Tampa Bay Sports Day

Healthy United takes on wounded Revs

Over the years, DC United and the New England Revolution have seen their personnel change as Major League Soccer’s relative financial strength in the international market does not result in consistent rosters. With homegrown talent improving, an increasing number of young Americans have gone abroad.

That places a premium on team style, either through coaching influence or team tradition.

The Revolution, who have had Steve Nicol as coach for a long time, have settled into a solid pattern which slots players into his system readily, and generally comfortably. That consistent hard-nosed play accounts for New England’s success over the years.

On the other hand, DC United relies on a consistent tradition, born of early success, of a certain controlling style of play regardless of the actual coach. However variable in their personalities, Ray Hudson, Thomas Rongen, and Tom Soehn always fielded sides which sought to control midfield, a primary principle of the dynasty’s first coach, Bruce Arena.

In turn, MLS coaches have often conceded some of that control to United, seeking to counter into spaces created as DC surged forward. The most effective DC teams have found the discipline to maintain shape while still bringing the entire team into attack.

You can see a pattern of empty spaces in almost every MLS game. Again and again, the ball will tend to one side or the other and players will cluster more heavily as gang pressure is applied. The teams that solve the pressure best win most often.

United started with a heavy Latin American influence, courtesy of Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno. The team still favors a central attack generated by quick short passes. While the wing attack and long ball are occasionally employed, the team has become somewhat stuck in a rut.

This season, as Moreno’s influence continues to fade and two young wide midfielders have come on the scene, DC United has begun to show more flexibility in attack than usual. Injuries to expected starters, Tino Quaranta and Fred opened opportunity for Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius to put their own stamp on the team.

Both are quick and hard working and, most importantly, less inclined to break inside than the veterans for whom they have covered. If they maintain their width correctly, their overall impact will continue to be significant.

Friday night’s game may see the first time this season that the expected veteran team takes the field while the youngsters watch from the bench. If the older players have been observant, the team may reap a major benefit. Sometimes the old guys can learn from the rookies. Width is important.

It is clear from pre-game quotes from Nicol that his team will pressure and bruise as usual, paying special attention to the Latin triangle of Luciano Emilio, Moreno, and Christian Gomez. To shift or bypass the Revolution’s focus, it will be particularly important to attack the wings.

United will have a further advantage as the Revs will be without the services of their United killer, Taylor Twellman. New England will rely on the speed of Kheli Dube to find spaces where United’s discipline might lapse. They will also hope that Steve Ralston can use his experience to create chances or that Shalrie Joseph can power his way to a goal or two.

Ralston is a master of wing play and restricting his ability to serve good passes to Joseph or Dube will be key. While he has recently been used inside, he is likely to attack from any angle. Clyde Simms and Ben Olsen will need help from wide midfield to assure that he is contained.

The weather appears cooperative and the field should be in sterling condition. The game should be contentious all night and play will be swift and aggressive, just another typical Eastern Conference battle.