Tampa Bay Sports Day

Does DC United finally have it together?

As the profoundly disappointing 2010 season has dragged on, DC United has never quite fully settled on a consistent roster. However, the team as a whole has matured significantly. With a mere sixth of the season remaining and too many defenders injured, United still appears to have put almost all the pieces together.

Tino Quaranta has been trying to understand it and draws real hope from the most recent performance against the LA Galaxy, “Continue to play like that and we’ll win games. It’s kind of been a theme all year, but they’re the best team in our league and I think we should have won this game tonight. Our record and our points don’t show what kind of team we are.”

Recovery began with the realization that United was inflexibly focused on central attack. Curt Onalfo emphasized wing play and saw some success. However, with the absence of Bryan Namoff and a constant series of injuries to defenders, he was forced to restrain his wide attackers to support those behind them.

Against the stronger United teams of old opponents were often forced into a counterattacking mode.
They would absorb United’s pressure and strike on the counter. If other teams are so superior to United this year, one might expect them to fight for midfield control. After all, a weakened defense gives opponents both options.

Yet, they win off the counter more often than not. Quaranta is correct in his assessment, “We’ve been creating a lot of chances. If you look around the league in that position, in the [wide] positions, I feel like this team is one of the best teams in those positions.”

Throughout the season, United has steadily improved in maintaining its overall shape while gradually improving in off the ball supporting runs, first on defense, and only very recently on attack. That can be laid to too intense a desire to carry the team to victory with individual effort.

The team has no pure speed player to keep an opponent off balance, but does have enough strong attackers to create and finish chances. Of late, Pablo Hernandez has gradually adjusted to the physicality of MLS play and has begun to interact better with his teammates.

With his arrival, the central attack has gradually improved as Danny Allsopp has begun to work a more effective partnership up front. Quaranta has been able to see players closer than Andy Najar as viable passing options.

Until recently, players would drive at and take on multiple defenders while teammates watched. In the last three games, against Columbus, Toronto, and LA, the attack has finally achieved effective support with good offensive runs and quicker recognition by of opportunity by those with the ball and those in support.

Hernandez had shared a tendency with Najar to hold the ball a bit too long. In both cases, teammates were partially to blame. The single most significant element that DC United’s coaches have instilled is the need for constant movement off the ball to support these two particular players when they get the ball.

The same lack of effective supporting movement has combined with his own age degraded skills to render Jaime Moreno no longer the game changer that he once was. Time and again, DC United players have emphasized that they play for one another. In fact, they have, but almost always in focusing on defense.

With the emergence of more active offensive interaction, the elements are now in place, just in time for some new actors to join in the play. Both Carlos Varela and Junior Carreiro give Coach Ben Olsen still more midfield support. Junior has been with the side long enough to have bought into the doctrine and Varela is experienced enough to figure it out quickly.

After strong performances in close losses against two of the league’s leaders, DC now gets a shot at a struggling Houston Dynamo squad whose fans must be as baffled United’s. The game is at 7:30 at RFK.