WASHINGTON – After watching his opponents control possession for much of the club’s last two matches, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen had very specific instructions heading into Saturday’s showdown with Montreal:
Keep the ball.
“We weren’t sharp in possession the last two weeks,” the second-year coach acknowledged after D.C. toppled the Impact 3-0 at RFK Stadium. “That was something that we needed to have today, and we had it.”
HIGHLIGHTS: DC 3, MTL 0
The statistics bear out Olsen’s proclamation. United held more than 60 percent of possession over the 90 minutes while completing 85.1 percent of their passes. Control of the ball led to an overwhelming advantage in scoring chances as the Black-and-Red created 18 attempts on goal compared to just four for Montreal.
In fact, D.C. put more shots on target in second-half injury time than the Impact mustered all night.
Beyond the competitive – and aesthetic – benefits of possession, United’s ownership of the ball had another very intentional effect. On a day where field-level temperatures peaked in the mid-90s, possession kept D.C. rested while Montreal – days removed from a midweek clash with Toronto – were forced to burn what little energy the visitors had left.
“With the weather so hot, it is important to have the ball at your feet,” said Branko Boskovic. “It makes the other team must run, and I think in the second half you can see how that helped us win.”
Keeping the ball away from Montreal also paid off for United’s backline.
“Their attack just isn’t as good when you have the ball,” noted left back Daniel Woolard. “When they win it, they want to go forward because they haven’t had the ball and then they tend to turn it over a little more often.”
When Boskovic – who Olsen credited specifically when asked about United’s improved possession – exited in the 60th minute, an unlikely replacement emerged. Despite never having played centrally for D.C., Lewis Neal completed 47 of 51 passes over 30 industrious minutes as United killed off any hopes of a Montreal comeback.
“They’ve had a pretty tough schedule of late so they looked pretty beat and pretty tired,” Neal said afterwards. “But we’ve been in the same position ourselves, so at the end of the day, you have to take advantage it.”