Archive | Match Preview

DC players are United in optimism

Posted on 07 November 2012 by Steve Long

The New York (New Jersey) Red Bulls have one of the highest paid rosters in MLS and have an empty trophy case to show for it. They will be motivated tonight at home. Still, they have to realize that their salaries and good fortune on Saturday in DC are no deterrent to Ben Olsen’s United team.

The coach was sanguine about his team’s situation after tying 1-1 at home, “We obviously wanted to win today. I thought we had a good balance of going forward and making sure we didn’t get exposed in the back.

“Again, I thought there was some really good stuff offensively. We created chances. In the first half, we were a little bit rushed at times. We probably should have nicked a goal.”

He was not alone. Commenting on the classic playoff style adopted by both teams, Lewis Neal felt that the deeper restraint line was not really a hindrance to attacking, “We had a lot of decent efforts…We played particularly well in the first half.”

When Andy Najar was ejected leaving United with only ten players, Neal noted that, “We weren’t just hanging on there, (We had) one or two breakaways, one or two half looks…..It just shows the togetherness and the team spirit that we have.”

Perry Kitchen, who has carried the large burden of protecting the defenders while helping transition to attack, believes that DC’s cohesion has matured quite well, – “If we are playing the best, with good pressure, good possession, we can hang with any team. That’s just what we need to do.”

Captain Chris Pontius agreed, “I always felt good about how we matched up against them and tonight just proved it right. Like I said, we have to match their intensity up there and we’ve got to play offensively up there like we did down here.”

This year’s group has grown along with their young coach and appears not only to have bought into his approach, but to understand it well. Their unanimous confidence in each other stands out in every interview.

Possible rookie of the year, Nick DeLeon saw it clearly, “They weren’t doing much with that (the deeper restraint line used by both teams) and we picked our moments very well…We stuck together as a team and it all worked out….It really limited their chances and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t put more in the net.” After going down to ten men, it was, “Sit in tight and go on the counter if we had the opportunity.”

The wisest player on the team, Branko Boskovic put it simply, “Game like this, you must be smart…..Be patient until the last minute.” It is interesting that Olsen has frequently chosen Neal and Boskovic for simple roles that support the middle of the field. They both bring a calmness and understanding that supports and teaches the youngsters around them.

The expected horrible weather conditions tonight will favor the team that holds together best and avoids mistakes. Olsen has emphasized that cohesion as the season has progressed and the loss of Dwayne De Rosario has helped cement a team that adjusted to the loss of offense by be becoming even stingier on defense.

The original DC United followed the Bruce Arena style of pressuring all over the field. Olsen’s squad lends itself more to a withdrawn restraint line, but is otherwise the same in emphasizing maintenance of possession once obtained and a quick attack, but only when it “is on”.

Here’s how Chris Korb saw it, “In the second half after the red card you can’t do much.” That is obvious enough, but he went on to point out, “We still probably had more chances than they did. We’re fine, we’ll be ready for Wednesday.”

His confidence is well placed as he realized that United was already prepared to contain the Red Bulls as they had all game, but the team reserved the right to attack when it was on. The loss of Najar’s services will take away some of DC’s sting in either a slow buildup or a counter, but his talent is best suited to better conditions where skill predominates.

With weather the great leveler, United’s blue collar style should serve them well.

Comments (0)

A Modest Proposal

Posted on 01 November 2012 by Steve Long

DC United fought tooth and nail through a difficult season to earn second place and a higher seeding in the MLS playoffs only to see the more favorable second game of the series moved to the lower ranked Red Bulls. The rationale for MLS’ moving the game is sound, the infrastructure around Red Bull Arena (RBA) has been severely affected by Hurricane Sandy.

In fact, the game now moved to RBA my still have to be moved if New Jersey and New York infrastructure remains shaky and it is the intent of MLS to keep it as close to RBA as feasible if such a move is required. DC United’s fans are up in arms at the loss of a hard earned advantage that has now been given to their opponents.

That advantage will apply only if the two teams are tied on total goals after each has hosted one game and a thirty minute mini-game has to be played at RBA. United would be an aggrieved party only if the tie breaker becomes necessary, so let’s look at some ways to compensate the team if that happens.

Several options present themselves. The higher seed could be given a one goal advantage in the mini-game. The higher seed could be allowed one extra substitute in that game. The higher seed could be awarded a victory in lieu of penalty kicks if the score remains tied after the extra game. Each of those solutions rewards the team that has earned a higher seed.

The only concession which MLS and Red Bulls have thus far offered adds insult to injury by giving extra ticket allocations to a group of dedicated supporters who will now have a much more difficult time traveling to support their team. That idea wins a Homer Simpson “Doh!” award.

The hurricane was predictable and MLS and Red Bulls leadership apparently failed to consider any plan B or C as it approached. It’s time for them to step up, admit error, and treat DC United fairly by awarding some compensation which will be felt by the fans as well as the team.

Barring immediate relief in the mini-game itself, perhaps MLS could award DC United the Red Bulls’ first round pick in the MLS draft or allocation money or an allocation slot. Similar trades are common enough in MLS and soccer in general and I favor this solution, but only if the extra game comes to pass.

