Tampa Bay Sports Day

Ben Olsen’s growth to be tested versus Sigi Schmid’s experience

DC United’s very young coach Ben Olsen has proven that he has a strong sense of where to take his team and of how to get there. He has acquired most of the players needed to implement his vision while building the knowledge of how to teach them and blend their talents.

He seems also to have learned to deal with the uncontrolled variables that plague MLS teams, dealing with random injuries while picking off good value via trades for Wayne DeRosario and Brandon McDonald after earlier acquiring the recovering Charlie Davies. Another wise pickup was Josh Wolff.

United comes into Saturday’s game in Seattle off a solid performance against an admittedly struggling Chivas side. The loss of an in form Chris Pontius in that game will take some of the edge off, but Wolff may have recovered from his own injuries in time to be very useful.

Seattle comes off a league loss that stopped an extended unbeaten streak followed by a nice CONCACAF win on Wednesday at Herediano. The short turnaround and travel involved should put a slight dent in the fitness of a few Sounders’ players, but the wise Sigi Schmid left a few key elements at home.

In turn, Olsen has kept his charges out West to shorten their travel. He will probably opt for a maximum effort despite the upcoming Wednesday-Saturday home stand in the next week. Schmid has an even quicker turnaround as Herediano visits on Tuesday, but has just beaten them away and risen to a solid position atop Seattle’s CONCACAF group.

Although Dejan Jakovic is listed as questionable, Olsen is unlikely to risk him in light of the upcoming stressful schedule. The early season blooding of Ethan White has given the rookie a much improved vision of the game and he should do well.

Following their season long development plan, the United staff are confident in their depth for now. Joe Willis has developed nicely and may fill in if Bill Hamid’s hamstring remains touchy. Austin DaLuz has also shown well on the left side and Marc Burch has come back strong from injury to support the portside as well.

Tino Quaranta missed several months with an extended concussion recovery, and looks fresh and sharp. The energy he will provide if he is kept on the left wing will be vital to replace some of Pontius’ dynamism.

An alternative to Wolff up front might be to start the aggressive Blake Brettschneider , who is a lesser skilled version of Pontius, in order to wear down Seattle’s defense before throwing Wolff in to outthink and outrun them.

Both teams have a big investment in the match as Seattle nears clinching a playoff berth and looks to a high seeding while DC wants to claim maximum points from the games they have in hand on so many rivals for a playoff spot.

As with most MLS games, this one will have twists and turns as the game progresses. Ben Olsen’s strategic vision has proven to be solid so far, but Sigi Schmid is one of the most astute coaches in MLS and will provide a stern test to Olsen’s still developing tactical sense.