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Subduing the Revolution: D.C. United’s Counter Attack

Now that the New England Revolution’s midweek game against Sporting Kansas City is in the books, D.C. United’s counter attack has valuable clues on how to break down the Revs. Most importantly for United will be capitalizing on counter attacks from the midfield and remembering to vary the point of attack.

United did a good job of this in the second half of the Orlando City game, when they were able to overcome an early Cyle Larin goal and come back for all three points at RFK Stadium. The Orlando City backline is comparable to New England’s in terms of their inexperience and lack of depth at center back. That is also the lineup that is most similar to what can be expected against the Revolution…sans Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva.

What does that mean for the players like Chris Rolfe and Chris Pontius who will have to shoulder the brunt of the work on offense? They cannot repeat their mistakes from the loss against Philadelphia this past Sunday.

Lessons from the Trap Game

“D.C. United’s defense is legendary by MLS standards, but with Philadelphia last week they needed more. The Union enjoyed quite a bit of possession, which did enough to garner the occasional intervention from D.C. with the lone exception of the goal from Zach Pfeffer. D.C. couldn’t get anything going on the counter-attack. At times looked like they lacked any sort of creative ideas going forward, but still had the willingness to try. That defense deserved more for their trouble than what they got from their offense.”

– Victor Small, Jr. (Analyst)

Ultimately, this looks like an outlier performance for D.C. United–the attack is usually much more balanced in their point of attack and more pieces from the midfield tend to be involved in the team’s offensive actions. For spells throughout the first half, United were able to possess the ball in the midfield, involving Michael Farfan, Miguel Aguilar, and Markus Halsti in pressing the opposing defense. Unfortunately this did not happen consistently enough.

Between injuries and the short turnaround between matches, Philadelphia had “trap game” written all over it. And with Silva going down with ten minutes left in the match, the defense were still unlucky not to hold out for the road point deep into stoppage time. Ultimately, however, these are excuses; there was a clear path to victory for D.C. United and that game plan was not executed.

In situations where the midfield is not joining the attack, Perry Kitchen should be trusted to anchor the team defensively, freeing up the rest of the midfield to press and counter against their opponents. It may be worth exploring for Ben Olsen and company to experiment with a 4-1-3-2 lineup to force numbers forward in transition. Kitchen, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Opare, and Taylor Kemp are sufficiently capable of disrupting attacks in the final third.

Overcoming the Revolution

”D.C. United should be chomping at the bit to play New England this weekend if they watched the midweek match at Sporting Park. United will play a team in a grueling stretch of games, their third in the past eight days, with a coach who is still fuming from inept officiating on Wednesday. There are the only two people on earth who believe Jermaine Jones can play center back, and Jay Heaps seems likely to continue making that same mistake. D,C.’s strength is the counter attack, and New England’s young defenders showed they are susceptible to mental lapses in defensive responsibilities and man marking. This analyst is hoping D.C. watched the hockey or basketball game Wednesday instead.”

– Ned Joyce (Staff Writer)

For most MLS followers, the New England Revolution were the team to beat in the Eastern Conference heading into the 2015 season. Despite the two losses to open the season, they’ve lived up to the hype. But with the chinks in New England’s armor exposed after their 4-2 loss to Sporting Kansas City, the burden will be on D.C. United to capitalize and cement themselves as the leaders of the pack.

The Revolution’s defense has not looked up to the task against sides that send in accurate long balls or use the transition to spring a counter attack. With Rolfe and Pontius in the starting lineup together, they lead a menacing United side that excels where the Revolution are weakest.

  1. Center Backs — He isn’t a center back and will not develop into one anytime soon; that’s exactly the problem for Jermaine Jones, who isn’t getting any younger. With José Goncalves proving to be a liability under pressure in the midweek match, the tired New England back line will need to avoid mistakes and giveaways to take three points at home. With Rolfe playing the best he has in several seasons and Pontius regaining his speed and strength, expect for the New England back line to be tested once again.
  2. Staying Ahead — New England did not defend their early 1-0 lead well, falling behind Sporting 3-1 by the time the half time whistle blew. If United can start on their front foot and create chances early, they should be able to force New England into a position where they have to battle back from a deficit for points.
  3. Set Pieces — United are very strong on set piece opportunities, and their conference-leading record is a reflection of that ability they have to put the ball in the net from free kicks. By forcing New England to defend, United will earn dangerous set pieces (which they are much more likely to bury than shots from open play).
  4. The Flanks — New England likes to attack from the flanks, which is perfectly fine for D.C.’s defense. United likes to force their attacking opponents into the wings so their strong  back line can interrupt play and send the ball to the midfield. This is how United set up their dangerous counter attacks. If the defense plays to their usual standard, they will most certainly be able to create a multitude of chances for Rolfe and Pontius.

Head Coach Ben Olsen has made the point over and over again this season that United have to put together positive streaks and avoid putting together negative ones; that task begins in Boxborough this Saturday. If the game plan is executed and United attack with numbers, United could continue to build their case that they shouldn’t be overlooked as a serious contender this season.


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