Archive | Weekly Commentary

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.

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Has DC United learned from Paris Saint Germain?

Posted on 03 August 2012 by Steve Long

When a team has long lulls in competitive play it becomes difficult to assess and predict, even for the coach. No matter how tightly constructed to simulate game conditions, practices never quite reach the full intensity level of a match with points on the line.

The problem is described as a lack of match fitness and is usually observed in preseason games for teams and in a player’s return to play from injury. Over the last few weeks, visits from top European teams which are in their own preseason presented interesting opportunities for the MLS teams which faced them in more equal contests than normal.

For DC United, their match against Paris Saint Germain was especially helpful. A formidable opponent forces a team to play with good habits centered on proper positioning, tight marking, and quicker play. Although both teams in such exhibitions are testing ideas and personnel, the quality of the PSG play allowed a good simulation of serious MLS contests.

The Columbus Crew comes into RFK as an improving team with an eye on the playoffs. They should feel good about their win at home against United in which they demonstrated great tenacity and discipline. It is Olsen’s task to assure that United’s occasional mental lapses in that contest are on the players’ minds and that they focus better at home.

For the young coach that is already first nature; he is certain to emphasize the need for aggressive play. He has only a few real choices to make about a starting lineup: who starts up front with Dwayne DeRosario, who starts at right midfield, and who starts in central defense.

If he goes with a full aggressive lineup, he will place Maicon Santos up front, Danny Cruz at right mid, and Brandon McDonald in central defense. There is an alternative, put Cruz on for pugnacity, but mix the attack up with Salihi up front to create and exploit space which might then help Emiliano Dudar’s more sophisticated passing out of the back to open up the Crew defense.

Columbus will focus its efforts on closing down both Chris Pontius and DeRosario. They will not neglect Salihi, but his threat is less palpable and more likely to slip under their radar. Cruz will help in that area as he will be in their faces all over the right wing.

Both McDonald and Santos were off form in Ohio and Olsen allowed Dudar to play the entire 90 minutes against PSG and was rewarded with a reasonably composed team. With Salihi’s talents still recognized by the Albanian National Team, Olsen may decide to use him a bit more often before he leaves after the 12 August match for a few days to play on 15 August.

That date is an international friendly date which will also see Dejan Jakovic and DeRosario playing for Canada. All will return at least somewhat fatigued for United’s 19 August game at RFK against the Philadelphia Union which begins a draining two-games-per-week sequence for DC.

For almost two months, DC United has been in a holding pattern while its Eastern Conference competitors have caught up in games played and left them wondering if their early season flair can be recaptured. If the PSG game has provided the insight and motivation hoped for, it needs to show up soon.

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Columbus Crew will test DC United’s maturity

Posted on 21 July 2012 by Steve Long

Tonight’s game at Columbus is not a season defining game, but it may well demonstrate whether the first 17 minutes of last Sunday’s match at Houston or the 73 that followed were. Coherence and a small degree of dominance broke down when Bill Hamid was ejected and DC United failed to survive the loss of one player.

In MLS there remains considerable parity in basic player talent placing coaching talent and the blending of player psyches and talents at a premium. United coach Ben Olsen seems to understand that, “But, we need to concern ourselves with ourselves right now and how we react to a disappointing loss in Houston.”

For much of the early season, Olsen relied on the prolific and varied talents of Dwayne DeRosario to carry his attack through central midfield. The burden was heavy, but the Captain became a great provider of assists at great cost to his body.

While he has coped with the strain via great conditioning and wise use of his body, the aging MVP really needed a bit more freedom from some defensive responsibilities inherent in the position to free up his creative side.

With the gradual integration of Branko Boskovic as a starter, DeRosario can now seek space wherever he wishes. The value of the midfield/withdrawn forward combination that started in Houston was obvious. It appeared that a certain team maturity had ripened.

Sadly, that maturity lapsed when Olsen chose to pull Boskovic in order to put in Joe Willis for the ejected Hamid. In a game that placed a premium on patience and self control, he took off the primary catalyst for just that attitude.

