Tampa Bay Sports Day

Olsen keeps all options open

DC United Coach Ben Olsen’s game plans have been situation driven and opponent dependent during his team’s resurgent unbeaten run over the last five games. Olsen has used an array of different lineups and employed an assortment of different tactics that have produced two wins and three draws over that stretch. They have gone on the road and gotten results but have left too many points on their home turf.

“We don’t want to be a team that is accepting of where we are at right now, we keep moving forward and we have big plans and even the game against LA-it’s not good enough in the end,” said Olsen. “It’s a good tie I suppose, but when you put a performance like that you should get the three points, we deserved the three points and we got to get the mentality where that’s the case.”

United takes on San Jose this Saturday, a team that is finding good results in a similar manner as United in recent weeks. The Earthquakes will be without forward Chris Wondolowski who is with the U.S. National Team at the Gold Cup.

After leaking goals with frequency during a tumultuous April, that included conceding four in successive league games to close out the month and several heart-to-heart meeting with his team, he resorted to a young back line that so far has been productive.

United earned five of an available nine points in three home games that included two disappointing draws with Dallas and Colorado, while getting four of a possible six points on the road. Had they turned two of those three draws into wins, they would be sitting at the top of the table in the Eastern Conference.

“First and foremost it’s a results oriented business so you have to take what’s there,” said United forward Josh Wolff. “When you go to Portland you play a different brand of soccer than you do at Home Depot (Center). I think that shows our versatility… LA it called for a different game-you are not going to open the field up the game and let (David) Beckham pick you apart.

“I don’t think anybody is perceived as being a Barcelona in this league. We play possession when we can, we counter when we can, and if we got to dig in and make a mess, we make it a mess and get the result. We’ve got players of all sorts so we are comfortable playing any type of game.”

Concentration and fight are expected traits from an Olsen-coached team and have been the baseline for the turnaround not only at that end of the park but across the lot. But the clean, attractive soccer you would also expect has been lacking.

“We need to keep pushing. The concentration is high, the fight’s been high and that’s the basics, that’s what we need every week. Now we got to get the soccer side a little bit sharper,” said Olsen.

In the scoreless draw with Los Angeles on Friday, Wolff, Charlie Davies, and Chris Pontius each missed chances they could have, and perhaps should have, buried that would have altered the outcome of the match.

Pontius could have first timed a ball in the penalty are that was perhaps a shade behind him early in the match, Wolff was perhaps a touch too casual with his chance inside the six-yard box, and Davies got behind the back line but couldn’t turn fast enough to get around the ball and slot it home later in the match.

“Being more cutthroat in the final third; taking a little more pride in having the right options in the box; cleaner final ball; all the little stuff that you need to score goals,” Olsen continued. “It’s not easy to score goals and you have to be pretty precise or have a guy or two that take it upon themselves to make sure they are getting the job done.

“We’ve got those guys, don’t get me wrong; Wolffy can score obviously and Charlie, that’s a rare miss for Charlie so I am not worried about it all, but I want to make sure we are not feeling okay about ourselves.”

Pontius has played the most games (12) and logged the most minutes (1,005) for United so far this season and his work on one flank, with Andy Najar on the other side, has been exemplary.

“Andy and Chris are out there for a reason. If we can get them isolated I think people put their money on those two either getting around (a defender) or getting a cross in or a shot off,” said Olsen.

“I don’t think any of us is surprised at the way Chris is playing. We saw some glimpses in his first year…he puts guys on their heels, he’s been aggressive but still would like to see him, out of the run of play, get more points for us.”

Olsen selected Fred against Los Angeles while going with Stephen King in the previous match at Portland to play alongside Clyde Simms in the middle. Olsen has conceded at this point that creativity out of central midfield is lacking with the loss of Branko Boskovic to season ending ACL surgery.

“The middle has been steady and that is right now, what I need from our central players,” said Olsen. “I need a good, workmanlike performance. Fred came in and did a good job. I thought he helped out with taking Beckham out of the game, he is a big part of their game and he (Fred) helps us with possession. Whether it’s him, or King has come in and done a good job and Clyde has been steady so that is what I am looking for in that position right now.”

With the small field at Jeld-Wen Stadium in Portland versus the full-size at Home Depot Center in Los Angeles, Olsen planned accordingly with his midfield and overall tactics.

“It’s almost a different game plan going from Portland to LA,” Olsen said. “Here is a small field where there is a lot of second balls and you go to LA and it’s about keeping the ball and making the other team defend and I thought Fred came in and did a good job in that sense and Kinger played his role perfectly against Portland and that is what this is about. We’ve got guys now that if we see a certain game needs a certain thing, we’ve got options and that’s a good thing and I think the guys are buying into it.”