United have plenty to work on during difficult road-trip to west coast
On Thursday, United held their final training session in Washington before departing on an ten-day road trip. With matches against Los Angeles and Vancouver looming, we take a look at three keys that will help the Black-and-Red maximize points on their long journey from RFK.
SET PIECE DEFENDING
Four days before United's season opener, D.C. Head Coach Ben Olsen closed the final half-hour of practice to work on set-pieces. So when Sporting Kansas City found their last-minute winner via a corner kick, it was disappointing on multiple levels. Up until C.J. Sapong's breakthrough, the Black-and-Red had done well man-marking Kansas City's considerable aerial threats on free kicks.
Whether it is an on-going issue or a one-off mistake, United must sort out their set piece deficiencies on this road trip. There is no better service on dead balls than that of David Beckham and - unless he gets the full 90 off on Sunday - D.C. can expect to have their hands full.
Against Sporting, United didn't help themselves with some careless tackling in their defensive half. The at times unnecessary fouls led to free kick chances, a luxury D.C. will be wise to deny both L.A. and Vancouver.
With the spine of the team still gelling, it makes sense that United will perhaps rely more on its wings now than at any other point in the season. Fortunately for D.C., in Chris Pontius and Andy Najar the Black-and-Red have two players who can more than shoulder that load.
That being said, Najar and Pontius need to be used more. In the opener, Pontius had tons of space on the left flank but rarely got the ball in a position to be dangerous. Najar was a bit more involved early, but of the Honduran's 17 completed passes against Sporting just five were in United's attacking third.
While Sporting applied plenty of pressure Saturday, D.C. committed an uncomfortable amount of passing errors. Simply put, United did not have a good evening in distribution.
"There pressure was good but it wasn't pressure that you cant play through," Ben Olsen acknowledged during an appearance on The Capital Soccer Show. "Our passing wasn't good all night long. We had times where if we were just better in possession - A to B, ten and twenty yard passes - then we get a little rhythm and make them defend. Overall our passing just wasn't sharp."
Unfortunately, the numbers support Olsen's take. D.C. completed just 64% of its passes against Sporting, the lowest completion percentage across MLS on First Kick weekend. Kansas City also owned the ball Saturday night, taking 57% of possession against the Black-and-Red.