Superliga Matchday Three: DC United- Atlante
To call DC’s performance tonight a disappointment is major understatement. From my personal perspective as I discussed on the 2Gs show with Graham and Peter on April 10th I have a certain expectation from DC in these sorts of competitions and no expectations from other teams in MLS. (in the case of that match we were discussing Houston’s loss to Saprissa, and I summarized that I expect DC to fly the MLS banner high but don’t expect that from any other team) But times have changed and as a supporter of the league I must adjust my expectations to the reality of today: DC United has become a bad team these types of events while the rest of MLS must be lauded for their efforts at improving the league’s image.
Prior to Saturday DC United had never once lost at RFK Stadium to a team from the Mexican League. Now in three days they have lost twice.
Contrary to expectations DC United has come out flat and Atlante take a 3-1 lead on a wonder goal by Christian Bermudez. United then begins to press leaving even more space at the back then previously. DC’s line is playing as high as possible and is susceptible to Atlante’s counter attacking especially since they are such a talented passing side. Atlante gets opportunity after opportunity and fails to get a fourth goal.
DC’s attacking players seem to be running out of idea in the attack and are consistently giving the ball away. Luciano Emilio takes advantage of some sloppiness from Atlante who instead of valuing possession try to start a quick counter attack after Federico Vilar saved a free kick. Jaime Moreno steps in front of a sloppy ball, and feed Luciano Emilio who scores a goal befitting of a player of the highest caliber: which Emilio is especially by MLS standards.
A frantic finish ensues with Zach Wells making a few clutch saves to keep DC within a goal and Gonzalo Martinez racing back to break up a goal at the last minute after a DC corner. United has their chances but Vilar is true to the occasion making a few key saves. United’s loss all but eliminates them from possible advancement to the knock out stages.
Given the expectations heaped on DC United by the MLS brass and by many others about the red and black being the premier club in North America, this match is a must win. DC United won the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1998 and reached the final of the short lived CONCACAF Giants Cup in 2001. Since then however it’s been one disappointment after another, whether it was Troy Perkins gaffe at Jalisco last year that cost DC a trip to the Champions Cup final, The blowing of a two goal lead in the two leg series against the same Guadalajara team in the Copa Sudamericana, or multiple shots hitting the post in an effort to defeat Pachuca in this year’s Champions Cup semifinals.
The most striking aspect of Tom Soehn’s squad selection is that Jaime Moreno starts the match in the midfield where he finished Saturday’s loss to Guadalajara. With Marcello Gallardo ailing, Soehn obviously wants a calming presence on the ball. Francis Doe starts in Moreno’s customary spot alongside Luciano Emilio in the DC attack. Gonzalo Peralta is again out injured for the red and black which will test the DC defense and the unreliable Zach Wells.
DC start the match having a hard time maintaining possession and not keeping a decent looking shape. Atlante on the other hand seems to have shook off the doldrums of the Superliga opening loss to Houston and is looking sharp early. Atlante finally breaks through as Gabriel Perreya plays a wonderful through ball to Luis Gabriel Rey. Atlante has two more good chances to score on jailbreaks through the DC backline but Zach Wells makes a good save and on the other chance Rey is caught offsides.
United finally settles down around minute twenty and begins to maintain some decent possession. Finally on an opportunity started by Jaime Moreno, Francis Doe finishes. This goal is a credit to Tom Soehn’s decision to drop Moreno into the midfield to stimulate the attack that was lacking for much of Saturday’s match.
The game then takes on a real attacking flavor with both sides pushing forward and creating chances. DC backline seems better organized but Atlante has a passing rhythm a lot of MLS sides do not posses challenging DC’s newfound defensive structure. This results in a gaol for Rey in the 44th minute thanks to the quick passing of the Atlante midfield. Devin McTavish gets turned around easily and like the first Atlante goal this lead to several minutes of sustained attacking by Atlante until the half time whistle sounds mercifully for DC. Once again in the major competition against a Mexican side, United have left themselves with little option but to go all out and attack. Last year in the Copa Sudamericana, DC United has Guadalajara down two goals and let them off the hook and this year in the Champions Cup and Superliga they have done the opposite digging an early hole which has generally been too deep to climb out of.