Coming off the worst offensive season in MLS history and back-to-back shutout losses to start 2014, United took positive steps in a 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire.WASHINGTON — When it comes to D.C. United's attack, signs of life have been sparse in recent memory. After compiling the worst offense in MLS history last season, United opened 2014 with back-to-back shutout losses.
So even though Quincy Amarikwa's late equalizer forced United to settle for a 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire on Saturday, there was an overlying sense of optimism postgame when it came to D.C.'s efforts on the attacking end.
"It is a step forward," coach Ben Olsen said. "I'm sure we quadrupled at least the number of chances, crosses. All the things we worked on this week and the last couple weeks at getting better, we're better."
Well, not quite quadrupled. But after firing three shots on goal combined over the course of losses to Columbus and Toronto, United launched nine against Chicago. After averaging 0.65 goals per game in 2013 — and scoring twice in just three league matches — United got strikes Saturday from Fabian Espindola and Perry Kitchen.
There was an energy to United's forays forward, as the team created chances with combination play and off-the-ball movement but also looked to find striker Eddie Johnson with direct services into the box. Johnson and Espindola also found themselves closer together than in past weeks, playing off each other and getting on the ball in more dangerous places.
Olsen specifically praised Espindola for finding his teammates more. While Johnson has started 2014 with three straight scoreless games, the U.S. international did dart forward to earn the edge-of-the-box free kick that Espindola scored on.
"For me, from an individual standpoint, yeah, it's frustrating," Johnson said of his lack of goals. "But I got myself in some spots where I hadn't been putting myself in as of late. I was able to get some shots off and be dangerous running toward the goal instead of playing with my back toward goal for 90 minutes."
For a team with a completely new forward duo and a midfield lacking its catalyst in Chris Pontius (hamstring), the performance showed signs of growth. It's still far from a finished product, but with 31 games left there is a belief that the work on the practice field will only translate to more goals.
"We definitely stressed patterns of play throughout training this week," Kitchen said. "I think you could see that in our movements and how we moved the ball. One-, two-touch, I thought we had some good sequences. That stuff translates."
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