DC United Staying on the Defensive in NY

When asked this week about this new commitment to defending, defender Bryan Namoff said that tighter defending is a goal the team wants to emphasize both in NY and for the rest of the season. “We want to get more numbers behind the ball. The more we do that the less quality chances that they’re able to get. Especially being on the road, we’re definitely happy with winning 1-0. Throughout the beginning of the season, we were trying to get numbers in the attack which made us a bit susceptible in the back, so we’re definitely going to continue with more of a commitment to getting behind the ball. We’re on the road [this weekend]. We need to continue to play smart.”

DC has been reeling from pervasive injuries and sloppy concentration which kept United a fixture at the bottom of the league defensively and was the main cause of the recent Superliga slump and an anemic loss to Houston. So, Soehn got fed up and made drastic changes this past week to bring in some new players renown for their work ethic, made playing good defense the highest priority, and also sent a chilling message to the entire team that solid play on both sides of the ball is expected if you want to wear the Black and Red.

Assistant coach Chad Ashton said after practice this week that a mentality of playing solid on both sides of the ball is something the team needed to improve and that the new players are example of what they want from everyone. “That [mentality] has to be a constant. It’s a little bit the personality of Joe [Vide] and Ivan [Guerrero] and what they bring to the table, what type of guys they are. But, we want to see that from everybody on our team. We want to see everybody be hard working on both sides of the ball. It doesn’t matter who it is. That’s what we expect. We’ve got to continue to do that regardless of who’s on the field for us.”

Yet, this focus on staying tight in the back didn’t take anything away from United’s offensive efforts as lovely goals from both forwards, Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno allowed to team to cruise comfortably past KC.

Joe Vide, who was picked up from SJ the worst offensive team in the league and who knows all about how important it is to have offensive weapons to go with a solid defense, said after practice this week that it’s great to have such impressive offensive talent that makes all the hard work on defense so rewarding and he expects that to continue in NY. “[The coaches] are still preaching to get guys behind the ball. Not giving up a goal. But, when you look at the guys we have attacking, Jaime and Emilio, that’s the best strike force in the league. They’ll get their chances and we’ll get goals. We’ve just got to keep opponents out of our net and give those guys their opportunities.”

Plus, the defense first strategy should be a good formula to get points against Red Bull given their current situation. They have just brought in a load of talent and got Juan Pablo Angel back from injury, but most of their good news for them is on the offensive side of the ball. Their defense is till nothing to write home about, and it’s likely that new defenders Cichero and defensive midfielder Pietrovallo will take time to gel with their teammates. So, a commitment to frustrating their offensive weapons, while hoping for fewer offensive players being able to generate good scoring opportunities is a reasonable assumption in this particular match.

However, the strategy for the game is about the only thing that seems to be locked down for this match. With two games in 48 hours for United and some key players very close to returning to the field, as well as artificial turf concerns and United’s wildly unpredictable road form all up in the air, it is going to be tough to even predict who will take the field much less figure out how the match will play out.

One piece of good news is that United did find out that Joe Vide and Ivan Guerrero, who were both expected to be out of the Open Cup match are in fact eligible to play against NE on Tuesday as the match they played for SJ doesn’t count as it was a qualifying match and not part of the Cup proper. Sketchy ruling in my opinion, but it certainly does give Coach Tommy Soehn some more options and roster flexibility.

So, considering the paramount importance of the Open Cup match, it seems likely Soehn will water down his starters somewhat against NY. One starter who will play for certain is Marc Burch who is out of the Open Cup match due to a dropping Blanco like a sack of cement in the Chicago match and so is suspended, so he will play the full 90 in NY.

Outside of Burch, it might be easier to read Tommy’s mind by thinking of who absolutely must play against NY and which of them needs some rest before hand. Clearly, Jaime is number one on that list as he is extremely unlikely to be able to play two matches back to back. Also, Emilio, Fred, Namoff and Simms might be able to pull off double duty, but really shouldn’t unless it is totally necessary.

However, since United is dreadfully thin at forward with Doe still out with a foot infection, Emilio is likely to play some serious minutes in both matches. Santino Quaranta has targeted this date for his return and given the situation is certain to play his more natural forward role. Plus, another intriguing possibility is playing Dyachenko as a forward as he is a natural attacker, though a bit less fleet of foot than most. But playing a dual defensive midfielder center, would allow him to drop back more to orchestrate attacks with his passing and possession skills. I think Emilio and Quaranta start the match and Moreno comes in for Emilio only if the situation calls for him to play.

