The New England Revolution might seem to have been the dominant team in Saturday’s contest at RFK, but the score line said otherwise at 3-2. Despite being outperformed marginally on the statistics sheet, DC United only seemed uncomfortable for the first ten minutes of the second half. One need only look at Coach Ben Olsen’s excellent personnel decisions to see the reason why.
The fact that he and all the players continue to emphasize correctly that they still have a ways to go to reach the excellence they seek, the team shows a comprehensive maturity that should serve them well throughout the remainder of the season.
The young coach has sharpened his own sense of the roles each of his players should fill on the squad. He has acquired a fine mix of youthful energy and seasoned wisdom and deployed them in the right ways at the right time.
His selection of Josh Wolff as an assistant coach illustrates the process. The veteran not only teaches, but does so by example. When United has a lead late in a game, his insertion adds greatly to DC’s ability to control play.
He brings a steadiness born of wisdom with the skill to lead a group in which he has confidence, “You have 25 guys who are understanding of their role, committed to the group, and we’re all in it together this year. When you start getting good results, they obviously feed the next one. We have a lot of goals we put up on the board before the season and we still have a lot to achieve.”
The role of fatigue was pointed out by Olsen and many of the players. Dwayne DeRosario put it most emphatically, “You can hear it in my voice. I am absolutely tired. It’s been a lot of games in a short period of time.
“We withstand the demand that was put on us, and thankfully we have the depth of every guy that is ready to step in and make a difference. The quality in our depth showed again tonight.”
A primary example of the value of depth was the team’s recovery from a slow start of the second half to score the winning goal after ceding two quick ones to fall into a tie. Olsen inserted Maicon Santos to give the team more physicality up front and was rewarded with the game winner off the Brazilian’s foot.
Once his squad took the lead, Olsen inserted Lewis Neal and Wolff who combined with their teammates to neatly control play and see the game out. Wolff explained the dynamics, “I think you saw in the second half we came out a little lackadaisical, it (fatigue) plays a role. A lot of games in a short period of time.”
A major reason for United’s conference-leading 27 points is the extra games they have played so far. As the season goes on and their opponents try to use their games in hand, they should experience more of a fatigue problem then United.
The return to action of Branko Boskovic contributed an important link to the team’s dynamic. Historically DC United has relied on the Marco Etcheverry model of attacking midfielder and a major reason for the past few years’ failures was the lack of that link.
The acquisition of DeRosario last year brought one player who could do much of the same work, but whose age and determination to lead by example forced him to carry too much of the burden of creativity. He finishes better than Etcheverry did, and holds the ball quite well, but lacks Etcheverry’s magic left foot to serve up assists.
Enter service by committee. For set pieces, Olsen can rely on Boskovic or Neal. Opponents must also respect and cover those two in dynamic play while keeping an eye out for DeRosario to either create or finish. Witness the first goal from Boskovic’s service and the third from DeRosario’s creativity, vision, and service.
The locker room was filled with relieved anticipation of the three weeks “off” before the next MLS game, but there is an important Open Cup match in Richmond on Tuesday night. Given the extremely fit DeRosario’s reference to his own fatigue, Olsen may choose to start him on the bench and hope that the service of Boskovic can be sufficiently supplemented by Neal.
If Emiliano Dudar has indeed returned to full fitness, he should spell McDonald or Jakovic in central defense while Nick DeLeon and Andy Najar could share a wide position and Hamdi Salihi and Santos could carry the attack up front.