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Grading D.C. United: Key injuries, more directness in attack, and more

WASHINGTON — D.C. United didn’t put in a pretty performance against Inter Miami on Saturday, but did enough to fight back and earn their first win of the 2020 MLS regular season.

Ben Olsen’s side struggled in the opening 45 minutes to create chances, despite holding more of the possession than their Eastern Conference counterparts. The Black and Red did lose two players to injuries in the opening 45 minutes, but were able to fight back as Yamil Asad and Frederic Brillant scored two minutes apart to get the job done.

Roman Torres’ red card certainly helped the hosts cause, but they were strong in defense after going ahead and hanging onto the lead.

Olsen’s side were surprised by Diego Alonso’s team, who came out in a 3-4-3 formation, much different than D.C. United had prepared for earlier in the week. Julian Gressel remained a key piece for the Black and Red in their attack, but ultimately this team may need more weapons as the season goes on.

Defensively, the veteran pairing of Brillant and Steve Birnbaum did better as the match went on, but were caught out in the opening two minutes as Rodolfo Pizarro scored Inter Miami’s first-ever MLS goal. Joseph Mora’s injury forced Oniel Fisher into the match for his first appearance since 2018 and the Jamaican did well to deal in defense.

Erik Sorga made his MLS debut coming in for the injured Ola Kamara and had some offensive chances, but failed to make the most of them. A physical striker, Sorga had a few chances one-on-one with Miami centerback Nicolas Figal, but was denied by the Argentine.

Overall, it was three points for the club, but it was a performance that the team will need to improve on if they want to avoid a second league defeat of the season next week in Cincinnati.

Injuries force Olsen to early changes

No one wants to make one first-half substitution, let alone two. However, Ben Olsen was forced into two after Ola Kamara and Joseph Mora went down with respective hamstring injuries. 

Kamara’s departure seemed to hurt the Black and Red more than Mora’s due to the veteran striker’s ability to score frequently in MLS. His 51 career goals will be missed as Erik Sorga and Griffin Yow now take over at the striker position.

Sorga is inexperienced at MLS level while Yow is a young, but raw talent, which could force General Manager Dave Kasper into some moves prior to the May 5th closure of the Transfer Window.

Mora’s absence means Fisher is likely to see more time at left back in the Costa Rican’s place, but again it’s an early season injury for Olsen to deal with. Fisher is coming back from a serious knee injury suffered in late October, but did enough to help the Black and Red hold on for a win on Saturday.

More directness from opening whistle

D.C. United went down early to Inter Miami, but continued to look impatient as the first half went on.

It was after halftime that the team started piling on better offensive work in the final third and ultimately swung the match in their favor. They only recorded three shots on goal, two less than Inter Miami, but they made the most of the chances and continued to hold possession.

Midfielders Felipe and Edison Flores were the better performers of the afternoon, but Julian Gressel and Yamil Asad were ineffective going forward. Olsen will need better starts from his attacking group going forward if they want to be a real threat in the East.

D.C. United Player Grades:

Bill Hamid (6.5) – Continuing to hold the No. 1 job in D.C., Hamid was the busier of the two keepers. He didn’t need to make any outstanding saves on the day and did enough to help his team earn a home victory. 

Joseph Mora (6) – Mora only played 45 minutes in the match before leaving with a hamstring injury. The Costa Rican was busy against the likes of Pizarro and Lewis Morgan and could’ve done better on the opening Miami goal against the Scottish winger. 

Steve Birnbaum (7) – After a nervy beginning for the D.C. United backline, Birnbaum was the top performer on the back end. He completed 83% of his passes while holding Pizarro in check after the opening goal. 

Frederic Brillant (7) – Not known for his goalscoring ability, Brillant looked like a striker with his game-winning finish in the second half. In addition to his goal, Brillant tried springing passes down the flank to get the D.C. United attackers going. He also won four duels and completed 84% of his passes. 

Russell Canouse (6)– Remaining at the right back role, Canouse struggled against Miami’s speedy attack. He lost eight of his 11 duels on the day and didn’t look eager to get into the offensive end of the field. 

Junior Moreno (6.5) – It was a quiet performance for Moreno who was outperformed by teammate Felipe in the heart of midfield. Moreno lost three of his four duels and remained back while Felipe tried to work farther upfield. 

Felipe Martins (7.5) – Felipe was the top performer in midfield on Saturday, winning 10 duels and helping D.C. shut it down after going up for good. He sprayed passes across the midfield looking to help his team add to their lead, but ultimately brought a veteran presence in the dying stages. 

Edison Flores (7) – Flores’ free kick led to the second goal for D.C. United and was lively in his second MLS appearance. Despite only completing 60% of his passes, Flores won eight duels and wasn’t afraid to attack Inter Miami’s left back Ben Sweat. He should continue to grow in confidence with more performances like Saturday’s.

Julian Gressel (6) – Gressel looked frustrated for most of the game, failing to show his creative side off against the expansion side. He failed to get a shot on target, but deserves some credit after forcing the hand ball and ejection of Roman Torres. 

Yamil Asad (6.5) – Asad showed confidence as he stepped up to score his first goal for the club since returning. However he started off slow and missed the best first half chance from a free header. It may take Asad time to get familiar with his new teammates, but he showed some positives.

Ola Kamara (N/A) –  Kamara only played 18 minutes in the match before leaving with an injury. He completed eight passes, but that was all he brought to the field before exiting.  

Erik Sorga (5.5) –  Sorga has some decent looked for the Black and Red, but looked too complacent in attack. A physical striker, Sorga looked uncomfortable in one-on-one opportunities which is something that he’ll need to improve on if he wants to play regularly. 

Oniel Fisher (6.5) – Fisher did a good job in dealing with Inter Miami’s attack after coming on prior to halftime. He completed 31 passes and should get more comfortable with added minutes this season. 

Chris Odoi-Atsem (6) – Came off the bench as a late substitute and helped D.C. United shut down the win. Completed two passes and won two duels.

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