Tampa Bay Sports Day

United youth continue Quixotic quest against the Galaxy

Every few years DC United wins an away game with a less than star-filled squad. While Sunday’s effort in Portland might seem to be just one of those games, it may be more than a fortunate fluke blending exceptional focus and effort with a solid game plan. These guys may just do it twice in a row.

Coach Ben Olsen immediately focused his players on the next game in his post-game comments in Portland, hoping to provide a balance of confidence after a successful result and realism about the very strong LA Galaxy team.

The loss of their goalkeeper, Donovan Ricketts, to Gold Cup duty for Jamaica and the dangerous Landon Donovan to the same duty for the US will no doubt impact their star-laden roster, but Juan Pablo Angel can provide plenty of guile while Mike Magee serves up copious energy for David Beckham to feed into.

United will present an overwhelmingly young defense with Perry Kitchen and Ethan White in the center to provide amazingly precocious wisdom and cool, and solid bite, respectively. Daniel Woolard and any of a number of possible right backs should round out the defense.

Both wide defenders should play farther back than usual to support a more attacking attitude from the wide midfielders, Chris Pontius and Andy Najar. In the normal DC United style they would be expected to overlap fairly often. Because of LA’s service wizards, Beckham and Juninho, they should mind the store more carefully.

In years past, players like Josh Gros would attack mercilessly, thereby taking their opposite number out the counterattack. Najar and Pontius will have their hands full with Beckham and Juninho, but can turn the tables if they maintain width and a attacking mindset which will require defending by LA’s wide mids.

Central defenders Kitchen and White must stay home and count on Stephen King and Clyde Simms to deflect attacks down the middle. Angel in particular will try to find seams and all four in the core must play a tightly coordinated game to keep him in check.

Olsen will probably play Blake Brettschneider and Josh Wolff for their energy and guile respectively. If Charlie Davies is healthy it would be wise to play him in the second half only if needed. If United has a lead, it might be better to spell Wolff with Joseph Nqwenya whose work rate will keep LA honest.

If LA leads, then Fred may provide the spark along with Davies. If United leads, we might see Dax McCarty for whomever of King and Simms tires first.

In my preseason prediction I noted that United has the best quality depth in MLS and this trip has shown that so far. I predicted a .500 record by about mid-season and a better than average one thereafter. If the youngsters can topple the mighty Galaxy in the Home Depot Center, they will be slightly ahead of schedule.

The wily and wise Bruce Arena can be counted on to motivate and prepare his team to deal with a style which he built into United and which still infuses the players and coach. He may choose to fight a midfield battle with occasional fast transitions to attack. That has been his primary philosophy and is United’s to this day.

Opponents will often simply absorb the attack, ceding the bulk of play to United, only to zip past their pulled up defenders with quick thrusts. The Galaxy with Landon Donovan have tended to that style, but his absence and Arena’s desire to control play may see most of the action fought out in the middle of the field.