Olsen has faced a tension between athleticism and control throughout the season. The problem is not unique in MLS and United’s low current injury rate has now given him a broad range of choices to blend or to emphasize one or the other.

Boskovic paired with a quickly maturing Perry Kitchen to steady the midfield and provide the athletic Danny Cruz and aggressive Chris Pontius with a solid platform for 17 minutes. That combination would be a good choice against Columbus tonight, but for the calf injury that will keep Boskovic out.

This is where Olsen may take an interesting chance by starting Lewis Neal in the creative midfield position. The versatile Brit showed his wisdom and skill as Boskovic’s relief in the win over Montreal and should bring a similar maturity to the position.

Although Maicon Santos was a part of the strong first 17 minutes, he was not very helpful in the subsequent 73. Hamdi Salihi could provide another boost in sophistication to cover for Boskovic’s absence. His inclusion in the starting 11 will indicate that Olsen has opted for a controlled game.

This does not mean that DC United will lack an attack. Pontius, Cruz, and DeRosario can still slash into the defense to take advantage of clever positioning by Salihi who will either draw coverage to provide space or be available to strike on his own.

While the Crew are not a top level team at the moment and have a fairly high injury toll to handicap them, they have a sturdy defense and would best be attacked with precision and patience. In order to succeed in the playoffs that are the minimum goal for this year’s side, United will need to establish the flexibility to be controlled as well as athletic.

They gave a glimpse of that in the early minutes against Houston and tonight will show whether they and their coach have taken a big step toward maturity.

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With a new contract, it’s Boskovic time for DC United

Posted on 29 June 2012 by Steve Long

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.

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DC United healthy for critical Red Bulls clash

Posted on 22 June 2012 by Steve Long

To judge from remarks by DC United’s coaches and players the game last week against the Philadelphia Union was critical to United’s season. In a sense it was, since a second consecutive loss to a weaker Union side would illustrate significant deficiencies in United’s play.

In a reprise of Philadelphia’s overtime victory in the Open Cup, both teams played poorly, with United performing worse than the Union, but lucking out when Branko Boskovic served a superb free kick to the head of an onrushing Chris Pontius for the winning strike.

Neither team deserved a win in either game. Sunday’s match against the New York (?) Red Bulls in New Jersey will prove to be the true critical game. There appear to be four strong teams in the Eastern Conference and two meet in this contest. The next ten games are all six point fixtures.

Recent DC United play has been randomly both sturdy and sloppy. Again and again the defense has to bail out midfielders and forwards who have given away the ball. Movement to support those with the ball has been reasonable, but pass execution has been horrible.

The only saving grace against the Union was that Philadelphia’s execution was nearly as bad, especially in the final third where they missed many of the far too frequent shooting chances which they generated.

Coach Ben Olsen has had the past week to reintegrate those returning from injury and international duty. Ideally he would have spent it on drills focused on sharpening passing by anticipating one’s teammates’ movements and leading them correctly.

The weather has not cooperated in that the high heat takes away some energy in the actual drills and leads to some shortening of field time in which to instill the proper habits. The only consolation comes from the fact that the Red Bulls have the same heat problem compounded by a Wednesday trip to Vancouver with the attendant travel and game fatigue.

Olsen will probably do best to send out a “European” mentality centrally with Boskovic as creative midfielder feeding Hamdi Salihi and Dwayne DeRosario while using Andy Najar and Nick DeLeon as “MLS” style wide midfielders. This should tire out New York’s Joel Lindpere and Thierry Henry while retaining some calmness in the center.

The speed threat normally provided for the Red Bulls by Dane Richards will be absent as he sits out the game for yellow card accumulation. New York will be most dangerous with the guile of Lindpere and Henry topped off by the physicality of Kenny Cooper whose presence demands a physical central defender for United.

