DC United adjusts to the loss of Dwayne De Rosario with 2-1 win

Posted on 17 September 2012 by Steve Long

Coach Ben Olsen was honored on Saturday night with a banner on the DC United Hall of Tradition for his years of excellence as a player. He began his career with United with energy to burn, a fierce desire to beat his man to win games, and the wisdom to constantly learn. He adjusted to the adversity of a severe ankle injury which moved him into a holding central midfield role.

As you might expect, his strategy as a young coach today reflects his playing experiences. Having succeeded with a pairing with Brian Carroll as dual holding midfielders in a 3-5-2 formation, he easily fell back on a variation of the classic 4-4-2 which features what is called the “empty bucket”.

The concept is to play a flat back four which does not normally mean that all four in back are square across the field, but that they rotate around the flow of the game with either wide back finding himself as one of the two central defenders in some cases while the other advances to or even through wide midfield to overlap a pinching wide midfielder.

It has become increasingly common for teams to feature an overlapping/attacking back. Josh
Wolff explains, “The game has changed, that’s the rationale, I think…..You want to get guys in advance of the ball…..You’ve got outside guys who can pinch inside to encourage your backs to go and you get numbers in advance of the ball.”

This strategy can leave defensive holes as the wide midfielder pinches in. Wolff points out that recently, “We’ve had Perry (Kitchen) and ‘Celo (Marcelo Saragosa) in there so when a wide guy goes, there’s your cover.”

With the injury to Dwayne De Rosario, the team needed a bit more creativity and the coaching staff chose to insert Branko Boskovic in place of Saragosa. Thus, Wolff said, “Tonight with Branko in there it was a little bit different. Branko’s a little bit more up the field and doesn’t cover as much ground as ‘Celo.” Until he tired in the second half, Boskovic’s offensive threat was enough to keep the Revolution somewhat withdrawn.

As Boskovic slowed, Andy Najar showed how the overlapping back could add to the attack. “I think when we got Andy forward and Korb forward we were actually better.” “It took a little while for Andy to get forward……But I think quickly in the second half he was a little more aggressive and it paid off with some real attacks”, Wolff noted.

Asked about whether he liked Najar at right back, Wolff waxed enthusiastic, “I think Andy has been a much better soccer player for us as a right back. He’s more comfortable with the ball when he gets in the final third. That’s what you see with Andy, there’s a little bit of a breakdown with the service. There’s a little bit of a breakdown with the ideas.

“Whether he’s shooting whether he’s dribbling, that’s the one thing. He’s only 19 so it’s gonna continue to grow. I don’t think you get enough out of him as a midfielder. When he’s in back he’s putting guys under pressure a bit more, his service from deeper is a little bit better and he’s still capable of going at guys one on one. My own opinion, I think he’s a fantastic right back.”

Coach Ben Olsen backed up Wolff’s point about central midfield, “Well one, Branko’s not 90 minutes fit, so we knew at some point he was going to have to come off. It just looked like he was starting to fade a little bit. It is tough because Branko offensively gives you some real magic and the set pieces he put in today I thought were really good but there was starting to be a cost to that.

“I thought Lewis came in and really changed the game and slowed us down a bit, kept possession, won some tackles and was pretty diligent doing the work next to Perry Kitchen. I thought that helped and then he gets the goal, which is great, and I’m happy for him to get the winner.”

On the night, United barely prevailed in their own home against a team with a significantly weaker record thanks to a great performance by goalie Bill Hamid. Olsen claimed that, “We were rusty. It was not a great game and we were probably a little lucky. It could have gone either way.”

Having slid into the final playoff spot, DC United must take advantage of nominally lesser teams like Philadelphia and Chivas this week in order to assure post-season play. Olsen waxed philosophical about it, “That is going to change, again and again and again. We have six more games so this thing is going to continue to change.

“I hope it changes with us continuing to move forward – that’s our goal. We have a couple of games coming up that we should do well in, but it ‘s going to take a much better performance than this.”

So, it’s on to Philadelphia to shake off more rust.

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