Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC United has brief break to find focus

A team cannot perform well unless the players are on the same page. If they wish to excel, that page must be well fitted to their individual and collective talents. The best coach builds his plan around his players, ingrains its execution into them, and adjusts as the season’s variables change the players available and their opponents’ resources and tendencies.

Saturday night’s latest disastrous effort showed that DC United Coach Curt Onalfo has a reasonable, if incomplete, understanding of his roster’s capabilities, but needs to work on the team’s adherence to the plan.

Tino said he did too much

Santino Quaranta put it simply, “Yeah I thought we used our width good in the first half. It was one of those games that was typical D.C.-Chicago. It wasn’t too sharp, it was windy on the field, and it wasn’t the prettiest game.

“I thought we created some good chances, and in the second half we went straight down the middle and we lost our shape.” The refrain is familiar. It was the hallmark of 2009. He expressed his frustration, “The second half it seemed like I stood out there the whole time just waiting, waiting, waiting. Nothing really came about.”

Just as Tom Soehn emphasized to his players all of that year, Onalfo has preached the same need for balance and width in the DC United game in 2010. The front office brought in Cristian Castillo to bolster the width of attack, letting go Fred, whose tendency to the middle had caused so much frustration.

Onalfo moved Quaranta inside for the first few games, and saw that player’s tendency to the center morph into frequent forays wide. The coach recognized that Quaranta is more a finder of space than a holder and distributor of the ball and adjusted his role accordingly.

Saturday’s roster showed a generally wise allocation of players. As Onalfo described it, “We played a little differently, we had Tino [Quaranta] wide on the right and [Chris] Pontius wide on the left and Jaime [Moreno] underneath and [Danny] Allsopp up top, kinda a four-three-two-one formation just to help with the width of our attack – it’s something we haven’t had in our first three games. We had it in the first half. It wasn’t as fluid as I would like it to be.”

That first half was torture for both teams as they took turns demonstrating why they came in near the bottom of the MLS standings. Both sides turned the ball over repeatedly and seemed bereft of ideas. Quaranta correctly ascribed some execution errors to the wind, but many turnovers were simply unforced errors. As he put it, “We were both not good, giving cheap balls away.”

The game changer was Brian McBride who came in late and immediately focused his team. Although his claim to fame is his heading and fearless play, it was his reading of the game and ability to create or find space that earned both of the Fire’s goals.

His influence and effectiveness should serve as a lesson to Onalfo. Like Chicago’s Carlos De Los Cobos, he has a vintage resource, in his case Jaime Moreno. The Bolivian has less than a full game’s worth of high-level performance in him these days and would be best used as a game changer himself.

The rash of injuries has left Onalfo with gaps in defense and offense and forced him to make difficult choices and using Moreno as a starter may have been necessary for Saturday’s game. The emergence of 17 year old Andy Najar as a competent professional player may help a bit, but the youngster has a few years of growth in the game before he might be counted on as a regular important contributor. He can carry the occasional load, but should not be overburdened too soon.

It appears that Brandon Barklage will return from concussion soon and Clyde Simms reports that he is running already and will introduce cutting into his practice soon. He hopes to be ready for the heavy schedule that follows the upcoming weekend’s break.

Juan Manuel Pena should return during that stretch and join Dejan Jakovic whose one game suspension coincided with a minor injury to his jaw. The team should gradually grow stronger despite the probable additional loss of Chris Pontius to a hamstring strain.

Carey Talley brings a veteran’s perspective, “Hopefully with this break here we can use the time to get healthy and come back refreshed…. Things are not going to get easier if we just start pointing fingers at each other, so we have to be able to pick each other up and give constructive feedback. We are going to help each other, and we can wash this bad taste out of our mouths.”

He intends to do his part. Like Brian Carroll, now with the Columbus Crew, he rigorously reviews game tapes to learn lessons. Asked about United’s failure to exploit width, he demurred, “I think I need to watch the tape….It’s going to look a lot different from my perspective on the field from when you see it from above.”

His immediate post-game feeling was that mutual support needs improvement, “We’ve gotta be a team that help the guy next to you. If one guy gets beat, who’s gonna be there to help? Who’s gonna help after that and who’s gonna help after that?

“It just seems that sometimes it’s more of something we react to rather than it being like, ‘OK, I’ve got to be ready. This guy’s going to get beat and I’m gonna help him’.” Pending review of the tape, he believes that DC United’s reaction instead of anticipation may have contributed to both goals.

If DC United is to salvage its season, Onalfo will need help from his veterans like Quaranta and Talley. As the latter put it, “This is tough; this is a tough streak, and not many people have experienced a situation like this in the League. We need to look to the older guys to lead.”

Match Facts

Chicago Fire 2, DC United 0
April 17, 2010, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

Scoring Summary:
CHI — Marco Pappa 2 (Brian McBride 1, Patrick Nyarko 2) 80’
CHI — Brian McBride 2 (Andrew Dykstra 1) 89’

Misconduct Summary:

DC — Julius James (caution; Reckless Tackle) 74’
DC — Kurt Morsink (caution; Reckless Foul) 86’

Referee: Silviu Petrescu
Referee’s Assistants: Daniel Belleau; Steven Taylor
4th Official: Andrew Chapin

Weather: Clear-and-55-degrees

Attendance: 18,407