True, United has given up some appalling goals and defenders have made some crucial mistakes, but that does necessarily mean the defensive system is at fault. Switching to four in the back isn’t going to make men mark their men better, nor is it going to prevent the midfield from literally passing the ball right to opposing players to gift them transition goals. And DC isn’t to have any shiny new defenders fall off a turnip truck near RFK that can consistently stop EJ one on one after bad giveaways in midfield.
To begin with, it’s never a good idea to change the system just because the team is playing bad, and learning a new role on the fly in MLS would likely be devastating to the season. Players need the comfort of feeling that their system is rock solid, and they also need the accountability if mistakes are being made. It’s one thing if players on the team don’t fit the system and that’s why the team is losing, but that has arguably not been the case.
United has scored three goals in two games so far with a forward getting two of those goals and Gomez the other, so while that is not setting the house on fire, that’s reasonable production from United’s offense given that teams overall possession play has been atrocious. However, giving up six goals in those same two games is what has people pushing the panic button.
Yet, if you look at those goals, there’s no reason to believe the system is at fault. DC had players in the right positions for coverage in every situation, they just didn’t do their jobs. In Colorado, youngster Stephen deRoux was in the right place on the first goal, but he allowed himself to get pushed away by Herculez Gomez to give up the open header. On the second, United had players all over the place in the right areas, but all of them made criminal mistakes. Carroll got beat to the endline by Beckerman, deRoux was all the way back, but guarding the post instead of Terry Cooke, and Boswell left Roberto Brown open in the box for the finish.
Against KC, it was individual breakdowns and woefully bad passing that put the defense into desperate situations. Erpen took a bad angle and was beat by Harrington, and Josh Gros slipped on the wet field to give up the second. Once United tightened up the defensive errors, midfielders decided to simply pass the ball right to KC attackers to give up the next two jail breaks for goals. Gomez had a horrendous touch that went 20 yards to EJ for the killer goal, and Carroll literally passed the ball right to Victorine who said thank you very much and launched EJ in for the final goal.
A new system certainly won’t make Erpen, Boswell, Carroll, or even deRoux mark their men better or pass the ball better, but experience and some gruesome retribution on the bench will. Erpen was already benched I believe as punishment as much as for tactical reasons against KC and McTavish played very well in his place defensively. Carroll would have been benched if Simms was healthy most likely, and while Gomez is above simply being benched for a game or two, he can be pulled for Fred or Moose, or whoever if he can’t get his head out of his seat cushion during any given match.
Coaching United is the toughest job in MLS, but new coach Tommy Soehn’s mettle is being tested right away by DC’s poor start. Now, we’ll see what type of coach Soehn is. If he’s truly ready for the job, he won’t start running scared and making drastic changes just because of a few bad games. After all to err is human, and despite a bad start it’s not time to trash the system just yet.
Soehn has already shown patience and faith in the system when he played Chivas straight up using Simms, deRoux, McTavish, and Fred rather than switch to a safer formation and the players validated that decision with remarkable performances. I believe he needs to keep that faith for a good while longer.
Fred has shown the offensive flair and defensive ability and scrappiness to get the job done on one wing once he gets more in tune with the team. Gros has shown he can play lights out control of the other wing as well. In the meantime, young players like deRoux, McTavish, and Casal are getting the some painful, but important experience for the long run.
United staggered out of the gate, but that doesn’t mean they need to switch horses on the track. Soehn just needs to show all his years of experience and crack the whip on some of his underperforming players. Eliminate the individual mistakes, stop bleeding possession in midfield, get that Chivas loss out of their minds, and focus on getting back some confidence by hammering teams like they have done the past three years.