Just as the transfer window has opened up DC United has made two speculative player moves. Given his small salary, Long Tan, acquired in a trade from Vancouver, is low risk as an addition to a fairly large cadre of forwards. Branko Boskovic is the high risk/reward signing and he needs to see more playing time to justify his new contract.
The Montenegrin has seen less time so far this season than a typical Designated Player and his contract reflects that with the dropping of that classification. Still, he has proven a major calming influence in a DC midfield that has lost too many battles in the past month.
He not only raises the quality and effectiveness of midfield transition, but also allows the primary creative engine, Dwayne DeRosario, to play as a withdrawn forward with “libero” privileges to find or make space as he sees fit.
By taking some of the load off deeper transition, Boskovic will make defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen’s task of protecting the defense easier and give DeRosario more freedom and a bit more rest. Over the past year, Olsen has significantly improved United’s wing positioning, but the central players have yet to take full advantage of the increased space afforded them.
As DeRosario takes up a forward slot, Olsen must choose which style of attack best fits the opponent, the cleverness of Hamdi Salihi, the strength of Maicon Santos, the aggressiveness of on-form Chris Pontius, or the wisdom of Josh Wolff. For the Montreal game, I would like to see Salihi given a chance to work whatever magic he can.
A good team rotates around an imaginary center of mass to maintain good spacing, and Pontius does tend to slide inside. Played as a left midfielder, he will be a sort of third forward whose movement will tend to draw the left back, Daniel Woolard forward. That makes a defender into an attacking winger, a less than ideal use of talent most of the time.
Instead, let the midfield in the form of Boskovic hold back in most scenarios to retain a setup role and sometimes slide into space that Pontius vacates. DeRosario can also switch with Pontius as the game’s flow allows. We saw this from Jaime Moreno in his later years when he worked off the movement of others from a withdrawn forward position.
Boskovic would be the stabilizer and deep creator while DeRosario could comfortably find space working around Salihi’s excellent distraction movements. The right midfield spot should go to Danny Cruz or Andy Najar. Their aggressiveness there cannot be ignored by defenders and will leave opponents torn between talent and guile on one side and energy on both.
Brandon McDonald has been a bit off form lately and Emiliano Dudar should merit a chance to work with Dejan Jakovic in central defense . The right defender may be either Robbie Russell who is a bit off form as well, or Chris Korb, who continues to develop a more complete game
Olsen needs to find flexibility to adjust to opponents and make their planning against DC harder while finding ways to get his best player combinations on the field at once. With a string of Eastern Conference opponents on the horizon, he has little time to sharpen his own insights and his players’ effectiveness.