Obviously, most of the talk in the wake of D.C.'s 2-1 win over New England is going to center on Jermaine Jones's late red card and subsequent reaction. To all the kids out there: You can't push a ref. Ever. Don't be like Jermaine.
That aside, this one was a study in resilience and attrition, two of the things a veteran United team seem to have mastered. They withstood an early Juan Agudelo golazo and all-around barrage, they slowly crawled their way into a rhythm, and then they both found New England's weak spot and exploited it.
And now they move onto the Eastern Conference semifinals.
1. The Other Way...
What New England do better than anybody is ping the ball around the final third. What they don't do a whole ton of is cross the ball. Especially from the right-hand side:
This is a world class finish from @JuanAgudelo. #MLSCupPlayoffshttps://t.co/v79hPqrIOa— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 29, 2015
So naturally that's how the scoring in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs starts. And without the heroics of Bill Hamid, it would have continued in New England's favor for the next half-hour.
But Hamid stood tall, United eventually found their rhythm, and then started to pour the pressure on.
2. Weak Spot
Andrew Farrell had a solid first season as a central defender in MLS, but let's be gentle here: He had a lousy night.
Farrell got on the wrong side of Espindola in committing the foul that led to D.C.'s equalizer. He then got beaten in the air on the equalizer itself, courtesy of Chris Pontius.
And then on the game-winner, Farrell was strangely static in his positioning, not understanding the angle of the cut-back that would lead to Chris Rolfe's game-winner. It was bad from him, and in stark contrast to how he played earlier in the game, when his over-aggressive positioning was first identified by United:
All three of the above plays came in the lead-up to D.C.'s first goal. You can see that Espindola had him figured out by the third of the above.
With more experience, Farrell will understand how to vary his approach up a bit more. In this game he got a lesson from a veteran.
3. The Third Heat
It can't all be Espindola and Rolfe for D.C., and on Wednesday night it wasn't. Nick DeLeon had a throwback game -- a reminder of 2012 when, as a rookie, he was a constant two-way threat. His ability to release and complete passes early can be elite when he's dialed in. His ability to drive the ball forward when it's on his foot is even better, and he's a field-tilter who draws defenders to him then finds teammates in open space.
As I've written before: United are at their best when one wing or the other (or both) is able to collapse the defense, allowing the forwards to find the gaps left behind.
That's exactly what DeLeon did. He got a ton of touches in the attacking half, and made most of them dangerous:
There needs to be more of that in the next round for United to have a chance against either Columbus or New York. They've surprised some folks by making it this far, and it's clear that they have the pieces to go even further.