Categorized | Weekly Commentary

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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