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Aerial defending crucial for #FCDvDC

For the Black-and-Red, defense is critical. With captain and U.S. Men’s National Team defender Steve Birnbaum and MLS veteran Bobby Boswell at the heart of the defense alongside United's first-ever Homegrown Player Bill Hamid providing cover in goal, the Black-and-Red are well-versed in defending. Leidos, the presenting partner of D.C. United, is a global science and technology leader in defense. Whether it's air, land, sea, space, or cyberspace, Leidos meets challenges and provides solutions. Sponsored by Leidos, this weekly feature delves into some of the defensive storylines for United's next match.

When the Black-and-Red play FC Dallas on July 4, one key for Ben Olsen’s side will be forcing the Texan offense wide and forcing crosses, something Oscar Pareja’s side don’t like doing.  Dallas have attempted the sixth-fewest crosses in open play in all of Major League Soccer, and while forward Maxi Urruti has ten goals on the year, they have only scored two headed goals, third-fewest in the league.


Defending through the air, meanwhile, has been a strong suit for United, who lead all of MLS in headed clearances.  A large part of those headers have come from captain Steve Birnbaum, who is the MLS leader in aerial duels won with 63. His center back partner Kofi Opare, meanwhile, is a menace in the air as well; the 6’2” defender is winning over 62 percent of his aerial duels.

Playing through the air is important, especially considering Dallas’ ineptitude at providing quality service from wide areas.

Dallas midfielder Michael Barrios has created 24 chances for Dallas this year and accrued eight assists. But he’s less successful when putting in crosses, only completing 20 percent. Urruti also finds much less success out wide; he’s only attempted six crosses, completing none of them. The Argentinian will be hard-pressed to win the ball in the air against United’s big strong defenders too, winning only 35.7 percent of his aerial duels.

But in order to neutralize Barrios and other creators, United’s outside midfielders and wide backs will be called upon to win their individual battles. Left back Taylor Kemp has good results in one-on-one duels, winning 56.8 percent of the time, is second on the team in ball recoveries (89) and leads defenders in tackles (28). Chris Korb and Chris Odoi-Atsem both have found similar success in one-v-one situations, winning 60 percent of their duels on the right side of defense.

The match kicks off on Independence Day at 8:30 PM ET, with pre-game coverage starting at 8 on NewsChannel 8, CW Richmond and streaming live on Facebook.