Tampa Bay Sports Day

United try to work their way out of cellar

Despite their recent losses, DC United continues to improve its overall play. The team outplayed the Revolution last Saturday only to lose via a single lapse of concentration by a veteran.

Coach Ben Olsen summed it up, “On the weekend all that stuff was pretty good-the fight, the passion was there, the commitment but again we don’t have anything to show for it because we didn’t reward ourselves by making a better play on the defensive play on the free kick and we didn’t reward ourselves with a goal.”

Olsen’s reference to the free kick only highlights that even experienced players can lose focus. Designated player Branko Boskovic, hired primarily for his attacking skills, neglected his mark and gave New England a free header.

Olsen emphasizes a strong work ethic across the board and DC United will need that in spades as they confront an FC Dallas squad that has found its stride after early setbacks, including a 4-2 Open Cup loss to United.

Dallas has been tough to break down centrally with Ugo Ihemelu backing holding midfielder Danny Hernandez. Ihemelu’s absence due to concussion diminishes their defensive power and the questionable status of Dax McCarty as creative midfielder subtracts from their central attack.

The situation places extra responsibility on young Brek Shea who continues to grow as an influence in Dallas’ attack. Early in the season he displayed the expected youthful inconsistency, but his effectiveness has grown swiftly with experience.

With Dejan Jakovic still only probable with a hamstring strain, lack of speed could once again plague United. Expect Dallas to read the defense just as Real Salt Lake did a few weeks ago and to choose to feature speed with Shea and Jeff Cunningham.

A case can be made that Jordan Graye might be useful at the right back position to help neutralize Shea.
Like Shea, Graye made rookie errors early and improved as he learned from Carey Talley and Juan Pena, but his position as a defender means that his errors more directly hurt his team.

A missed shot is soon forgotten or forgiven. A missed mark converted by the opponent is long remembered. Graye has shown enough promise to give him another shot. With that will come greater risk.

As Andy Najar faces Shea directly, the play on United’s right will be in constant tension. Najar presents great danger to Dallas and will thereby force Shea to play more defensively. Najar will have to adopt a Josh Gros work ethic by working Shea all the way up and down the line.

On attack, Chris Pontius has looked both dangerous and frustrated. Although not listed as an issue, his hamstring remains a question mark and some other forward may see time alongside Pablo Hernandez.

Injuries continue to be a major team management issue with Clyde Simms’ calf strain pointing toward another tough game for Stephen King. Wings Najar and Santino Quaranta will be called upon to help on defense.

Olsen has a realistic understanding of United’s situation, “I am getting more comfortable in the role and I think the guys are responding and realize that there is still a lot to play for whether it’s still a playoff berth, which is a long shot but is still real and we have the Open Cup that is very, very important to this club and not to mention all of the other intangibles that come along with being a professional soccer player and doing your job and your duty.”

The young coach understands that, “It’s a thin line between going overboard and keeping your guys competitive. I’d rather have it that way than the other way; it means guys want to play on the field; it means guys don’t want to lose and that is a mentality that we all needed to get back to and I say we all because I was a part of that so we’ll see.”

That translates to a solid effort to win league matches with an eye to protecting players enough to have them healthy for the Open Cup match on 1 September.