United (2-4-4) defended for what seemed like days in posting its second shutout in less than a week.
United’s totals in shots and corner kicks matched the attendance: 0.
“They had a lot of shots,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “We had none, and we got a point out of it.”
NYCFC (4-5-1) had 19 shots, nine corner kicks and 70 percent of possession but failed to dent United’s stout resistance and wasted some opportunities.
According to Opta, United was the first team since 2017 to fail to register a shot.
With several D.C. players still sidelined and the opponent among the technically best in the league, Olsen’s tactical plan was to play defensively and perhaps launch a surprise counter. Much of the second half, United had everyone except the striker in a defensive posture.
“We have to make decisions on how to get results,” Olsen said. “That’s my job — to get results. We did that over the last two games. It’s not a lot of fun to play that way, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.”
United’s defense met the challenge despite the absence of captain Steven Birnbaum and goalkeeper Bill Hamid. D.C. has posted three shutouts in five matches since the regular season resumed in home markets.
“We came into this with the mind-set of being hard to break down,” said Chris Seitz, who made four saves. “We frustrated the heck out of them, and we definitely didn’t give them anything easy or cheap.”
On Wednesday, United was equally strong defensively against the New York Red Bulls and looked for opportunities in the second half before substitute Erik Sorga won the game in stoppage time with his first MLS goal.
There were no such flurries this time.
“That’s how we chose to go about this game,” Olsen said. “I’m not asking for credit, but I am looking for a little appreciation on how our team defends. It’s not always about the offensive side. The defensive side is a very important part of the game, and we did it pretty well the last couple games.”
United launched long balls for starting striker Ola Kamara to chase down. Later, Venezuelan striker Gelmin Rivas debuted in that position. Sorga remained on the bench.
“Little bit unfair to Sorga,” Olsen said, explaining Rivas’s superior size was more advantageous in such a game.
Hamid missed his third consecutive match. The first two were for personal reasons, but according to a person close to the situation, Hamid is now working on fitness issues and might return Saturday against the visiting Red Bulls. Birnbaum has an undisclosed injury.
Olsen retained the starting lineup from the outing Wednesday. The visitors set the tone. United did a lot of chasing.
Ronald Matarrita, NYCFC’s attack-minded left back, overlapped as he pleased and served one delicious cross after another.
A wonderful buildup in the 25th minute ended with Keaton Parks missing an open net from close range, and Jesus Medina’s stab a minute later trickled wide by a whisker.
Under constant pressure and unable to counter, United was fortunate in getting to halftime without conceding at least one goal. It also dodged trouble when the video assistant referee ruled Heber’s cross that struck Frédéric Brillant’s hand did not warrant a penalty kick.
For the 13th consecutive game dating from last September, United failed to score before halftime.
Intermission provided a 15-minute pause to NYCFC’s domination. After the break, Seitz parried one threat and made a reflex save with his left leg on Medina’s one-touch bid.
Olsen turned to his bench: Oniel Fisher and Chris Odoi-Atsem for speed on the flanks, Rivas for a presence up front and Federico Higuaín for composure.
Mostly, however, it was about defending. “It was the plan, and we respect the plan,” Brillant said.
“Yes, the offense can get better,” Olsen said. “I will not argue that, but until that happens, defensively we’ve been pretty good. ... Maybe if we go toe-to-toe with them, maybe we win the game. Or maybe we lose 3-0. These are decisions coaches have to make.”
Note: MLS is aiming to announce the balance of the regular season calendar this week. As it stands, teams do not know their schedule beyond this coming weekend.
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