What I Want For Christmas | Part III

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…

(In case you missed the beginning of this discussion: Part I and Part II are available.)

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…

football formations

… 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…

  1. Forward - starting quality, decent physical presence, passable finisher, mobile, likely from foreign climes
  2. Left Back - starting quality, decent crosser, high endurance, good recovery speed, outside shot at a domestic trade/draftee, but likely from abroad
  3. D-mid - cover for Kitchen, good range, aggressive, decent distributor
  4. Right Wing - cover for Najar and up top as well, quick, good engine
  5. Central Defender - depth, preferably veteran, but that may not be an option
  6. 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.

  1. Just with the wings pushed higher and the central midfield withdrawn slightly. ↩

  2. With Pontius almost acting as a second forward cutting inside and the diamond skewed to the right. ↩

  3. 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… ↩


  1. Drogba!

    I do want to see how DeRossario and Boskovic play off each other. The chances are slim, but it could be beautiful (with the right striker, yo).

  2. I have to say that I'm hip-deep a DC United save in FM, and it's going very, very well (5-2-1, 17 points, 1st place) ... and the tactical stuff is exactly - I mean exactly - what you describe above.

    The personnel aren't, though. Not exactly.

  3. What an oddly familiar diagramming format...

  4. @BDR
    Drogba? Thought you were averse to petulant whiner-divers (see also: Davies, Charlie). Or is that a conditional revulsion that's overcome by actual talent? ;-)

    I'm making out fairly well with something of the sort as well, though I have Boskovic on the wing and had to drastically overhaul the defense.


  5. So much to talk about here. Let's start with your starting XI map. Firstly, my initial impression is too much defensive responsibility for Boskovic. He's a bit older now and doesn't have the legs of Najar or Pontius. But if you, as I, love the Pontius offensive threat, give him a starting position up top with DeRo. Pontius seems to thrive up there. And DeRo's playing style was effective when we gave him the freedom of a poacher-esque floater striker. As much as everyone anticipated DeRo to take the CAM role last season, he was simply much better and more effective up top. Conclusion: Don't give him this tre-quartista role, I don't see it working unless he decides to float on over to that role.

    Plain and simple: I don't want to see Pontius, Najar, Bosko or DeRo (PNBD) playing defense. But we can't leave Kitchen hanging out to dry, can we?
    Ideally, I would've loved for DC to keep Simms for another season, playing alongside Kitchen in D-mid with something like a 4-2-4 in formation. (We are now starting to understand from Barcelona that you don't really need 'true' striker/poacher to be successful. You can get goals from different players. And I think it would've worked with or PNBD combination)

    But since that is no longer is an option, what do we do for defensive cover to help Kitchen? I think this is a big lingering question for DCU. Najar and Pontius played too much defense last year on the wings. We must allow them to spread their offensive wings but at the same time not leave our defense hanging vulnerably in the wind. Solution? It shalt be seen...This on top of some decent depth. I see a stark contrast between our starting XI players and our bench that a few injuries could make us a damningly, playoff-less and mediocre team.

  6. Hmmm...

    (1) Did you read the post accompanying the diagram? I'm not being nasty, just curious, because most of the points you identified (role/suitability of Boskovic, defensive role of wing players, pressure on Kitchen, not needing a poacher) were covered.

    (2) We may be crossing signals here over the definition of trequartista. My definition is of a supporting forward playing underneath a main striker and granted massive freedom of movement, both vertically and horizontally, allowing him to appear on either flank, make runs past the striker, or drop into midfield to win/receive the ball. To be clear: I don't see him functioning best as an attacking midfielder either; I want him floating between lines and between flanks, going where he can do the most damage. I'll grant you that the starting position I have given in the diagram is probably a bit deeper than it should be.

    (3) Plain and simple: I don't want to see Pontius, Najar, Bosko or DeRo (PNBD) playing defense. I'm going to be charitable and assume you mean you don't want them tracking back too far into their own half, and that's what you mean by "playing defense," because the alternative is suicide in the modern, professional game and would bring back the bad old days where our defensive line was consistently shredded because of a failure to close down the opposition's defense and midfield. Everybody has to play defense, it's just a matter of where they do so (pushed high to close down fullbacks and/or d-mids, dropping into zones to cover passing lanes, or tracking forward runs into the defensive half).

    (4) To be fair on the depth issue: we won't know how good our depth is until the acquisitions start rolling it. Of course it looks thin now that the FO have cut loose a third of the roster. If we're still making the same accusations come late January, that's when it's time to really start worrying in earnest.

