Just a roundup of some thoughts in the aftermath of DC United's retention of the Carolina Challenge Cup, in no particular order.
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The McCarty-Boskovic combination isn't one that works in isolation. I think they can do well in central midfield together, but only if they have a holder/destroyer behind them. I was confused by the pattern of play that saw McCarty getting forward with Boskovic sitting deep with the Pirlo deep-distribution brief, both because (1) McCarty functions just as well in the same spot, (2) McCarty is much more useful sitting deep as he's able to break up counters more effectively than Boskovic, and (3) McCarty wasn't as influential playing higher. I thought we looked much more vulnerable to the counter (a particular weakness of last year's side when the midfield failed to screen an often disorganized defense) than in either CCC match thus far.
Having said all of that, Boskovic came on stronger in the second half when the midfield was pinched on the left, effectively allowing him to play in a central midfield three alongside King and Morsink with Burch given the run of the entire left flank (where, surprisingly, he did a fair impression of a wingback, though one good cross in ten doesn't exactly set this fullback's heart aflutter). Boskovic's biggest contribution in this position was pinged balls to the flank, which is presumably why Olsen was playing him in the deep-distributor spot in the first half.
In defense, watching Ethan White made the letting of Julius James go make a certain kind of sense. White was strong and quick and demonstrated more quality on the ball than James. If they were fighting for the #4 spot behind Jakovic, Kitchen, and Brasesco, James does start to look unnecessary. That said, I'm not certain I'd start Kitchen at the moment. HQ can rave all they want about leadership and maturity and readiness for this level, but Kitchen was certainly to blame for the second goal, and I'm pretty sure he was the one who failed to close down DeRo, allowing the cross that created the havoc in the box that resulted in the PK for TFC's first. Those are the type of mistakes I'm sure he'll cut out going forward as he learns what he can and can't get away with at this level, but the question is whether to let him learn by doing or by watching.
Up top, Davies' finish early in the match was sharp, Ngwenya puts himself about, and Brettschneider does the same, but I still feel we're short of quality in creating chances. I expect that a more confident Davies will create more chances for himself, but I'm a little concerned with the wide play. Either defenses are (understandably) keying on Najar or he's resting on his laurels a bit. Last year he insisted on being an impact player. From what I've seen thus far, he's more petulant and less willing to attack at will. Maybe he's been told to pace himself. Maybe he's playing within himself, just getting fit before he blossoms in the regular season. We shall see. (Wouldn't be pre-season without rampant optimism or doom-and-gloom mongering, would it?)
Overall, there were patches of play I really liked, as there were in both of the previous CCC matches. These were the quick, one-touch transitions and the ability to switch fields quickly and with precision (hell, even Morsink was getting in on the act!). That said, these sequences are not what needs to improve. Despite our dire record last year, we often looked good possessing the ball in the middle third. Where we fell apart were (1) creating and finishing chances and (2) mental lapses and general disorganization in the defensive third. Until we show consistency at either, the only trophies we'll be winning are pre-season ones.