Tampa Bay Sports Day

Creative spark should help United’s defense as well

Despite an eight point difference in the standings, DC United and the Philadelphia Union are two well matched clubs. Their 2-2 tie in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on April 6th at the Maryland SoccerPlex, which United won 4-2 on penalty kicks, and their split games last year point in that direction.

MLS has seen a plethora of tied or very close games, pointing to increased parity. New teams entering the league have usually become competitive very quickly, from Chicago years ago, to Real Salt Lake, to Seattle, to the Union right now.

With coaches Ben Olsen and Peter Nowak having similar styles and temperaments, both teams should play similarly on Saturday. Look for determined efforts to control possession and to defend and attack all over the field.

Continuing injury woes have plagued United, especially on defense, where Dejan Jakovic and Marc Burch remain out while Jed Zayner appears to have yet again been bitten by the injury bug. Daniel Woolard is not listed among the injured, but may have tweaked his back at practice.

To the rescue come two significant additions, Brandon McDonald and Dwayne DeRosario. The former may take up immediate residence in central defense, allowing Perry Kitchen to slide right to fill the slot that Zayner had just begun to own.

DeRosario will provide United with the creative midfield presence that it has lacked all season. Despite the excellent individual performances of both Andy Najar and Chris Pontius, they have both failed to maintain the width that is essential to effective overall team play.

Pontius has several times stated that he goes inside to find the ball and get involved in play. While fine for him, it has clogged the middle and made it easier for defenders to stifle plays on a narrowed field of combat.

Unstated in his position is the fact that central attack has been lacking due to the presence of two holding midfielders, forming what is often called an “empty bucket”. The thought in such an approach is that as the wide midfielders cut in, they may be followed by wide defenders, allowing the defensive backs to overlap.

In practice, that only substitutes a lesser wide threat for a more capable one. It is a stopgap against weakness in central creativity. Enter DeRosario.

We should know fairly quickly whether his insertion will result in more disciplined play with better overall team shape. The hiring as an assistant of Sonny Silooy, who comes from the Dutch total soccer tradition, may combine with the better balance provided by DeRosario to create a more sophisticated and effective DC United attack.

While the midfielders seem set, the attackers may surprise due to the ankle injury that Davis carries. Olsen may choose to bring Davies on later after having Blake Brettschneider mix his aggressive technique with Josh Wolff’s guile and speed.

Behind the mids the choice of Kitchen, White, and McDonald seems easy, with Woolard or Korb filling in wide left. Injuries, both longstanding and very recent, force a necessity which may become a blessing. McDonald will provide experience to a very young defense in Jakovic’s absence, at the cost of some unfamiliarity due to his recent arrival.

Finally, wider wing play, which DeRosario’s presence may influence, should result in less venturing forward by the young DC defenders, rendering them less susceptible to counter attacks and creating better defense through offense.

Game time will be a half hour earlier than usual to allow Fox Soccer channel to televise the event.