To wrap things up with the “What I Want For Christmas” series, we’ll begin with a bit of a tactical aside before prioritizing the shopping list…
|Our likely man in the middle?|
In all of this discussion, we’ve curiously ignored tactics for the most part. Why is that? Well, for one, I’m going to assume that while Olsen is going to be somewhat more flexible in his second term at the helm, the basic manner in which he set his team out is going to be largely similar. And secondly, I don’t think the roster and wage restrictions of MLS allow you much scope for variety.
Thus, I’m basing my target-list on the assumption that United will line up with a back four and either (1) a diamond midfield with two up top or (2) a midfield bucket with a lone striker and a trequartista floating between attack and midfield. Ultimately, I can imagine something more progressive, like so…
… but that’s not so much of a change from the bucket + trequartista1 or diamond-midfield2 models. Indeed, most of the current roster could probably move between the two fairly seamlessly. But it does leave an awful lot of weight on the shoulders of young Kitchen.
Yes, you could pull Pontius and Najar deeper, but I think that both blunts their danger and shifts an inordinate load onto the back of a striker we don’t even possess yet. The key is going to be Boskovic, and there are so many questions there.
Can he withstand the rigors of playing in the middle in MLS week in and week out? Does he have enough range and energy (not to mention desire) to help lighten Kitchen’s defensive burden? Can he not only thread the delicate through ball and make nice touches in limited space but ping the cross-field bomb to flank attackers as well?
The elephant in the room here is that instead of two top priorities (forward and left back), we might actually need a midfield dynamo as well if Boskovic doesn’t pan out. But United seem to be entertaining giving him a go, so I suppose we’ll have to as well, and trust that either (1) he works out and/or (2) there’s enough time to switch to Plan B come the summer.
With that established, let’s sort the list. We’ve got two broad bands of priority here. The obvious holes in the starting line-up are left back and forward. Yes, Woolard was our starting left back last year and Wolff started more often than not, but I’d argue that starting the season with them reprising those roles seems to signal a lack of ambition inconsistent with the club’s current off-season behavior and, more damningly, another season probably spent watching the playoffs from home.
Of the two, the demands of the position and the relative scarcity/cost of a quality forward would make that my first concern. But what type of forward? Given that the supporting cast of Pontius, De Rosario, and Najar have goals in them, I’d argue that we need less a poacher in the Emilio/Fowler mold and more a dynamic presence up top that creates space for those coming from deeper positions. This would be a forward that can worry defenses and stretch them with movement, strength, and pace as well as hit the target when called upon.
Bit of an ask to find all of that in one package on an MLS budget (unless we’re looking DP), which is why that has to be the first priority, with a left back sporting a big motor, decent crossing ability, and good recovery speed3 rounding out the top tier of targets.
But what about the secondary needs, the depth? Given that we have a decent array of bench-quality forwards and some attack-minded mids who can play up top in a pinch, my initial look would be elsewhere. With White proving a decent third option in the center of defense and only a third-string keeper required to fill out the netminder quota, I’d push d-mid and right wing cover to the top. Hell, if you could find a quick winger who can also play up top, you’ve gone and killed two notional birds.
That said, I’d rate cover for Kitchen at d-mid slightly higher. Yes, we’re hearing that Morsink is looking to re-up and King can probably do a job there, but I’m not sold on either.
After that, the order probably doesn’t matter as you’re looking less at coveted players being targeted by multiple clubs and more at who you can squeeze onto the roster with the cap space available. In other words, journeymen, draftees, and trialists.
So what does your shopping list look like? Mine is…
- Forward - starting quality, decent physical presence, passable finisher, mobile, likely from foreign climes
- Left Back - starting quality, decent crosser, high endurance, good recovery speed, outside shot at a domestic trade/draftee, but likely from abroad
- D-mid - cover for Kitchen, good range, aggressive, decent distributor
- Right Wing - cover for Najar and up top as well, quick, good engine
- Central Defender - depth, preferably veteran, but that may not be an option
- Keeper - third stringer
Seems obvious? Probably. Most of you playing the home game probably have similar-looking lists. What will be interesting is to see if Olsen and the FO do as well. Are they chasing roster-filler or genuine quality? Do they really think Woolard is a viable starter? How about Wolff? Does the acquisition of a dynamic central midfield presence signal the end for Boskovic? How does Olsen modify his tactical approach, if at all?
Given the ruthlessness of the cuts thus far, you’d have to imagine that the Bearded Bombardier has a definite plan and list of his very own. That said, experience says you’d have to stretch your imagination a bit to entertain the possibility that the current FO can tick all the boxes on his wish list.
Just with the wings pushed higher and the central midfield withdrawn slightly. ↩
With Pontius almost acting as a second forward cutting inside and the diamond skewed to the right. ↩
I wonder if the thought of trying da Luz there in pre-season has crossed anybody’s mind? Wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you’re thinking attack-first… ↩