Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC United experiment yields a 2-0 win

DC United ventured into Virginia to test the market for their Open Cup games and were rewarded with a crowd of 2,985 at George Mason University. To top it off, they came away with a 2-0 victory to advance to the Cup quarterfinals.

That game will move back to the previous default Open Cup venue when United takes on Harrisburg on 21 July at 7:30 PM at the Maryland Soccerplex.

Open Cup games prior to the semifinals tend to feature mostly reserve teams representing MLS sides. This one was a bit of an exception, if only because United has had to give significant playing time in regular season matches to many players who might normally spend most pf their in practice or on the bench.

Coach Curt Onalfo has managed an onslaught of injuries by careful integration of his bench into first team action while building a cohesive and increasingly effective overall team. Last Saturday’s loss at Columbus came significantly against the run of play as the team continues to improve.

The Open Cup match was an almost surreal event as the sun created visual effects similar to a video game. Uniform colors, red on one hand and black on the other, with both of similar color saturation, combined with the severe backlighting made it difficult to distinguish players.

Richmond had difficulty maintaining possession throughout the game and their ineffectiveness was mirrored by United in the first half. Onalfo spoke with his players at halftime and their play for the remainder of the game became quicker and sharper.

Santino Quaranta, who was inserted for Luciano Emilio, was particularly aggressive, adding an urgency the drove the team to victory.

The official lineup, listed as a 4-3-3 with Andy Najar playing at right back, was really a 4-4-2 as Jaime Moreno provided a second surprise by holding down a wide midfield position. After all, Open Cup matches at this level do allow some latitude for experimentation.

In 2008, Coach Tom Soehn responded to stressful roster losses by using Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace in a variety of roles and saw them blossom. Onalfo’s testing of Najar on defense, while primarily driven by the sheer lack of healthy defenders, also provided the youngster with a real opportunity for growth.

Pontius humorously referred to Najar as, “Dani Alves. I thought he did a good job. It took him a bit of time to settle into the game, but I thought in the second half he looked comfortable there. He’s a smart player, so wherever you’re going to play him he still understands the game.”

In contrast to the World Cup, where the drone of Vuvuzelas makes verbal communication nearly impossible for the players, the fans in the stands could clearly hear keeper Bill Hamid directing Andy’s positioning, a reflection of Hamid’s maturation and Najar’s adaptation.

Pontius noted that playing defense had its merits, “I played right back for two years in college.” He went on to say that such changes provide a different vision of the game, “Andy playing right back, he’s usually going against a right back or left back and having his guy go at him he realizes how he can expose defenses a little bit better because if he got exposed on a play he realizes that maybe it’s a little bit tougher for defenders to defend that type of run or type of move.”

With the recent signings of creative midfielder Branko Boskovic and forward Pablo Hernandez, United will have extraordinary depth everywhere except on defense. Until the return to full service of Bryan Namoff, Julius James, and Marc Burch, Rodney Wallace, and Carey Talley, Onalfo will have to manufacture a defense with whoever is available and competent.

The team is basically two-thirds solid and working on the rest.