The Same Old Song | a DC United Match Reaction

Midweek swaps saw two new faces appear in Ben Olsen’s starting eleven. Unfortunately, the DJ was playing the same sorry tune when it came to the match itself. Good moments going forward, patchy periods of possession, and, of course, the inevitable defensive comedy routines. You’d think we’d have worn out that record by now.

How about some tactical talking points?

  • Tactical talking point #1. The assorted ranks of internet punditry got their wish with De Rosario atop a diamond four in midfield. Not sold. Nor do I think the selling comes with time. The selling would come with a real defensive midfielder. Simms has his uses, but being a solitary d-mid isn’t one of them. He doesn’t have the nous to clog passing lanes nor the snarl and drive to deal with runners. Worse, his passing when he did end up with the ball was weak. That’s not always the case, but I think it doesn’t help him to be all alone when his first look is for the short, easy outlet. I thought a secondary effect of the diamond would be less danger from our primary attacking options, Najar and Pontius, but this wasn’t the case1.

  • Tactical talking point #2. The pinching necessary in the diamond makes getting width out of the fullbacks a necessity rather than luxury. You could make the argument that (a) this will take time to develop and (b) we did see some contribution from Woolard and Kitchen. You could, but I won’t. As with Simms, I don’t think we have the proper horses for this race. There were a couple of occasions where De Rosario hit a ball into a wide space expecting a fullback steaming forward only to find that the defender was still hanging back.

  • Tactical talking point #3. Here’s a conundrum. You want De Rosario close to goal where he can create trouble2, but you need a guy deeper to get the ball to him. The problem? De Rosario is that guy. We need two of him. On a related point, if you want him higher and reach the conclusion that Simms can’t hack it alone in deep midfield, where do you stick De Rosario? Ideally, he’d be a trequartista with freedom to roam off a solitary striker and Najar and Pontius manning the wings. But looking at our options, we’ve got a poacher (Davies), a supporting forward (Wolff), a high-energy scrapper (Brettschneider), and the Touch of Death (Ngwenya). Maybe Brettscheider can play lone forward3, but the others don’t look like great options there; all are better with partners. The other option? One of Najar or Pontius sit. Hmmm. No thanks.

And what about?

  • I can’t figure Wolff out. One minute I’m writing, “we’re not a playoff team if Josh Wolff is starting for us.” The next I’m praising an effort. Usually the one thing you get out of a player of his age and experience is consistency. But Wolff’s touch and passing are unpredictable, by turns fantastic and frustrating. The constant is the effort, but is that enough? I’m honestly not sure. The very second I’m ready to throw him under the metaphorical bus for destroying an attack, he flies into a tackle and wins the ball back or hits a delightful through ball. I guess that makes him the ideal captain for this edition of United, no?

  • The first five to ten minutes were outstanding from United. Quick passing followed by immediate movement, always presenting for a return ball. But the final 10-15 minutes were the complete opposite. Zero movement off the ball and no pressure on opponents with the ball. Most damning? Count the number of second balls won. Count the number of times a United defender looked for someone else to make a play on the ball or runner. Static and passive on both ends.

Quick hits?

  • Route One doesn’t work if you can’t win aerial duels.

  • Najar for Goal of the Week? Haven’t seen the other games yet, but that was at least 25 yards out. Hell of a hit from the kid4.

  • White has wheels to get back, but he’s often doing so because of suspect positioning. Experience and more communication from a veteran head in McDonald should help.

  • I’m pretty sure everybody knows our long-throw routine to the end-line runner by now.

  • Too many moments of comedy team and individual defending…still. Maybe the coaches should spend some of the time they’re not spending on new throw-in routines to do Defensive Decision Making 101.

  • Hard to develop game-killing possession with (1) no movement, (2) tentative and slow passing, (3) no hustle for loose and second balls, and (4) no pressure on the ball. Time to quit hoping we can hold out and start insisting upon it.

I think this thing goes differently if we don’t get that absolute tragi-comedy sequence that led to the Union opener. Ball controlled off the chest (Pontius?) into the path of a Philly midfielder. Three United defenders stare at him as he takes the ball to the edge of the area. Dangerous chip, but Kitchen is well-positioned to cut it out. Sadly, the height is awkward, and rather than trying to stoop to head it out, he makes a comical attempt at a flying volley, deflecting the ball into the side of Hamid’s net. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. And just after the break. Just after scoring minutes before the break.

If Olsen's hair isn't gray by September, it’ll be a miracle. So much good gone so quickly to waste. That “Back to the Mean” campaign is really starting to pick up steam, isn’t it?


  1. Of course, you could also argue that Najar and Pontius being so involved in the attack meant they weren’t back helping to clog the middle defensively. ↩

  2. Witness the goal. He might as well have celebrated it like he scored it since Wolff was little more than a wall. A well-positioned wall, but a wall nonetheless. ↩

  3. Though not very well unless you get support from midfield around him really quickly. ↩

  4. And a tactical advantage if both our wide mids carrying threat from distance forces defenses to step higher than they want to. That’s where runs from the likes of Davies and De Rosario become so much more dangerous. ↩


  1. I applaud you for taking the time to write something original. I couldn't be bothered--some strikeouts and insertions sufficed.

    I thought White looked more suspect in this game than any other so far.

    Dittoes on Wolff.

    Trequartista again? You're playing too much FM, buddy.


  2. RE: trequartista

    Sadly, my current FM game is lower-league stuff, so trequartistas aren't an option ;-).

    Probably reading too much Jonathan Wilson. That "Blizzard" thing of his is outstanding.

  3. 'Too much FM'? My good fellow.