Tampa Bay Sports Day

United seeks killer instinct at home

It is a soccer cliché to go for the win at home and a tie away, but not for Ben Olsen’s DC United. For whatever reason, probably a reflection of their coach’s hardnosed attitude, United’s players come out tough as visitors and have earned their superior away record.

They are well aware of their own disappointing performances at home, especially the 1-0 loss to New England. The team is young and still very much growing in confidence and familiarity with the style that Olsen is working toward. The role of underdog built into an away game suits them.

Despite their league trailing record, Saturday’s opponent, the Toronto Football Club, will be coming into RFK with their own renewed confidence after disposing of Real Esteli in Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Their coach, Aron Winter, describes their response to the trip to Nicaragua, “If you are playing an away game against an opponent that is very difficult, and if you know the circumstances — long travel with a long ride — and then how the team responded, a big compliment. It’s not easy to win those games away from home. We are not still there. But the beginning is there.”

In theory it should be somewhat more difficult for them against United. The hard game and the travel involved will take a toll and DC United is on their own roll. Still, Winter will surely light a fire under his men, explaining that the good beginning on Tuesday must be built on if only as a matter of pride.

Just as United has continued to improve as Wayne DeRosario melds with his teammates, Toronto is quickly integrating Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans into the Winter scheme. Both teams should come out firing from the beginning, giving the fans an exciting match.

The absence of Andy Najar will deprive Olsen of some of the energy which he so highly values, but this squad has become very aware of its failings at home and should consider it as a sort of underdog instance.

Just as his defense has begun to stabilize, Olsen has had to adjust his offense. DeRosario had to move forward in San Jose with the injuries to Charlie Davies, Josh Wolff, and Joseph Ngwenya. If enough of them return; all are coming off injury, with Davies cleared, Wolff probable, and Ngwenya questionable, he may resume his creative midfield role.

Alternatively, Olsen may believe that the DeRosario goals against the Earthquakes are a sign that he should keep the Canadian as a withdrawn striker. If he starts Clyde Simms and Stephen King as defensive midfielders, the formation will be more of a 4-5-1 as DeRosario plays a bit more as a libero.

Olsen’s choice is to honor the strength of Frings and Koevermans by going 4-5-1 or to go on the attack, in which case Davies or Wolff will start. If their health and performance in practice are up to par, the latter is much more likely in keeping with the aggression which has played out so well when away.