Feature photo courtesy of Tony Quinn.
D.C. United will spend the month of July in enemy territory. The club heads to Real Salt Lake Friday to start the four-game stretch of away matches. Fortunately for United, the temperature was not the only thing heating up at the end of June.
After a tough loss to North American Soccer League Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, United traveled to Houston, Texas. United and the Houston Dynamo combined for a total of seven shots in the scoreless draw.
“It was a battle for us through everything,” midfielder Lamar Neagle said. “Just getting a point was positive even though it kind of felt like a loss after the game. I still think everything has been positive over the last couple weeks and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Thanks in large part to a change in formation, United found an offensive groove against New England Revolution last Saturday. Switching to a more offensive 4-1-4-1 formation with Alvaro Saborio as the lone forward, United beat the Revolution 2-0.
“There have been games this year where people have been playing out of position. If you are not as confident and if you don’t have as much time with your team knowing how you play it’s going to be difficult,” Neagle said. “That is what happened to us in Houston. I think against New England everyone was playing in their position where they were most efficient and effective.”
Neagle recorded the first of two goals for United, volleying the ball into the back of net. He was assisted by Luciano Acosta. Neagle also recorded an assist against the Revolution completing defender Sean Franklin’s 40-yard run with an assist to Franlkin’s goal.
“I am comfortable out wide and I am comfortable playing with Sean [Franklin] behind me,” Neagle said. “I think we have a good understanding of each other.”
Neagle made MLS team of the week for his performance against New England and is up for MLS Goal of the week.
— D.C. United (@dcunited) July 1, 2016
With a win in its back pocket, United will have to rely on a consistent defensive performance while building on an ignited offensive power fueled by their new formation.
Although consistent in performance, United has dealt with a continually changing back line due to injury, national team duty, and suspension. Defender Kofi Opare has stepped in for Steven Birnbaum while he was with the U.S. National Team, and last week defender Jalen Robinson recorded his first start for United. The homegrown player impressed more than just those in attendance and solidified his own spot on MLS team of the week for his performance against the Revolution.
“That’s great for [Robinson] and that is great for other guys that see him get a chance. He took it and he did a great job,” Neagle said. “We have been able to roll with the punches and we are still in playoff spot and chugging along.”
United has relied on a scrappy mentality throughout the season and will have to continue with this mindset, especially going into the four-game road stretch. Although Birnbaum has returned to the squad (amid several rumors that the center back has received serious offers to play overseas), United players Patrick Nyarko and Chris Rolfe remain out of the line up with concussion symptoms. Nyarko is closer to a return than Rolfe.
“Rolling with the punches. I think that is the mentality when you think of D.C.,” Neagle said. “When you think of Ben Olsen as a coach, that is the mentality and that he had as a player.”
United (5-6-5) rolls into the road games Friday, July 1 at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake (8-5-3). Game time is set for 10:30 p.m. EST on UniMas.
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