Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC United poised to exceed mediocrity

The numbers don’t lie and they tell a sad tale for DC United. They will almost certainly not see the playoffs for a third straight year. Still, I expect this team to have a winning record for the remainder of the season. Here’s why.

They have shown steady growth as a team and the Onalfo style appears to lack only two elements which are now being addressed. The first is offensive variety and it has been improved impressively so far with the acquisition of Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez.

The second is a defense weakened by injury, and that should be cured soon as two more players reach “probable” status and another two seem ready to return within a few weeks.

Let’s examine the squad as they prepare to meet Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

Beginning with the heretofore anemic attack, Curt Onalfo appears to finally have sufficient variety and depth. The addition of a top line striker in Hernandez has made a major difference. The young Argentinian has the vision to link well with the midfield and make dangerous runs with and without the ball.

For the game against Real, he will probably be paired with Danny Allsopp who has earned a start with his recent hat trick. The Aussie has made clever runs with only rare reward until the advent of the two new signings. He will have his chance to shine on Saturday.

Moving to midfield, we encounter a very strong combination of wing attack and central vision. Boskovic continues to round into shape and grow more comfortable with his teammates. Although the altitude in Utah may limit his minutes this first time at that altitude, he should be able to drive the attack effectively long enough to unbalance Real.

He will require a more defensive minded Clyde Simms behind him for two reasons, the more important one being the need to protect a weakened defense which I will address later. The other is that Simms will be the sole defensive midfielder.

As the season has developed, DC United has steadily refined its wing attack, a major improvement over 2009. Until very recently, there has been no one inside to receive what service could be developed. With that inside help present, United has three strong players for the two wide slots.

With Chris Pontius just coming off a foot bruise, Onalfo is likely to start Andy Najar and Tino Quaranta, both of whom present serious threats. With the added midfield strength, United can place a bit less emphasis on defenders’ overlapping, thereby giving Simms a slightly less difficult job in support.

Real will attack with Robbie Findley, whose speed will demand that United have enough speed of their own. If Dejan Jakovic is fully fit (he is listed only as probable), he will be the key. If not, Onalfo will almost certainly need to start rookie Jordan Graye at left back.

If the game were a week later, Marc Burch might be ready, but the altitude presents too great a risk to allow two “probables” to start. Thus, we should see Julius James in the middle with Graye on the left and two slots filled by Carey Talley or Jakovic and Barry Rice or another “probable”, Devon McTavish.

It is clear that the final level protecting the goal will be sorely tested until the defense is fully healthy. United is fortunate to have two excellent keepers to provide the final impediment. Whether it is Troy Perkins or Bill Hamid, the keeper will have to excel. Given the altitude and his experience, it is likely that Perkins will start.