Categorized | MLS, MLS Match Reports

Frustrated DC United still looking for answers

Posted on 21 August 2012 by Steve Long

DC United has drifted into a deep malaise over the past two months. Only sporadically does the team seem to be in sync. Play is unfocused and only moments of individual brilliance have allowed the team to salvage as many points as they have.

Frustration is the spirit of the day and Sunday’s game saw it come out. Two of the team’s more “mature” players managed to earn themselves ejections while the encroachment of another, however trifling it may have been, cost a possible winning PK.

Three teams performed badly that evening. Referee Mark Geiger’s team was inconsistent within the game, setting no clear standard of what degree of force was acceptable. Persistent infringement seemed to have left Geiger’s vocabulary, and the players noticed and sadly acted on it.

In Geiger’s defense, he has been consistent in calling encroachment when most other officials would consider it trifling. Dwayne DeRosario’s PK was going in regardless of Hamdi Salihi’s being a yard inside the arc when the ball was struck.

Blame Geiger for being inconsistent for not following the lead of other officials or, better yet, blame DC United for not observing Geiger’s tendencies and coaching the players to react accordingly.

Work smarter, not harder goes the saying. In MLS, you have to do both. Scouting and adjusting to the referee team is essential. Correcting your errors is as well.

DC United still transitions through midfield with too little thought and flexibility. On numerous occasions a snapshot of the players’ positions would show a nearly straight line of five attackers pressing the Union’s defensive line while DC’s back line swung the ball slowly from side to side wondering where the passing lanes were.

I spoke at length with assistant coach Josh Wolff about the transition game, citing the flat front line, “Not what you’re looking for. Not the ideal situation,” he replied, “It makes it tough for Perry (Kitchen) to be able to move and to get the ball off our backs as well, but he needs a second guy in there. DeRo is usually the guy we’re gonna expect to do that.

“More often, he got caught up the field attacking and never quite fulfilled that responsibility. Pontius, at times, tried to come back on the weak side. It makes it difficult for the wingers to connect the game, like you say, from back to front.”

He explained what the team was trying to do, “You want to get your outside backs forward and your wings to pinch in so you can create some different lanes and triangles and you’ve got to move the ball quickly.

“At the end of the day you’ve got to have some kind of movement that makes them adjust and move and when we’re on the ball we have to be cleaner.”

Such movement must be constant and take into account the very responses that your play induces in the opponent. That cerebral aspect has been an MLS weakness, “You’re trying to find a balance. With our league it’s an aggressive tempo league …. You have to have bite, but you also want some composure on the ball.

“It’s not always easy to find that right balance. We like Branko (Boskovic) in there to give us that composure on the ball, but some of our games are very physical, aggressive, and up-tempo and it’s difficult for him to find his way through those games. You can see when he comes on late in the games, he gives us that.”

Those few thoughts provide some insight into the mystery of using a designated player as a later entrant into games to effect change and control the game. Thus far, Coach Ben Olsen has fallen short of his goal of having the team play smarter while also working hard until Boskovic comes onto the field.

Olsen now has almost no time left to get the troops on the same page and will not have Boskovic for Wednesday’s critical match against the Chicago Fire. To complicate the coach’s dilemma, Emiliano Dudar will also be sitting out his red card suspension.

The game will call for DeRosario to be especially attentive to his midfield control responsibilities and for the wide midfielders to be similarly aware of their own duties in transition.

During Sunday’s press conference Olsen noted the team’s stronger second half performance, “I thought it was an inspiring second half from our guys and I was proud of them for that. We just have to understand that we have to play inspired the entire time.” From Olsen that usually means harder work, but I think he understands that the inspiration has to be mental as well. We will see how it plays out on Wednesday.

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