In midfield, Craig Thompson and Ryan Cordiero would seem to be obvious choices, as they give Fred and Guerrero some rest, but playing two rookies isn’t a good idea as we’ve seen recently. So, I think they swap halves, Fred and Cordiero one half, then Guerrero and Thompson in the other. Vide could play both games easily, and probably two more games later in the week if it came to that, so he’s not a concern. Simms, however, is.

Clyde the glide is definitely a question mark as he is starting to look a little worn down and almost certainly can’t go two matches in quick succession. With Stratford still out and no more else able to play his position, that does seem to be a sticky situation. But, Gallardo is extremely close to being back in action and it if he is to get any match play before that Open Cup match, he has to get some minutes in NY and might be able to play as much as a half in place of Simms, and as a good partner for Vide. Then again coming back from a groin injury by playing on the hardest turf field in the league is not the best of scenarios. Still, if Gallardo is not to be risked or is not ready, then Dyachenko coming in at halftime solves that problem another way.

In defense, Burch plays obviously, so does McTavish and Namoff as they are the most likely of the regular starters to be able to handle playing the vast majority of both matches. Namoff joked this week “It’s not my favorite thing to do!” but intimated he could play both if it was necessary. Which leaves Pat Carroll in the center of defense, and likely Peralta gets some minutes in there as well coming back from his less extensive groin surjury.

So, that’s a reasonable plan to so that neither match is compromised too much and looking at the style of play for NY, there’s good reason to expect results if everybody plays to their abilities.

Chad Ashton said he expects NY to play a similar style to what they’ve played most of the season, just with some better players in some key positions and they’ve been able to scout NY pretty well recently saying those new guys have “played a couple games now for NY, so we’ve got a good feel for what they’re trying to do with those players. For the most part, they’re trying to inject a little more quality into their team.”

Joe Vide was even more specific. “It looks like they play defensively, a 4-5-1, and look to Juan Pablo up top. So, we just have to keep him out, and keep our eye on Rojas. He’s a good player, left footed. Keep him in front of us prevent him from getting balls in behind us.”

Rojas is NY’s new playmaker and captain of the Venezuelan National team, who has looked remarkably good since joining the team, even scoring a goal against Barcelona this week in NY’s last competitive match. Well, if you can call a 6-2 rout competitive. Still, don’t count on that Barcelona massacre to hurt NY too much mentally. Vide said if anything it might get them going harder.

“No, it won’t affect them. It’s Barcelona, the best team in the world. It’s completely different from our game, night and day. [If anything] I think they’re going to come out excited to kind of show that even though they got their butts handed to them, this is a different game. So they’ll come out with a little bit of feistyness for sure.”

So, with all this in mind, DC does have some decent advantages. Obviously, Emilio and Quaranta should get chances against that hideously bad central defense of NY. Even if Cichero, who is an obvious upgrade over that gangly stick insect Boyens, plays significant minutes as he is still too new to the team and league and we’ve seen it takes time to adjust to MLS.

DC’s midfield should easily be as good as NY, even with some rookies playing decent minutes as there’s really only Van den Bergh and Rojas to really keep tabs on. Stammler and Pietrovallo are solid all rounders, but Osorio still hasn’t even figured out the best tactical way to play them together on the field. But, the real edge for DC is on the outsides as Goldtwaite and Leitch are too of the worst outside backs in MLS and for certain any combination of Fred, Guerrero and some rookies will be able to create chances out wide.

Defensively, DC also should be in pretty good shape. Angel is clearly the biggest concern, but Osorio seems determined to strand him up top on his own, so United’s four backs should be pressed too much to isolate him. And I can’t see NY’s midfield being that much better than DC’s to give him significant chances, especially if DC stays committed to defense first.

Even some of the intangibles go DC’s way. We’ve beaten NY pretty regularly over the past decade even in their house, so theirs no reason to think that a good solid road draw is there for taking at the very least.

So, after a first half of the season among the very worst defenses in the league, DC has made it clear that they are going to focus on defense over this last half of the season. Starting out that philosophy with a shutout last week was only the beginning. United going on the defensive looks to be the wave of the future.

1 reply
  1. Mike M
    Mike M says:

    So much for Gallardo getting any minutes. He didn’t even make the trip. Makes me think he’s not going to be a factor in the Open Cup game either. Don’t like that scenario, but there you go.

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