One game, 100 word (or less): In this week’s version of “Who saw this coming,” D.C. United challenged all our assumptions about the Eastern Conference. Kansas City’s to lose? Not anymore. One favorite and a bunch of contender? Sorry, there are two front-runners now. Just as New York made a surprise run to first in the East (and league) last year, Ben Olsen’s men are ready to push Sporting into second, with first half goals from Fabián Espíndola, Chris Rolfe, and Perry Kitchen giving D.C. a 3-0 win that vaults the Black and Red to the top of the conference.
Sporting Kansas City: None.
D.C. United: Fabián Espíndola (24′), Chris Rolfe (28′), Perry Kitchen (31′)
Three moments that mattered:
24′ – Eight minutes the changed the East, Part I – Fabían Espíndola continues to be one of the league’s most impactful off season acquisitions, something few expected from a player United got throughout Re-Entry. Mid-way through the first half, though, United’s best attacked needed help from Aurèlien Collin and Jon Kempin to open the night’s scoring.
Beating the All-Star defender on a ball swung wide left, Espíndola cut in before rolling a shot from the corner of the penalty are toward Kempin’s far post. Somehow, the ball caught the far corner, with Kansas City’s young goalkeeper reacting slowly to a rolling shot that became the night’s game-winning goal.
28′ – Eight minutes, Part II – It was so uncharacteristic: Sporting’s defense not being able to execute an offside trap. But credit the D.C. staff. They must have seen something in Kansas City’s play that hinted at this weakness, one that left Peter Vermes bemoaning his back four’s performance after the match.
In the 28th minute, D.C. made the most of that weakness, playing Chris Rolfe (another great acquisition) behind a high line and in on Kempin. The finish gave United a quick 2-0 lead, sending a murmur of shocked confusion throughout Sporting Park.
31′ – Eight minutes, Part III – Again, Kansas City’s defense, with two All-Stars at its heart, looked Dynamo-esque, with Perry Kitchen fed past the high Sporting line for another chance on goal. Cutting onto his right foot in the left of the area, the United midfielder fired his shot off Kempin and into the back of goal, giving the reigning champions a three-goal deficit with just under an hour to go.
Sporting Kansas City: Jon Kempin; Igor Julião, Aurèlien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Lawrence Olum, Benny Feilhaber (Claudio Beiler 70′), Graham Zusi; Sal Zizzo (C.J. Sapong 37′), Dom Dwyer, Soony Saad (Toni 79′)
D.C. United: Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp; Nick DeLeon (Alex Caskey 90′), Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, Chris Rolfe; Luis Silva (David Estrada 68′), Fabián Espíndola
Three lessons going forward:
1. D.C. United has assuaged your doubts – Let’s go back to our new trick, quoting the weekend preview:
Out of respect for what they’ve done, nobody’s talking about it, but it’s clear very few people think D.C. United’s a real Cup contender. The team’s record, goals for, and goals allowed all say this team’s for real, but the names on the team sheet leave room for doubt. There are no game-breaking stars, while the team’s secondary numbers (like being out-shot on the season) suggest there’s room for regression. Ultimately, people look at D.C. United and see a team playing over its head.
Allow me rephrase:
Out of respect for what they’ve done, nobody’s talking about it, but it’s clear very few people think D.C. United’s a real Cup contender.The team’s record, goals for, and goals allowed all say this team’s for real , but the names on the team sheet leave room for doubt. There are no game-breaking stars, while the team’s secondary numbers (like being out-shot on the season) suggest there’s room for regression. Ultimately, people look at D.C. United and see a team playing over its head.
D.C.’s going to be one of the top two in my Power Rankings next week. I’m tired of undervaluing what they’ve done (and what they are).
2. Ben Olsen – Coach of the Year – More and more, I’m buying into the notion that coaches, like players, can have bad years. It seems weird, given coaching talents are mental, but perhaps each year’s set of circumstances presents a new challenge. Whereas one year’s problem’s easy to solve, the next year’s dilemmas may be too much to overcome. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of changing the puzzle, not the coach.
For whatever reason, things never clicked for D.C. United last season, with a three-win season leaving some surprised Olsen retained his job. This year, he has taken a collection of disparate parts, rejected by other franchises, and molded one of the best teams in the league, with a large part of the team’s success do to his tactics and game management. This has to guy is the runaway Coach of the Year, right now.
As bad as 2013 was, to 2014 has been just as good. He’s much better at this year’s puzzle.
3. Two bad performances in three for KC – We gave them a pass on their showing in Vancouver (our Eastern teams in BC rule). Last week against Toronto, Sporting looked good, although given how the Reds played today, that performance may need a re-think, too. Regardless, D.C. exposed Sporting’s defense – exposed it in a way that make you wonder if other teams can capitalize on United’s relatively straight-forward approach. Like the Galaxy, whose stout defense conceded seven in two games coming into the weekend, Sporting needs to regroup.
Where this leaves them:
- Second in the conference, second in the league, Sporting now has to look up at D.C. United, having conceded the lead in the Eastern Conference.
- With 43 points and a game in hand, D.C. has taken control of the conference. Only Seattle is earning more points per game, but after tomorrow’s game in Portland, United may have that honor, too.