“All you need is one chance.”
It’s a saying that’s carved deeply into the book of global sports clichés, one barked out by coaches during pre-game pep talks and post-game press conferences. It’s very rarely true.
Tonight, for the first time in Major League Soccer history, that cliché came to life.
Supporters’ Shield leaders D.C. United strode into Stade Saputo and topped the Montreal Impact 1-0, delivering the sort of gritty, character-filled performance that’s quickly become their trademark this year. That fact, on its own, isn’t particularly surprising. It was the way they did it, though, that was a bit strange. They only took one shot.
Not one shot on goal but one shot in total. Nobody in league history had ever done that; Kansas City actually managed to win a game without taking a single shot in 1997, but their victory came in a shootout.
In the 13th minute, Montreal center back Victor Cabrera received a pass deep in his own end. D.C. winger Chris Rolfe applied pressure, forcing Cabrera to play a careless pass to fellow center back Wandrille Lefevre. A lunging Jairo Arrieta gobbled that giveaway up, sliding and touching it back to Rolfe, who streaked in alone on goal, calmly finishing the effort to put United ahead. It would be their first — and last — shot of the game.
"I would’ve liked to play better,” United head coach Ben Olsen told the media assembled outside United’s locker room after the match. "We had a guy [Fabian Espindola] go down the day before the game, and we played two number nines up high. You can prepare all week, and things go awry, and then you change up, and you adapt."
Montreal, on the other hand, had twenty-five shots, eight of them on-target. D.C. looked good defensively for most of the match but were under duress for a couple of stretches on both sides of the halftime whistle, including a mad Impact flurry approaching full time.
It would take a standout performance by United ‘keeper Bill Hamid — making his first start since returning from surgery on his left hand and right knee — to preserve the result. And Hamid came through, making several highlight reel-worthy stops en route to the victory.
"It surprised me that [Bill] was that sharp tonight,” said Olsen. "But, you know, he’s a competitor. He’s pushed his way back pretty quickly from his surgeries and I give him a lot of credit. He’s probably not a hundred percent up to speed, but he’s gutting it out. Again though, he was one of the difference makers tonight."
“I didn’t feel a hundred percent,” Hamid said. "It just felt like another match. I just tried to put myself in the right positions to make the saves that I needed to make, and continue organizing, talking to the back line, putting out fires. It didn’t feel like all those shots were coming at us.”
United hasn’t charged to the top of the Eastern Conference by showing a huge amount of interest in the aesthetic of their results. Week after week, they’ve extracted points in any number of different ways. In the two weeks leading up to tonight’s match, they’d ridden offensive explosions to comeback victories. On Saturday, they bunkered in and made the only chance they had count.
“[The result] shows that we’re very resilient, that we have good character. The past few games we’ve gone down two goals and then come back and won those games. Now we’ve dealt with a lot of pressure; it shows that we have a lot of character in this locker room and that we can build off of that going into the final stretch of the season.”
But it was veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud who probably put it best. When asked by a media member whether he was aware of the disparity in shots — 25 to 1 — Arnaud didn’t hesitate with his response.
"Really? Yeah, it was three points to zero, too."