I would choose Emiliano Dudar for his combined experience to read Henry and height to handle Cooper. To provide him the confidence to step up as needed, the better choice appears to be Dejan Jakovic. Brandon McDonald has been sturdy in back, but might be more easily rounded by Henry.

The left back slot has become Daniel Woolard’s and the right side is reasonably manned by either Robbie Russell or Chris Korb. If Henry is on the roster, I would choose Korb for the same reason I went with Dudar, speed to contain the Frenchman.

If the game needs to be seen out, the reliable Lewis Neal can be inserted wide. It is critical that Najar and DeLeon remain wide to allow Boskovic, DeRo, and Salihi to work centrally. If they fail to position well, Neal should come in sooner. Pontius and Maicon Santos can provide energy and strength to break down what should be a tired Red Bulls defense late if needed.

Daniel Cruz should continue his hamstring recovery and see a return against Montreal six days later.

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Midfield play should decide DC United – Revolution clash

Posted on 12 April 2012 by Steve Long

Just as DC United has pursued a signature style with varying degrees of success and accommodation to the reality of personnel strength, so has the New England Revolution. United tends to be smaller and more technical in its play while the Revs grew up under Steve Nicol and remain a physical team under Jay Heaps.

DC has always had some bite on the squad and current coach Ben Olsen was a prime practitioner of the art of hounding opponents until something good happened. Since taking over the team, he has slightly increased player size and brought in yet more wing firepower in his mold.

As the 2011 season progressed, wide wing play seemed to improve until Chris Pontius went down injured and the team lapsed again into ineffective narrow play. 2012 began with a bit wider play, but again lapsed into narrowness as Andy Najar and Pontius, played more sparingly during his ongoing recovery of form, soon drifted inside in pursuit of the ball.

When Pontius began his DC United career, he was more attentive to the totality of his duties. As his exceptional talent for direct attack became clearer and the team struggled to score over the past few years, he sought to take the scoring burden on his shoulders, as did Najar who is similarly skilled and disposed.

It will take a strong coach to bring them back to the total wide play that needs to mix with their primary skills to increase overall team effectiveness. Runs into space in the middle are fine if used sparingly, but disastrous for the teams’ other creators if they already occupy the space needed for maneuver. DC United became too predictable.

Enter the new blood. The success of Nick DeLeon and Danny Cruz can be directly attributed to their general adherence to wide play. Against Seattle last Saturday, both tended to drift inside, but it was in response to a deliberate strategy by Sigi Schmidt.

Cruz aptly described the dilemma when I interviewed him for my game commentary, and his explanation that failure to follow the Sounders’ wingers inside might lead to their having too much freedom has some merit.

As United matures this season, they should be able to impose their game on an increasing number of teams. As the central defense continues to inspire confidence and Perry Kitchen continues to learn his defensive midfielder role, the wings will be much freer to stay wide.

The game against the Revs offers a great opportunity to try to impose a wide game. Jay Heaps is much like Nicol in his taste for the physical game. His squad will be without the imposing Shalrie Joseph in central midfield. That could tempt United into too much central play. Instead, it offers a chance to let the gelling defense do its work while the attackers pull New England wide when they have the ball.

It appears that former DC defensive mid, Clyde Simms, will have an important role in Joseph’s absence. He is competent and does a solid job of covering for his teammates’ mispositionings and misplays. Wide attacks will force him to work especially hard in a position that will be without depth.

Olsen seems pleased with his new wings and Najar and Pontius have certainly been battling hard in practice to resume their accustomed places. Given the short turnaround in the next several games, I expect Olsen to rotate the four, but wouldn’t predict in what order.

The physicality of the Revs should lead to a start for the physical Maicon Santos up front alongside Hamdi Salihi, with Dwayne DeRosario listed as a third forward and playing as a libero. Barring injuries, the subs would be two wings and Branko Boskovic, with Salihi or Santos coming out.

