Tampa Bay Sports Day

United makes its goal to get more goals

DC United is having trouble with their finishing. No, this is not an archived story pulled out from last year or the year before that for that matter. But no worries mate-June will get here soon enough.

Since scoring over 50 goals on their way to the Supporter’s Shield in both the 2006 and 2007 seasons, this slippery, ominous conversation has hung over this team every year since, leaving them using dubious phrases like “points out of playoff contention” and “within striking distance” just seven games into the season.

“We’re coming off what we think are two very good performances even though we didn’t get the result last weekend, and we’re just looking to build on that,” said United boss Curt Onalfo.

United were the better side and created several opportunities early on before fading a bit later on in their 1-0 loss last weekend at Dallas. They take on Colorado this Saturday, a team they have had little trouble with at home over this same time frame.

“I approach every week differently based on how I feel, and how we performed. After last week, I don’t think there’s a person – the two coaches of FC Dallas came up to me and said, that was a game you should have won,” Onalfo said. “So we performed well but we fell short. That’s not a time to be berating and being negative with the group.

“There’s heart-to-hearts that we have to have as a team to make sure that we progress,” he continued. I’m focusing on the good from that last game, I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward. We know we need points coming up…All the way until the world cup break, we want to make sure we’re in striking distance so that we’re a team that can make the playoffs.

‘That’s what our goal is. Having said that, we need points desperately. We’re seven points out of playoff contention right now if the season was to end, so we have some ground to make up and we need to make sure that that happens Saturday.”

Over the last two seasons however, these slumps have occurred later in the season after relatively strong starts.

A year ago, United scored 11 goals in their first seven matches with their slump coming later in the season, scoring three goals only twice after July and just nine goals in their final ten matches.

In 2008 it was a barrage or bust. They scored four goals twice in April and three once in May but two of those outbursts were against a subpar Toronto side that finished just three points behind United at the bottom of the table. Other than that, they scored one or less in their first ten matches and scored three goals just once in the last half of the season.

Conversely during June of both of these seasons, the goals flowed like high tide on the Chesapeake Bay. In 2009, United scored 7 goals in their four games that also included their obligatory shutout loss at Colorado. The year prior, they scored an astonishing 13 goals on their way to winning all four of their matches, including a 2-1 come-from-behind win at Chicago.

Up to this point in the season, United have needed to get an early lead and then hold on to get results. Through injuries and perhaps unwarranted expectations, the team has not been able to put in a full 90-minute effort yet this season.

The winning formula during those two high octane seasons were dynamic personalities injecting their creativity and thoughts to a dynamic free flowing attack. The vision of the attack during a successful pre-season and into the early part of the regular campaign was most likely the same. However, more than any other facet is the one that is most noticeably absent.

“We have a bit of a chance to recover this week; a lot of the boys have played a lot of games but we are going to keep being positive,” said newly inserted forward Danny Allsopp. “I think we have taken some things out of the game, especially the last two games, where we feel like we are headed in the right direction and on another day we could have taken something out of last weekend’s game and we have some positives to build on.”

“We have had to adapt with all of the injuries but that’s up to the coach to get the team to play how he wants and you have to change things from time to time and try and do what he wants,” continued the burly Aussie. “What ever gets thrown at you, you have to deal with it and do the best you can.”

The insertion of Santino Quaranta as the central attacking midfielder is still a work in progress and if the recently fielded teams are any sign, that experiment is over. Andy Najar, 17, was Onalfo’s next choice but leaving that role to a teenager with no professional experience is a risky route though the potential for greatness is clearly evident.

The most recent design, Clyde Simms and Kurt Morsink, both holding midfielders by trade, is diametrically the opposite formula. With these two patrolling the middle of the park, the attacking approach has been far more simple and direct and though it has produced marginal but somewhat promising results, it may seem to place a limited ceiling on growth.

“It’s just a matter of execution,” Onalfo said. “We’re very organized defensively, we’re putting in a real honest effort on both sides of the ball and then we’ve been attacking well. Now it’s just a matter of, instead of hitting the post and the goalkeeper coming up with big saves, we have to make those big plays going forward. We also need to be more precise, we need to be more intelligent with our final pass, and that’s the point of emphasis right now.”

United re-signed Luciano Emilio to a contract thru July but he is currently not fit enough to play an entire match. The often inconsistent Brazilian scored 20 of the 56 goals they scored in that 2007 season on his way to being named MLS’ Most Valuable Player.

“It’s going slowly but we have to keep working to give my best performance but I knew it was going to be harder because the last two months I didn’t play,” Emilio said about when he may be available for the full 90-minutes.

“I don’t know because this is the first full week of training because of so many games but I think it won’t be long. My performance is not as good as normal but I am working hard to be able to give my best performance.”

Onalfo’s recent first choice alongside Allsopp has been Adam Cristman; a unique combination due to their similarities in more ways than one.

“We seem to work well and we probably look similar…But there is some difference with the way that we play; maybe the way that we were brought up playing soccer and all that and I don’t want to say too much about that.”,” said a joking Allsopp about the twosome’s physical similarities and styles.

“Certainly they bring a work ethic that’s been contagious through the team,” said Onalfo about his tandem. “Adam has the ability to get in behind, he’s got very good pace and he’s extremely strong, and has done well – as has Danny. Danny scored two good goals here at home and it’s just a matter of progressing and making sure they continue to get better, and when they have the chances, take them. “