Tampa Bay Sports Day

Deeper and quicker, DC United goes on the attack

Despite garnering the worst record in team history, DC United made significant progress throughout the woeful 2010 season and has continued that trend over the winter. A new Spring and Summer will tell us what the fruits of the labors of the dismissed Curt Onalfo and the forceful Ben Olsen will be.

As the team staggered through 2010, Onalfo’s efforts saw his players develop much improved width in their attack while the defense suffered from a lack of depth aggravated by a series of injuries concentrated on that end of the field.

Onalfo was forced to focus overall team play on defense, often assigning two players as defensive/holding midfielders to the detriment of scoring. As a result, United suffered 11 losses by a lone goal and was rarely blown out of games. They simply couldn’t score when they needed to.

Over the winter, United added seven people who should allow them to emphasize a more complete game. To the aid of a harried Dejan Jakovic come rookie Perry Kitchen and Uruguayan Rodrigo Brasesco. Either of those two might be expected to pair with Jakovic while Jed Zayner and Mark Burch withstand challenges from Chris Korb, and Daniel Woolard for outside slots.

Olsen’s hopes for his defense will rest largely on the much hoped for rookie success of Kitchen and a return to form by Jakovic. Brasesco adds experience and some depth along with the young Ethan White.

Perhaps the brightest spot in 2010 was the emergence of home-grown rookie Andy Najar. He was a major driver of what success DC had in midfield and should continue his exploits this year. The expected sophomore slump will probably materialize in his statistics, but his value may actually be greater then they will show.

MLS sides will have learned his habits and recognize his effectiveness when left one-on-one. He will draw attention and thereby free up two of his new teammates, Dax McCarty and Charlie Davies. The former will put some bite in midfield and the latter will provide speed and good off the ball movement up front.

When Olsen took over, he was able to add a significant element to United’s game. Under Onalfo, the players not only gained width, but also improved their mutual support in midfield. Although it came too late to help in 2010, Olsen’s charges added better off the ball movement and support in attack.

To still further enhance the offense, Olsen picked up two more attackers, Joseph Ngwenya and veteran Josh Wolff. They add both speed and savvy to a deep attacking corps. That final dimension may prove to be the key to 2011 success.

A further improvement will come from the return to full capability of Chris Pontius and the reacquisition of a seventh and final new player, Fred. They add punch and depth to an already strong midfield.

The final wildcard is Designated Player Branko Boskovic. He came to United not game-fit and never really blossomed in a defense-oriented midfield. With the arrival of McCarty, his role has become less clear, but his potential remains strong since he has shown well in a wide role for his national team in Montenegro.

While he reacted negatively to a suggestion last Fall that he might want to play there for DC, he will probably prove to be a good soldier and play in whichever role DC may require as injuries and national team duties change player composition.

Given all the above, I expect DC United to play .500 ball or better in the early season, improving to a playoff team by the end as their best in the league depth comes into play. Whatever the final result, Ben Olsen’s fierce competitiveness already shows in his player choices and the appointment of McCarty as Captain. It should be a fun season.