  7. Happy Greetings...

    2.) Ah, your definition makes more sense now. I was under the impression that the tre-quartista role was more midfield/playmaker, than forward. I suppose your field map through me off...

    3.) Yes, your assumption is correct. I do not want them (PNBD) tracking too far back, like we saw Pontius and Najar doing far too often last season. Who knows, perhaps Boskovic is actually a two-way player, someone who will be the perfect team player and lead this team to several trophies.

    4.) I'm aware that the FO plans to bring in a few players in the offseason. However, our past seasons international and off-season acquisitions have left me wondering and skeptical as to the kind of quality we will bring in.

  8. (3) I like Boskovic as a player, but I'm not convinced he'll hack it in the physical rough-and-tumble of MLS, at least not in the middle. This has nothing to do with age; it has to do with the style of player he is. We shall see. His lack of defensive energy and range is part of the reason my scheme above detailed De Rosario to drop deeper.

    (4) Thus the closing line of my post.

  9. This looks like a fairly strong team I must say. Besides De Rosario (whom is a really good player), I believe Najar has really started to come into his own as well and can be a really, really good players in the years to come! http://www.soccerstop.com

  10. Ok, the DC savegame I mentioned above is getting crazy. Halfway through the season, I'm 12-4-1, 40 points, first in the East by six points with games in hand.

    The teamsheet usually looks like this: Hamid; Zayner, McDonald, Jakovic, Eron (Brazilian wingback); Quaranta, DeRo, Cameron (yeah, Geoff Cameron), Pontius; Davies. Bench: Nolly, Kitchen, Shanosky, Najar, Leyva, Schilawski, de Luz.

  11. Whoops, forgot Boskovic in the midfield. Fuh.

  12. My DC save is about the same with a team of:

    - Kevin Hartmann in net (Hamid the #2)
    - A.J. DeLaGarza, Jakovic, Jason Hernandez, and (sigh) Burch at the back
    Simms, Brad Evans & De Rosario in a rotating triangle in the center of midfield
    - Pontius, Davies, and Boskovic up top
    - Kitchen and McDonald are my go-to guys off the bench for defense and defensive midfield, while Najar and Quaranta fill the same role for the attack

    Have to say that while I'm doing well in that save and generally prefer to play in MLS, I find myself conflicted because I prefer long-term games where I can develop an entire club culture from youth to first team. MLS doesn't really allow me the level of control I want.

    The temptation of the game editor might see me making a version of the US league structure where I can fulfill that ambition. Don't know if it's worth the time or effort though.

  13. I know that there's places where people have already made a fantasy pyramid structure for the USA. I played with one in the 2011 game and it was very different ... lots of scouting resources needed to cover the USA when it has 300 professional and semi-pro clubs!

    This link: http://thedugout.net/community/forumdisplay.php?s=3a55a8820443651cf7208709c213d17c&f=235

    ... is one of the sites where I've found North America hacks in the past. Unfortunately, it looks like no one is trying it this year. Is it time for us to start hacking one together?

    What would an American pyramid system that evolved naturally over the last 100 years look like?

    Wow, I'm off-topic.

  14. Annnnd now that I look around a little more, I see there's a dude (username: Milo) who's doing what we're thinking of. He's asking for playtesters and suggestions here: http://thedugout.net/community/showthread.php?t=79054

    The structure he's proposing is MAMMOTH: Nine tiers (300 clubs) sitting atop an inactive base of 200 amateur clubs. Regional cups. Youth cups. Crazy. I haven't seen the database yet, but it sounds good.

  15. Yeah, I had a go with FM 2011 and got bogged down (and/or carried away).

    Given the number of teams in the east (and particularly the mid-Atlantic region), regional divisions tend to get unbalanced. I also don't like adding a bunch of new clubs/stadia as that tends to cause conflicts and adding too many professional teams (or teams in general) with higher reputations causes either severe player shortage (if you have home-grown limits) or lack of domestic players in the pro leagues.

    I've been toying around with a more sane three-tier pro/semi-pro league with promotion/relegation sitting atop an amateur development league split into eight regional divisions with a national championship playoff and no promotion to the pro/semi-pro leagues.

    I'm trying to figure out what to do with reserve/youth teams. My original thought was that the pro/semi-pro teams would have reserves playing in the amateur regional league and all pro/semi-pro + amateur teams would have youth teams competing against existing Development Academy teams (minus the MLS club academies which are replaced by their new youth teams) in regional youth leagues that have a national championship and a cup.

    The first two stabs I had with FM 2012 I bogged down on as well, but I've got a faster machine for Giftmas, so testing might not be as much of an issue. Interest, however, might be. I'll keep toying with it.