United needs to change it’s defensive shape in order to navigate murky 49 day trek

And I thought D.C. United had it tough last season by participating in five seperate tournaments (the now defunct CONCACAF Champions Cup; U.S. Open Cup; Superliga; CONCACAF Champions League group play and the MLS regular season) that saw the team play nearly 50 matches in all competitions. Well, United will once again be approaching that gaudy number of matches. Although they are playing in two fewer competitions (no more CCC or Superliga), they could be picking up a pretty big competition called the MLS Playoffs, should they make it without their players dropping like flies.

It’s bad enough that United will this weekend be finishing a 7-game stretch in MLS play which sees them playing six of those games on the road. Now they have to embark on a 14 match-49 day trek that will either elevate this team, sink the team (not unlike it has done in previous seasons) or have it still stuck right in the middle of the MLS race. The breakdown of matches in multiple competitions is as follows:

8 MLS matches – 5 at home and 3 on the road

1 U.S. Open Cup Final – Sept 2nd at RFK against Seattle FC

5 CONCACAF Champions League matches – 3 at home and 2 on the road


Now the good news is that 9 of those 14 matches are being played at RFK Stadium where at the moment only United and the Columbus Crew are the only teams in MLS without a home loss in all competitions. The bad news is is that 5 of those matches are on the road where this team has taken an 08′ Galaxy type of turn in terms of defending. Not good, not good at all. This team for the season has given up 24 goals in 11 MLS road matches, by far the worst road record in MLS in terms of goals allowed. Even the god-awful Red Bulls have a better return on the road in terms of giving up goals. Let’s just look at the last 5 road matches where this team has given up 13 goals. One four-goal game and two three-goal games. I’m sorry, that’s simply not good enough.

So what’t the solution? For my money, I think the team should seriously consider going to a 4-4-2 formation on the road for the time being to at least attempt to stop letting in so many goals. I’m plenty fine with United going 3-5-2 at home, it seems to work with the odd hiccup here and there (3 goals allowed to Toronto FC and 3 goals allowed to Red Bull in an Open Cup qualifier). However, this team simply needs to stop leaking goals. The signing of David Haburagira can’t come soon enough because honestly Greg Janicki isn’t the answer either. I could probably live with Marc Burch playing centrally with either Avery John or Rodney Wallace at left back until the Burundi defender finally signs with the team. Look, Janicki is a nice guy, but just like the forlorn Facundo Erpen, tragic mistakes seem to follow this guy around. He’s good for a goal a game at least in the back and I think Tom Soehn would be well advised to steer clear from him for the time being.

I realize that switching out of the 3-5-2 into a 4-4-2 seems a bit desperate, but in all honesty, it needs to happen. The team may suffer a bit offensively as they attempt to make it work, but they stand a better chance giving up less goals than trying to outscore opponents. It’s not too often this season that United has come out on top of a high-scoring game. Tom Soehn made a move similar to this at the beginning of the 2007 season. United had lost it’s first three league matches right out of the gate giving up 7 goals in the process. He put his foot down and said “that’s enough” and changed the team into a 4-4-2 and they went on a 7-game unbeaten streak and an eventual Supporters Shield.

The downside of doing that now would be that you would have to leave Christian Gomez in central midfield with only a now recovering Clyde Simms to cover more ground. This would also mean that Ben Olsen most likely would be the player left out of the team if you plan to use Quaranta and Fred on the flanks (and believe me, plenty of people would prefer to see Fred on the bench because he just isn’t the same player that United got in 07′). However, the flip-side of this is that you can now rest and rotate players like Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace who have really slowed their play down over the past month or so. Maybe a rest and spot duty is what they deserve at the moment. Additionally, is there any reason that Christian Gomez couldn’t be pushed up into one of the forward positions to partner either Moreno or Emilio? Is that completely out of the question? If Soehn does that, that means Benny could slide right back into the middle of midfield and United could very much resemble some of the hardest working central midfields in MLS like Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark in Houston or Freddie Ljunberg and Oswaldo Alonzo in Seattle. Wouldn’t that be a prudent solution to the onslaught of matches this team will face in the next 49 days?

While this all sounds nice in practical terms, it’s the actual putting it into practice and succeeding which will determine United’s ultimate fate this season. Will United have another poor showing in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage? Will their poor road form continue to haunt this team? Can this team rely solely on their home form to carry them into the MLS playoffs?

Hopefully all these questions and more will be answered by the time United takes a well-deserved 14 day break after their home match against Chivas USA on October 3rd. Let’s hope United can buck the trend of recent seasons and give us all some hope heading towards another run at MLS Cup. Quite frankly, another U.S. Open Cup victory won’t be enough for me and it shouldn’t be for you either.

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