Tampa Bay Sports Day

United looks to repeat results on the road

Real Salt Lake and DC United share two major similarities, coaches who formerly played in the league and a possession style game. Saturday night’s game may see those traits play out in interesting ways.

Olsen grew up in a possession oriented tradition that emphasized gritty play and dominance of midfield. Every DC United game would begin with that battle for control. Opponents would frequently choose to cede possession by dropping their primary resistance line to midfield or even deeper into their own end.

As DC pressed their attacks into a semi-bunker, opponents hoped to lure defenders forward into overlapping positions and then to counterstrike quickly. With rookies in back, United is now susceptible to such tactics. Perhaps some change in emphasis would surprise Salt Lake.

As he moved from player to coach, Jason Kreis proved to be a quick study and has infused a style into his team that suits their location as well as his own personality. Salt Lake’s possession game is designed to wear out opponents who are not used to Rio Tinto’s altitude. DC United’s classic style plays right into that tactic and may explain their own lack of success in Salt Lake.

Given that his possession game has prevailed against the entire league, Kreis is unlikely to change it. The predictable is often beatable, and Olsen may choose to surprise his opponent by switching to a counterattacking approach.

This does not mean bunkering in, but simply keeping one’s own wide defenders at home most of the time while placing the primary resistance line near midfield. Let Real Salt Lake try to pry open DC while Charlie Davies or Josh Wolff look to join with Andy Najar and Chris Pontius in quick counters.

Soccer games are rarely won by radical changes in strategy, but a change in emphasis can have a profound effect. It should take Kreis most of the first half to recognize any change. If he seems to adjust in the second half, United might choose to switch to the attack or to continue to ride out a lead if one has been attained.

In either case, Olsen’s players will be more rested than previously and thus more able to execute whichever tactic is called for.

If Jed Zayner is fully up to speed, his presence may be just the bit of maturity needed to settle the defense. Although Daniel Woolard has shown an ability to overlap, he is sufficiently experienced and disciplined to hold down a more defensive role as well.

Both Najar and Pontius will need to do less defending as their mates hang back. Pontius has previously expressed his pleasure at having overlapping defenders create openings for him. He will have to adjust to the trade off and seek his chances via sharp diagonal runs and individual battles with defenders.

Both he and Najar have great one-on-one skill and excellent vision. Wolff or Davies can read the defenders’ responses and play accordingly. Blake Bretschneider can remain a handful for any defender who loses track of him.

In short, a little change may bring a big surprise.