Central defense should find Dudar along with Brandon McDonald in order to rest Dejan Jakovic who is nursing a sore groin. He will have his next chance when Montreal comes to DC on Wednesday. The goal might see either Joe Willis or Bill Hamid, but it might be best to give Hamid another few days of ankle strengthening to forestall a possible need to use one of the three valuable substitutions in case he reinjures it.

Olsen seems to have the tools he needs in the quantity and quality desired to get through the next tough stretch. The only weakness is depth in wide defense. Montreal may choose to focus on that area when they come to town.

However, if the wings stay wide on Saturday, the wide defenders can remain at home more often and thereby suffer less fatigue. Olsen has to manage games in groups for this stretch and it will be a fine test of his strategic vision and his success in selling it to his players.

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It’s time for DC to play free

Posted on 11 October 2011 by Chris Snear

There is no more time for talking, no more tactical or technical points of soccer to sort out and direct learning is going to have to be put on hold. It’s very simple: its win time and that’s it for DC United.

That’s all there is to do at this point and what exacerbates the situation is that winning still doesn’t guarantee you anything after all of the point squandering that was done earlier in the season.

“I’m tired of looking at the standings and what we need and what other teams need; we need to win now. It’s pretty simple,” said United Coach Ben Olsen.

United (9-10-11, 38 points) are currently 6th in the Eastern Conference with four games remaining and two games in hand on every team ahead of them. They travel to Vancouver for a late Wednesday game then return home to face Chicago on Saturday, who stand just a point behind United.

United are likely to take on Vancouver without the league’s leading scorer, Dwayne DeRosario (14 goals), who may not be fit for play after a hectic travel schedule with the Canadian National Team. Central defender Dejan Jakovic (R hamstring strain) is listed as questionable but is “hopeful” according to Olsen and may be healthy enough for consideration by game time.

After squandering points on a regular basis throughout the season, especially at home, United have no one but themselves to blame for this predicament. Whether it’s giving away leads and settling for draws, a league wide problem not exclusive to just United, or just diabolical mental breakdowns, they have been pushed to a state of singular focus.

On a positive note, they have had a nice break to get healthy, clear their heads after two divergent loses on the road and to get ready for these last four matches.

They crawled back to level before halftime after conceding two early tallies to Philadelphia before failing to hold on for what would have been a worthy point. United took the lead late in the first half two days later at Columbus before conceding two, including an unlucky own goal for the equalizer, to drop another winnable game.

“I don’t look at those two games as bad efforts. We made some mistakes and down the stretch when you tend to make mistakes, you get punished. I’m not disappointed in the effort overall but we need results now so in one way we know what we have to do now and that’s a good thing,” Olsen said.

Regardless of the results, at some point these mistakes have to go away or unfocused may be just who they are this season.

“Ties on the road are good,” said Josh Wolff. “Ties at home are not so good… When you get to this point in the season it would be nice to be in before these games start but like I said to a lot of the guys you are not in the playoffs until you are in and you are not out until you are out. We lost our way a bit in two games on the road where we were in position to get some points and we let them go.”

Young or old, tired or spry, that doesn’t matter at this point either. “Throughout some of these games we lose our focus and our concentration and it’s not just one play. A play may lead to a goal but it’s usually a compilation of many things,” added Wolff.

“You keep pressing and try to make the points that need to be made with the entire group; it’s the group being able to assess it and make more plays that are there to be made. The last game we didn’t do that and we need to and we got punished for it.”

United still have the youngest starting XI in the league but that excuse, though perhaps still viable, is irrelevant as well. “I don’t think they know any better but these playoffs are not easy to make,” Santino Quaranta said about the team’s young players.

“We haven’t been in the playoffs in a couple of years so you try and stress to them that getting there is not easy and it’s been a long year and you try and reward yourself with something.”

Finally, the finer points of technical and tactical soccer are for another day and time as well. It’s all about making plays and the plays that win games. “It’s not technical; we’ve been through all that stuff. You know what you have to do. It comes down to one-on-one battles and more mental stuff for us, like can we see a game out,” Quaranta said.

