Tampa Bay Sports Day

A tale of two teams – The old guys win 4-0

Ben Olsen put it succinctly, “I was proud that they didn’t quit at 2-0, at 3-0, even at 4-0, the guys worked their tails off in the second half. This is a process, and right now [New York] are a better team than we are. Are they 4-0 better than us? I don’t think so, but on the night I suppose they were.”

The rebuilding of DC United is indeed a process. Olsen will review the game tapes over the Easter weekend and decide what needs to be done. By the time that DC visits the Red Bulls in New Jersey on 9 July, the teams may well be close to evenly matched.

Two intertwined factors will influence my prediction. The Red Bulls’ greater wisdom comes from age and United’s errors spring from youth. The learning curve will favor the young. United also has a deep midfield which should leave them fresher at the hotter time of year.

Olsen will need to address at least three issues. The most obvious is the most difficult to achieve, improving the quality of wide defensive play.

While Marc Burch is a nice hard working guy, he is a convert from further up the field. He has actually improved to a reasonable journeyman level against many MLS teams, but suffers when confronted by the better attacking wings in the league.

On the other flank, Chris Korb has performed better than one might expect from a rookie, but still lacks the vision to contain a disciplined attack like that of the Red Bulls. His failure to follow the crafty Thierry Henry inside led to the goal that set the game’s terms.

The return of Jed Zayner from a hamstring strain will strengthen the right side while Korb continues to adapt to the speed of MLS play. Zayner may also spell Burch for a few matches to keep him fresh. If Uruguayan Rodrigo Brasesco returns to form, he might also contribute a more mature vision.

The second issue is fundamental. For the first twenty minutes of the game, both teams played a full width game. Then DC United’s midfield lost shape and drifted inside. Chris Pontius explained, “When you’re a player on the outside and you’re not getting the ball, I was just trying to find the ball. I wasn’t being effective on the outside.”

That approach reflects precisely what has been wrong with United’s shape and what it had been so nicely improving on beginning late last season. Finding his team behind a goal and then another one, the still young Pontius sought to take the game on his shoulders and bring it to New York.

Ironically, his movement inside was exactly what the Red Bulls would want when in the lead. They happily allowed the game to compress from the side, cutting down passing channels and offering much less room for attack by United.

What Pontius did not realize was that players must find or create space, then let the ball find them. When the Red Bulls attacked successfully, it was notably down the wings. They could take the initiative to widen play when they chose, knowing that DC was unlikely to maintain their own width.

The final issue is how to create sufficient central attacking pressure to allow the wings to feel that they don’t need to move to the middle to make good things happen. It is clear that Dax McCarty, for all of his strengths, is not a creative player. Branko Boskovic is, and it showed when he came in for the second half.

The case for a double holding midfield derives from the youth of DC’s central defenders. As Perry Kitchen and Ethan White continue to adjust to professional play, Olsen may be able to risk starting Boskovic while using either McCarty or Simms to play a defensive mid role. If a lead needs protecting later in a game, the fallback could be to pull Boskovic for a more defensive arrangement.

The season, the coach, and the players are young. The talent is mostly there. Hans Backe, the Red Bulls’ coach, has his experienced players using space well. Under Olsen, DC United’s next step in the rebuilding process will feature better positional discipline.

The other two issues are more difficult. Talent costs money and the defense may have to struggle and grow from within. The degree of emphasis on central creativity may have to depend on opponents’ strengths. While the days when United would set the tone for most games will not return until Olsen’s “process” is fulfilled, he has DC United moving in the right direction.

Scoring Summary:

NY — Thierry Henry 2 (Jan Gunnar Solli 2, Dane Richards 2) 12

NY — Thierry Henry 3 (Jan Gunnar Solli 3, Dane Richards 3) 38

NY — Joel Lindpere 1 (Thierry Henry 2, Rafael Marquez 1) 76

NY — Juan Agudelo 2 (Jan Gunnar Solli 4, Mehdi Ballouchy 1) 92+

Lineups:

New York Red Bulls — Bouna Coundoul, Jan Gunnar Solli, Tim Ream, Rafael Marquez, Roy Miller, Dane Richards (Mehdi Ballouchy 67), Teemu Tainio, Dwayne De Rosario, Joel Lindpere, Luke Rodgers (Juan Agudelo 75), Thierry Henry (Carl Robinson 81).

Substitutes Not Used: Matt Kassel, Stephen Keel, John Rooney, Greg Sutton.

D.C. United — Bill Hamid, Chris Korb (Santino Quaranta 70), Perry Kitchen, Dejan Jakovic, Marc Burch, Fred, Dax McCarty (Branko Boskovic 46), Clyde Simms, Chris Pontius, Josh Wolff, Charlie Davies (Joseph Ngwenya 60).

Substitutes Not Used: Brandon Barklage, Andy Najar, Ethan White, Pat Onstad.

Referee: Jorge Gonzalez
Referee’s Assistants: Greg Barkey; Matthew Kreitzer
4th Official: Andrew Chapin
Weather: Partly Cloudy and 59 degrees
Attendance: 18,052