Flexibility wins games and the best way to get it is to blend energy with savvy. DC United Coach Ben Olsen put out a nicely blended squad against Toronto and its savvy members made the exact right adjustments to a hard working opposing side which had clogged the middle and kept the game mostly in United’s end.
After 20 minutes, the DC on field brain trust simply pulled Josh Wolff back to wide left and moved Branko Boskovic inside where he is most effective. Olsen and company had considered the possible Toronto tactic and were prepared for it.
As Wolff put it, “Benny, myself, DeRo, Boskovic, we’ve discussed those things going in if we have to make something on the fly we can do that. Again, you’ve got guys who’ve played at good levels for a long time and you can use your thought and our brain to help the group.”
It takes a critical mass of experienced players to control a game. In place of Lewis Neal, Olsen had inserted Wolff, an insightful player and assistant coach. “Ben and I talked about, depending on how the first 15 minutes went, as far as how we were able to deal with their wide guys, if [Richard] Eckersley or [Jeremy] Hall was in. I think we were having trouble dealing with them out the right side.”
Perry Kitchen, whose defensive midfield responsibilities forced him to roam all over the field, was grateful for the adjustment, “Their team had a bunch of guys clogging up the middle, so I think it was to our benefit to pull those guys in. It made my job easier…I think it worked for us overall.”
Pulling players into the middle might seem to violate the principle of maintaining width, however, United played a sort of width by committee, as players constantly overlapped and exchanged positions to keep overall shape.
What had started for DC as a game of bunker and counter with lobs over the back line evolved with the switch into a more balanced use of the whole filed and better wing play. Wolff’s experienced partners were right in sync, “I think we started making the adjustment even before Danny [Cruz] went down. Branko went inside, I went out wide, and I think we were able to push Dwayne further up and flatten out the midfield a little bit. We wanted to get more possession, but also take away their right side.”
The team doesn’t just rely on their wits. Olsen blends maturity with youthful energy. The third goal, scored by Hamdi Salihi, demonstrated how a poacher’s clever run would give him positioning to capitalize on Andy Najar’s energy.
The Honduran beat two defenders, spinning around the last of them to reach the end line and unleash a sharp cross for Salihi to finish. It is notable that the youngster showed the vision to find Salihi as well. The synergy is what makes the whole thing work.
Synergy may also be described as rhythm, reading one’s teammates and complementing their moves. Olsen describes the value that Boskovic brings to the team, “He’s done very well in the last two games. His set pieces are very good, and it’s so nice to have a guy like that on the field for corner kicks and balls whipped in.”
He continued, “He’s been good; he’s been active. He’s a rhythm player, and he needs these games. He needs more games, and he’s only going to improve.” He played for Rapid Vienna with Salihi and the pair clearly have a nice understanding.
As DC United continues their season, more and more of the younger players should pick up on the rhythm. An immediate example was the pass that young Chris Korb sent to DeRosario to set up his second goal. It was perfectly placed and weighted to give the Captain an easy finish.
DeRosario provided his own perfect feed to Salihi in the 76th minute, and the” poachman” almost rang twice, but was stopped by the onrushing Milos Kocic.
United showed exemplary discipline as they saw out the final minutes with confidence and solid mutual effort, holding possession and rarely countering, thus leaving few openings for Toronto to exploit.
The New England Revolution come to town for Memorial Day weekend for a 7:30 game on Saturday before United begins a three week MLS rest period, which will include an Open Cup match. They will oppose either the Richmond Kickers or local Washington Premier League (WPL) side Aegean Hawks. Their match will be held Tuesday night at the Maryland Soccerplex.
Saturday will be a busy day for United fans as the Barra Brava Premier team who play in the Washington International Soccer League (WISL) take on Jaime Moreno’s DC United U-23 side at the RFK practice field at 2:00 PM.
The game is an annual charity event which has usually seen the Barra take on the Screaming Eagles. A few years back it supported Nadine Namoff’s charity and will support United for DC this year. It should be a great lead-in to the tailgate where sharing is also a great tradition. Check out the Barra Facebook page for more details.