We knew D.C. United has a bunch of home games left, we knew that they had just signed a mega superstar and we knew they were capable of incredible feats. But we didn’t really know if D.C. United were any good.

Well, they looked really good Wednesday night against the Portland Timbers, dispatching one of the top teams in the West 4-1.

D.C. looked much more cohesive than they have all year. Their performance could be attributed to four definable traits, and if you don’t feel like reading the next 100 words, just picture how Columbus Crew SC play.

  1. The wingers, Yamil Asad and Paul Arriola, tucked central when D.C. were in possession and interchanged positions frequently
  2. The outside backs flew forward, particularly right back Oniel Fisher, and overlapped regularly
  3. The two center midfielders (Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse) provided a sturdy, reliable base that allowed the rest of the team to flow
  4. They got the ball to their playmaker, Luciano Acosta, whenever possible

Another wrinkle D.C. deployed in this game, though I don’t know if it was planned or just happened naturally, was an overload on the right side of the field. Here are Acosta’s (left) and Rooney’s (right) completed passes from the game:

Warshaw: DC United showed they are for real on Wednesday night - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/acosta-rooney-bw.jpg

United also did one of the coolest things I’ve seen on a soccer field lately. When Wayne Rooney stepped up to a free kick in the 68th minute, Asad crouched to a knee in front of Portland’s wall. We often see attacking players stand in the wall to try to block the goalkeepers sightline, but I’ve never seen an attacker crouch like Asad did.

Rooney buried the free kick into the upper corner and put United up 3-1.

One note of potential improvement for United. They need someone to stretch the opposing center backs more often. Rooney likes to check to the ball. It often means everyone in United’s attack is checking toward the ball. Crowding the field can be good, as long as you have someone running behind the defense to take advantage of the compactness. Opposing defenses have been keeping a close eye on Rooney, so there’s room to exploit beyond him.

Warshaw: DC United showed they are for real on Wednesday night - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Bobby%20DC%201.png?MyR8OrjyiHrCCxAnaXahmueqOhbFXbrB

But that’s nitpicking a bit on their performance Wednesday night. They made a strong statement of intent that they plan to make a serious run — not just because of home games, not just on Rooney’s shoulders, but because they can be very good — for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.