Olsen Era Begins in New England

Teams commonly get a bump in their next few games after a coach is fired and interim coach Ben Olsen should get the benefit of a well and truly motivated squad now that Onalfo has been axed because they have been warned they are next in line for the chop if things don’t improve.

The Revs should be a good test for a United desperately hoping for positives as NE is riding a 6 games unbeaten streak, mostly in Superliga but the winning streak began with a thrashing of LA in league play a few weeks ago. But, on paper the Revs are not as talented as past years and are a bit banged up right now so if United matches (or lord willing surpasses) NE’s legendary intensity, DC should have a good chance for a win or tie at the very least.

While there’s no doubt Olsen will be in faces demanding more urgency from United’s XI, it’ll be interesting to see if Battlin’ Benny makes any changes in United’s game plans or tactics. It seems likely Olsen will be going back to basics and throw out the hybrid attacking formations Onalfo has used for most of the year, but it would be shocking if much of the personnel changed for the simple fact that DC has very little starting quality talent, and while effort is nice, often talent goes home with the prizes.

Especially since NE will certainly go 4-4-2 and is known for being a tough team to break down, I think Olsen goes to the old tried and true 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Hernandez needs a partner up front and Allsop seems to be a good choice. But he’s coming off a terrible performance in RSL, so if his confidence is shot and Pontius or Moreno is tearing it up in practice, then one of them gets the first crack at owning that second forward slot.

Then the midfield writes itself. Boskovic and Najar are no brainers, as is King for Simms, then it’s just down to Quaranta if Pontius is at forward, or Pontius instead of Quaranta if he’s not playing forward. Defensively, despite trading for Zayner, DC has a pretty limited pool of healthy defenders. So, barring a surprise like Rice making an appearance for Turtle Talley, Olsen will almost certainly go with McTavish, James, and Talley against a team where his speed deficit is not so pronounced and his outstanding experience and organization will be huge. The only uncertainty is whether Graye will come out of the doghouse or Burch stays out there on the left.

So, looking at the matchups DC has some pretty decent advantages if they actually play with some intensity and efficiency of course. Barnes and Osei have been playing light’s out good in central defense and they only have the best defensive midfielder in the league in Shalrie Joseph partnered with Phelan patrolling in front of them, so Hernandez, Allsopp (or Pontius), and Brankovic will have some tough sledding in the middle of the field for sure, but it only takes one moment of brilliance. However, Nippy Najar might be able to surprise the gangly Gibbs playing a bit out of his element on the left, and Pontius or Quaranta has a golden opportunity on DC’s right as Alston has been ruled out and Nicol will be scrambling to find a replacement, maybe utility man Tierney.

Even defensively, DC shouldn’t be too stressed if they have the concentration to cut out the hideous mistakes they have been making fairly regularly, which should be the case as there should be a genuine fear for their jobs now, since NE hardly scores in bunches as their they’re unbeaten in six games, but only scored seven goals. Four of those were by their new Eastern European midfielder, Marko Perovic, who has been ruled out against DC as well injured in that midweek Superliga match along with Alston.

Without Perovic out and Dube still a couple weeks away, Nicol most likely goes with Superliga hero the enigmatic Kenny Mansally, who crushed United earlier in the season with two goals then promptly disappeared for the season until recently, to partner with rookie Zach Shilawski. James and Talley or Rice should be able to contain them well enough. Well, unless Mansally has another blinder or Shilawski fills the nets like he seems to do sporadically as he does have five goals on the season, but of course those all came in two games. In that case, DC is doomed but that’s the way it goes.

McTavish should be able to contain Tierney on their left well enough, and while Burch or Graye might struggle with Nyassi’s speed on the other side, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem as he almost never translates his moves into goals and his crosses are more likely to take out a lobsterman than they are find a teammate.

Finally, NE’s style of play will help DC too. They don’t mind ceding possession and looking to counter which will give DC time to figure out their offense and hopefully get their backs forward to really take the attack to NE and keep it there. Without their best counterattackers, NE shouldn’t be as dangerous as normal, so as long as DC avoids giving up the first goal allowing Nicol to slam the door shut on a certain 1-0 win for the Revs, DC should be in good shape.

Obviously, the intangibles do not favor DC. United stinks on the road and are coming off a painful performance in Salt Lake, while NE is fairly decent at home and most recently scythed thru LA and half of the Mexican Primera without too much trouble in the Razor. Even the history is pretty sketchy for United. DC is a paltry 9-14-4 in Foxboro and has lost the last two on the trot up there, although they did mange a few valiant ties prior to that, but overall Foxboro has never been that hospitable to DC outside of rare thrillers like the Massachusetts Miracle.

Now, all signs point to a valiant 0-0 tie, but I think DC sneaks a goal with a monumental effort on behalf of Olsen (and their own job security of course). Then, referee Terry Vaughn will go out of his way to balance the scales for DC, since he let Schelotto throw the ball into the net for the winning goal in Columbus last time he did a DC match, so he will call back a NE goal that they will score with their only shot of the match, causing a blood vessel to explode in Nicol’s forehead and sending Feldman on a desperate search for his lithium.

Mike Martin

is one of the originals - he has been with UnitedMania.com since we first launched back in 1998. Regular readers of the site and listeners of the podcast have learned to "love" Mike over the years. A straight shooter when it comes to DC United and MLS

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