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Talking Strategy: D.C. United vs Columbus Crew

Preston Burpo talks dealing with Higuain and what EJ and Espindola do for DCU

D.C. United has momentum and confidence heading into Columbus. The Crew, at the top of the Eastern Conference, beat United 3-0 in the season opener, but the Black-and-Red has improved since then. The squad has put together a three-game undefeated run, earning seven points from a three-game home stand.

United’s most recent victory came in a 1-0 win over New York. Though not the best game of the season thus far, three points is three points.

“Having players on the field like Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke and Perry Kitchen who can say, ‘Alright guys, we’re going to have to grind this one out, and grind a few out over the season,’ that is great,” Goalkeeping Coach Preston Burpo said. “Guys are starting to trust each other more and more as time goes on.”

As time goes on, D.C. United has improved , and so has its record. The Crew continues to impress as well, with ten points to its name. Most of Columbus’ offensive success comes from Designated Player Frederico Higuain.

“Higuain is one of the very special players in MLS,” Burpo said. “He was dangerous against us in the first game. He will be very active and find the ball in this game. He has freedom to roam around.”

With a new combination/mix of players in the Black-and-Red backline and midfield, dealing with midfielders and forwards who roam will take time to figure out. The solution comes from communication and trust; two things that are improving with each game played.

“Does one of our center backs have to step up? Are there times a center midfielder cuts off a passing lane? Does an outside mid tuck in and cut off the lane into Higuain? The further back he has to go to get the ball, the better for us. We’ve addressed it,” Burpo assured.

With four tallies in five games, Higuain is leading the charge, but Benardo Anor and Hector Jimenez are also players on United’s radar.

“Jimenez and Anor are both playing well. They’re good at finding pockets,” he stated. “It’s going to be a team effort in shifting and stepping up and trying to cause problems for Higuain when he does get it.”

While these three offensive weapons have been impressing, so have United’s Eddie Johnson and Fabián Espíndola. While everyone immediately checks the stat sheets for goals, what they bring to the Black-and-Red goes beyond that.

“If you count the number of balls that Eddie holds up for us and lays back to guys supporting him, or the number of balls that he is winning when we do have to hit it long, it’s a huge deal that he is able to do that for us,” Burpo stressed. “Every game, he has had chances. Some of his runs have been very sharp. He’s explosive. In the past two games, goalkeepers or defenders have had to make great plays on him. Everyone understands that once he gets rolling, he will be off and running.”

Espíndola brings other intangibles to the table.

“When we look at the stats of meters ran after a game, he is one of the top guys,” Burpo explained. “On the defensive side, once you see him going, you have ten other guys behind him, flying up with him. He generates aggressive defending for us. I hope everyone outside of the locker room can see how valuable that is for us. Guys are starting to understand how he drifts and causes problems and have begun to fill in the holes he creates.”

Another bright spot for United has been goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra. Having spent the past three seasons on loan in USL, the talented keeper has stepped up in a big way.

“As a keeper that is not a starter, it’s not easy to go into a game on a short notice, but that’s the life of a second keeper,” Burpo said. “In the two games he’s played, he seemed very comfortable and at ease. I think that breeds confidence through the guys in front of him.”

Confidence is exactly what winning produces. We’ve heard the coaches and players say it before: United will have to put together streaks. To go on runs, confidence is a must. The Black-and-Red must keep this winning mentality going on the road this weekend to come home to the Nation’s capitol with three points.

Watch D.C. United take on the Crew on Saturday, April 19 at 7:30 pm at dcunited.com/live