Categorized | Weekly Commentary

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 The value of the midfield/withdrawn forward combination that started in Houston was obvious.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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