Comments (0)

DC United continues to seek mojo against Sporting KC

Posted on 11 August 2012 by Steve Long

It’s not easy being Ben. Good coaches have a basic philosophy and try to fit their team into a framework within which it can succeed as a unit. To that end, a new coach will seek players to fit his system and adjust to what he inherits as he builds the new structure. His task is complicated as injuries, trades, losses to international duty, and the unanticipated variables of the game mess with his plans.

DC United’s Ben Olsen took over a team with little theme and some major deficits in talent and focus. With some help from the front office he has assembled a solid set of choices in attack and midfield and a defense that needs just a bit more depth. He can take this team in the direction of possession and control or aggressive athleticism.

The latter is the hallmark of most MLS teams. It is the American style if you will. Watching the US Women’s National Team in London, I noticed that the same is true for them. At the current level of world soccer the athletic style works well for the women, but the world has caught on and Japan, France, and Canada showed where the US will need to go.

Pia Sundhage has emphasized attack and pressure because it has worked. Put to the test of well-disciplined play, it almost didn’t. Sundhage has the tools to improve on the US style since she has players who are technically gifted and comfortable on the ball. To stay on top, the US will have to add the ability to use the whole field all the time.

Olsen and DC United have a similar challenge with fewer players mature and comfortable enough to fully implement a better total game. The concept of critical mass applies, and you can see signs of United’s desire to grow its game control style.

It began with the acquisition of Hamdi Salihi and Lewis Neal and has been reinforced with the latest addition, Raphael Augusto who may be slotted to spell Branko Boskovic as an attacking midfielder. That position requires comfort on the ball and an attitude about control of play. Augusto is young, but comes from a Brasilian style that should suit where Olsen needs to go.

In DC United’s heyday, the team controlled the flow and then attacked quickly and surely when conditions were right. They have not reached that level of competence yet under Olsen, but I believe that he is moving in the right direction.

For two months his team has drifted along toward a period of reckoning that begins Saturday night in Kansas City. With the loss for an indefinite period of the services of left back Daniel Woolard, Olsen acquired Mike Chabala for immediate coverage and future depth.

That should help in the game at hand, but United will be hard pressed to be defensively coherent on that side. The DC defense rotates constantly to adjust to the flow of the game and wide defenders are as often found in attack as in the center in front of goal. Olsen should not use Chabala in that role for at least a few more weeks and that will unbalance his team’s flow somewhat.

The good news is that an away game customarily means a more structured and less fluid approach which will allow the new player to avoid dangerous overlapping runs. Essentially, Chris Pontius will need to make his own space wide rather than drawing defenders inside to allow his own defender to become a creator.

United’s attack will be more classically linear and wide, and should provide a different look from what KC might expect. Width should provide a bit more space for United’s attack to run what should be a tired Sporting team from side to side. To that end, Olsen may choose to start forward Long Tan again, since the youngster has a great work rate and must be marked, even if his finishing is still underdeveloped.

Late in the game, Olsen can then send in either the wily Salihi or the strong Brasilian Maicon Santos. The former will make runs that also require marking and the latter can hold up the ball for others to run onto or shoot from distance. That last feature will force tired KC defenders to stay close to him, a difficult task.

The question about Sporting KC is whether or not they have fully recovered from their US Open Cup victory against Sounders on Wednesday. Sporting seem very determined to maintain their winning ways and keep their new stadium full of fans. Playing for first place in the Eastern Conference, a place they held at the start of the season with a seven match unbeaten streak but relinquished the top of the table after 4 matches without a win, currently they stand at 12-7-4 with 40 points.

A match that goes 120 minutes is obviously physically exhausting and there is a psychological component as well. After coming down from a emotional high it can be difficult to get back up for a match four days later. Sporting probably have the roster depth to overcome the physical exhaustion, we will see if Peter Vermes has them mentally prepared to compete with DC United tonight.

Sporting are a physical, or “athletic,” team, big across the back and up the middle. Kei Kamara is clearly the trigger man, leading MLS in shots (88) taken and shots on goal (36). He’s been a bit unlucky, with only 7 goals from those scoring chances.

Graham Zusi is the other big piece of the Sporting attack, 9 assists is one off the league lead. Sporting are able to control the middle of the pitch quite effectively, due to the size and quality of these players. In addition to their potent offense, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen has keep his sheet clean 10 times in MLS, that’s the league lead. Nielsen also owns the league’s best Goals Against Average, 0.913 goals per game.

Aurelian Collin is still on the injured list with facial fractures from the MLS All-Star match vs. Chelsea, and should be returning this week or next. Two other defenders Seth Sinovic, ankle sprain against Seattle, and Lawrence Olum are questionable. Sinovic’s ankle injury seemed fairly severe when he was taken off in the final. CJ Sapong’s availability is in question also.

Expect a hard fought well defended match between these two sides as both are acutely aware of what is at stake.

UPDATE: Aurelian Collin has been cleared to play and is in the starting lineup.

Comments (0)

Advertise Here
Advertise Here