better chances. A change in the lineup may be warranted not to improve the play of United, but simply to change things up and try different options, even though with players missing due to injury and national team call-ups, the options are limited. So much of the success of a team depends on chemistry and timing. United has not yet been able to find either of those elements consistently. Nowak has done a good job getting all of his players on the same page. Now the next step is to make the minor adjustments needed to get United firing on all cylinders.
Tony Limarzi provides live match commentary for all D.C. United games in English on WMET. He also contributes a column to dcunited.com, which runs every Monday.