“This has been our problem this year; 1-0 against Columbus…we should probably see that game out. Guys are getting real uptight and I am getting more uptight; you are thinking more about every play, every situation instead of playing on instincts and playing free.”

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

Posted on 15 September 2011 by Steve Long

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.

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It’s time for DC United to grind out some wins

Posted on 25 August 2011 by Chris Snear

DC United have talked about needing to make a “move” in the standings for the last few months to make the playoffs. And while the results and performances in that same time frame have ranged from bad to brilliant, talk time is over.

Too many draws, too many squandered points, especially at home to reach their stated goal of getting into the playoffs.

George Allen, the legendary Hall of Fame former coach of the Washington Redskins, coined the phrase “the future is now” and perhaps they should heed those words because they are currently at the door of the club talking to the bouncer trying to worm their way into the party.

United is close; very close which makes their predicament both tantalizing and frustrating. It’s not how often you make a play but when you make it so it boils down to one question- who is going to make the play that wins the game?

Though they have played the fewest games (24) in the Eastern Conference along with Philadelphia, they could quickly run out of games with a couple of bad results. On the flip side, a couple of wins and a few favorable results elsewhere, they could sneak into second place if the big bouncer turns his head for even a second.

“Playing a half of soccer over the last two games is not good enough,” said United coach Ben Olsen about the results of their last two matches, both on the road, that included a come-from-behind 1-1 draw with Chicago last Thursday and 1-0 loss to Kansas City where they were badly outplayed.

“We can’t wait to be in the playoffs. We can’t let others dictate whether we are going to be in the playoffs,” he continued. “We have to go take it and that’s collectively, it’s me, the staff and the players, we have to make sure we are ready to make this push or it will be a long off season if we don’t.”

United (31 points) have 10 games remaining, split evenly between home and the road. They have had some masterful performances on the road and some equal duds at home and vice versa. Other than Seattle (45 points), no team they play currently has more than 36 points.

“We have to bring the grit, determination and fight that these other teams are bringing,” said defender Brandon McDonald.

“It certainly isn’t going to be given to us we are going to have to go get it. Teams scrap and fight here in this league and this is what this league is. You have to make a play. It’s always going to be one or two plays, teams are very equal,” added Santino Quaranta.

“You find this time of the year that teams that work hard and outwork their teams win games. It’s going to certainly take creating more chances than we have been creating and playing more urgently.”

United have been plagued with bad starts through most of the season and last week’s two losses were no different.

“It’s the time we need to get a little bit better in every area. The area that has to be better is the way we start and our mentality and that wasn’t there in the last two games and it costs us,” Olsen said.

“The message to the guys was everyone else in the league is ratcheting up and everybody is making sure that the fight and the commitment is a little bit better because the weather is changing, playoff time is coming.”

Despite the miserable starts, especially against Kansas City, they were still just one play away from yet another draw. These matches followed one of their best matches of the year, a 4-0 home win over Vancouver.

“We have to be better with success. A win doesn’t mean we can let down for a game or two; it means we have to rev it up rather than be okay with it,” Olsen said. “We got the (expletive) kicked out of us against Kansas City and we still could have tied that game. That is who we are; we can do that because we have players that can do that.”

United’s big players, like Dwayne DeRosario, for the most part have been making plays. Josh Wolff scored the equalizer against Chicago but he admittedly can play better. Charlie Davies has been hampered by a knee injury and has not scored since a 2-2 home draw with Houston on June 25.

Someone else needs to step up and make the critical play that leads to the goal that wins the game-and it doesn’t necessarily have to be scoring the goal.

“We have to bring that tenaciousness, that willingness to compete every game and that fight because we have technical players but sometimes you got to be a little bit nasty and see out a 1-0 game,” said DeRosario. “Across the league those are pretty much the games you are going to see when teams are fighting for the playoffs; teams are going to battle, scrap, do whatever it takes and we have to get that mentality sooner or later.”

