Tampa Bay Sports Day

Rested United prepared for heavy schedule ahead

Call it déjà vu, call it a dull familiarity. For the past several seasons the ability to finish chances and finish off games within a cluttered schedule have been code for team depth being a concern. The issue has arisen again at this time of the year. Some things never seem to change.

After a scheduling oddity where DC United have played only one league match since June 20th, they will now embark on a schedule that sees them play three games a week for the next two and 13 games over the next eight, including a trip to El Salvador for a CONCACAF Champions League match against Firpo.

Fortunately, United acquired Danny Szetela earlier this week with their #2 allocation ranking after Dallas passed on the 22-year old midfielder. The Clifton, NJ native began his professional career at 17, signing with the Columbus Crew in 2004 before moving on to Racing Santander of Spain’s La Liga.

He was subsequently transferred to Brescia Calcio of Italy’s Serie B, where he played in 26 games, tallying a goal and two assists. He is unlikely to be available for selection this Saturday when United hosts Colorado (6-4-6, 24 points) pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate but could play Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup semi-final match against Rochester (USL-1) at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, MD.

United (5-3-9, 24 points) were pounded by Colorado 3-0 in Denver a month ago, their worst performance of the season, which also came at the tail end of three games during an 8-day span.

United’s lofty expectations in all domestic and international competitions will always leave them needing to prepare for high volumes of games in defined time segments. Their preparation this year however began in the pre-season, with usually successful drafting and acquisition of players who are skillful and versatile.

“I think we have prepared ourselves this year by building a deep team,” said United Head Coach Tom Soehn. “Danny is the first of probably a couple more that we are (going to add) who can complement and we can trade guys in and out so that we don’t feel the bulk of so many games.”

A year ago, Houston assembled a deep but primarily veteran team and made a deep run into the Champions League and in SuperLiga but were visibly exhausted during the MLS playoffs.

“I certainly feel we have a much deeper roster than last year and we are going to have to rotate guys but we feel certainly we have a deep enough squad and enough guys who are versatile enough where we can be successful in all of the competitions,” added General Manager Dave Kasper.

Though they would have perhaps preferred this long break later in the season, it may have actually come at an ideal time to allow key veterans to get heal naturally in advance of this tough stretch of games.

Luciano Emilio (bone bruise), Jaime Moreno (hamstring) and Ben Olsen (hamstring, ankle) have all been injured as has Christian Gomez. United will also be without Brandon Barklage who tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his right knee in United’s 2-1 U.S. Open cup win versus Harrisburg (USL-2) two weeks ago.

“Looking back it came at a good time where we had some injuries and people got to lay low and let it naturally heal instead of rushing back and playing. Jaime looks good, Luciano looks good-the only guy that is always iffy is me. I always describe myself as iffy,” said a laughing Olsen.

All three have trained all week and will be available this Saturday but it has not yet been determined how many minutes they will play.

“I don’t know if I am going to start but I’m expecting to play. I’m healthy but my fitness is not 100% but I am definitely ready to have a go,” said Moreno. Though United have played multiple matches since his injury, he would most likely not have played in the U.S. Open Cup matches.

“It’s been good for me,” said Moreno about the break, “because I haven’t missed that many games. For the team it’s going to be good because we’ve had plenty of time to recharge and work on some things so there are no excuses.”

Soehn will have to manage the players’ minutes but that will also become easier when Santino Quaranta and Dejan Jakovic return from national team duties with the United States and Canada respectively.

I think a lot of that preparation comes once you start hitting that first game and you have another one Wednesday and how Tommy deals with us as far as playing time and practice and how he dictates the energy output that we have to save legs and make sure we are ready for the next game,” Olsen added.

“It’s not an easy job. We’ve been through it now though for a couple of years where we’ve had big time stretches and I am sure he has learned quite a lot on how to do it and players tend to curb some of the stuff and their normal routine as well-staying inside more a little after practice and shutting yourself down and trying to eat properly. All of those things add up over that type of span.”

The other recurring issues are more concerning. As has been the norm against nearly all MLS clubs, United have had the better of the possession and generated more chances in most matches. With the absence of the skilled talent, the finishing has been inconsistent and sometimes non-existent.

“Creating chances wasn’t our problem”, said Olsen, referring to the goal scoring difficulty in previous matches. “Overall we have had some issues of turning off on a play or two that has been hurting us and our finishing hasn’t been that great. But I think the overall way we are playing is good.

“Can we become that ruthless team that when we play okay, or good, we make sure we start getting some points. That means closing out games; making the big plays that count because the league is very close in a lot of ways. If you give teams chances and don’t finish your chances, it’s always gonna end up a tie.”

United’s nine draws is the most in the league along with Columbus and Los Angeles. Many of those could have been avoided with better finishing and cleaner defending.

“We have got to finish our chances, very simple,” said Moreno. “Unfortunately we haven’t done that. This is a sport where you are going to create chances; you are going to miss chances but there comes a time where you have to finish those chances to have the chance to go to the playoffs and the finals. We know that.”

“Early in the season you are not going to have that but we are at that point in the season now, especially the last half, where chances are probably fewer,” said Soehn when asked if the team had that killer instinct right now.

“Teams get more organized and more established and now you have to take advantage of those opportunities to put teams away and there are some key moments to do that-it could be in the first fifteen minutes, the last fifteen, at halftime-you have to recognize that and have the ability as a team put games away and that is something that we still need to show that we can do.”

The team consensus is that the big players have to make the big plays.

“We haven’t had that long stretch of bad play. We’ve played pretty consistent,” Olsen said. “Overall play has been pretty good. Usually with ball possession wise, better than the other team. And the time we have not gotten joy as far as points is where we’ve turned off a play or two and how we’ve finished. That’s soccer.

“It all comes down to plays and who makes the big plays and we haven’t made enough of those big plays whether its offense or defense.”