The Black and Red find themselves in a difficult position heading into the final leg of their series against the New York Red Bulls. Down 2-0 on aggregate, DC United must score at least two goals to send the series into extra time. Give up a goal, and the new away goals rule will force United to have to score at least four to stay alive.
This presents Ben Olsen (above Photo: Martin Fernandez) with the dilemma of needing to set up his team score, but also maintain a clean sheet. The Red Bulls are not known for their defending prowess, but an in form Thierry Henry is as likely to find the net, or provide an assist, as any player in the league. To accomplish this, Olsen must resolve DC’s issues at left back.
Since the departure of Cristian earlier in the season, United played both Taylor Kemp and Chris Korb fairly successfully at left back, with all-star Sean Franklin occupying the position on the right. Due to a slight injury, Sean Franklin started the first leg on the bench, with Taylor Kemp and Chris Korb debuting together as left and right back.
Kemp, while not playing poorly, was consistently targeted by the Red Bulls in one on one situations. This forced United to shift to the left, where Thierry Henry exploited the space on the opposite side of the field. The scoreline was 2-0, but could have easily been 3 or 4.
On Saturday, it almost guaranteed that Sean Franklin will return to the lineup. This leaves Olsen with Taylor Kemp, Chris Korb, or possibly even Samuel Inkoom to fill in on the left.
Kemp has really stepped up since being promoted to the first team. Although 1v1 defending is not his forte, the narrower field at RFK will help solve some of the defensive issues. Going forward, Kemp is definitely more of a threat than Korb. Kemp notched two assists at RFK against the Rapids, earning team of the week honors. Against Houston, Kemp found the back of the net to help United earn its first victory at BBVA Stadium.
The left back spot was all Korb until his injury brought Kemp into the starting IX. Korb may be a better 1v1 defender than Kemp, but offers much less in the attack. In a game that requires DC to score (at least) twice, this is a far more conservative pick. A change in the backline could address defensive issues from the first leg.
Inkoom is a wildcard. A world Cup and Champions League veteran, he could be the unknown that Mike Petke and the Red Bulls won’t be prepared for. The problem is, Olsen hasn’t shown much faith in Inkoom since his arrival, and he has rarely featured in MLS games.
Olsen hasn’t changed tactics or personnel very drastically all season. At the end of August, United beat the Red Bulls 2-0 at RFK using Taylor Kemp at left back. More importantly, the spot has belonged to Kemp because he’s played well enough to earn it. Although he was often exposed by Loyd Sam at Red Bull Arena, the more narrow field at RFK will help him not get isolated on defense.
More importantly, DC will have to be much better in possession if they stand any chance of coming out of this series. If they accomplish this, it will keep Kemp from having to defend 1v1 for extended periods.
Playing Korb at left back wouldn’t be a disaster, but he has yet to start a game at LB since returning from his injury. Korb will start on the bench and come on late in the game should he be needed.
Starting Inkoom would certainly throw something different at the Red Bulls that they probably haven’t prepared for. There’s probably a reason that Olsen has been reluctant to use Inkoom, and this is not the time for Olsen to make a “panic” change.
United need to score twice. They also need to keep a clean sheet. Playing Taylor Kemp at left back on Saturday gives them the best chance of accomplishing both of those goals.