These results may just be who they are – perhaps a decent, middle-of-the-table team? Or maybe they are pretty good or pretty good but just not good enough. Or maybe they are just not that good.

“This is no surprise the situation we are in. This is what we said from the start of the season that it was going to be a grind,” said Olsen. “We are a young team. We are going to have ups and we are going to have downs and it’s important for us to stay in the hunt right now and push soon, very soon. It’s true we haven’t had that stretch that we’ve wanted to have.”

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DeRosario’s leadership opens chances for others

Posted on 16 August 2011 by Chris Snear

Dwayne DeRosario has energized a respectable but uninspired attack and is the first DC United player since perhaps Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez in their prime that is a true game changer and match winner.

United’s results since his arrival, however, have been equally respectable but still uninspiring, especially at home despite fighting their way back into the muddled Eastern Conference playoff picture.

And just like those stars, he has quickly become the focal point of an attack and a team that is showing some promise at perhaps just the right time. But for that promise to be actualized, some of the other key players have to step up do their part.

United’s 4-0 pasting of Vancouver last Saturday was their first home win since a 2-1 performance against Seattle on May 4 and the mood in the locker room was certainly happy with the subtle tones of relief.

United is now over .500 this late in the season since 2009 and have drawn their goal differential back to level terms (33 goals for and against), despite giving up four goals on four different occasions and three goals once.

“We’d all be lying if we didn’t say that the home record wasn’t wearing on us and this gives us a little bit of an exhale when we come home,” said United coach Ben Olsen.

United have scored 12 goals while conceding just six in the seven games with DeRosario in the lineup. He did not score but had two assists Saturday night and after scoring a dramatic goal to beat New York in his second start, United’s attack has run exclusively through the Canadian International.

“The guy has worked very hard to be an option up there and the players trust him. When you make real plays time after time, it’s pretty natural that you start to try and find that guy. We do preach get the ball to Dwayne as much as possible but that is what you want to do with all of your good players,” said Olsen.

“Your go-to players need to touch ball, that’s what they are there for. He’s always getting one, two and sometimes three guys at times so we are going to have to get some guys to step up.”

Every time DeRosario touched the ball or made a penetrating run in the attacking third of the park, Vancouver double and triple-teamed him, running defenders at him from seemingly all directions. That sort of attention makes decisive and timely runs off the ball by his mates extremely critical.

“With DeRo now we want to possess the ball and keep it and so we actually get a few more numbers in advance of the ball. He’s a guy (with the ball) at his feet, he can make things happen, he can score goals, he can slip guys.

“He’s been fantastic since he’s come to us. We have got to find other ways to get it done but he is obviously the guy we want to shape our attacks around,” said forward Josh Wolff, who did not play last weekend still nursing a hamstring strain.

Despite all of the attention from opposition on which his teammates now heavily rely, the championships with San Jose and Houston, the multiple MLS Cup MVP awards and All Star games, DeRosario is quiet and humble and quick with standard clichés.

“I am happy about that (the goals) but I am looking for the results,” he said. “Credit goes to the guys around me; they are the one’s giving me good service and putting in the work and finding me in good positions. I am definitely happy with that position but I would like to see us get some points at home.”

United visits Chicago, Wolff’s original team, this Thursday night for the first of three games in ten days. They will then travel to scorching hot Kansas City, Wolff’s next stop during his lengthy career, for a Sunday tilt before returning home Saturday for their first ever match against Portland.

Charlie Davies, who has also been hampered by a recent knee injury, was routinely threatening and played the full 90-minutes against Vancouver. As all of their critical players are now basically healthy, United have also caught the most unlikely of breaks as the temperatures in Washington have been, and will continue to be, unseasonably cool, hovering in the low to mid 80’s.

“It’s been a good week as far as weather for us so we’ll be able to push the guys a little more than usual but we are deep; we are as deep as we’ve been all year right now,” said Olsen. “A lot of healthy bodies; and I expect to use more than eleven guys in the starting rotation over the next week.”

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