Crawl Before You Run | a DC United Match Reaction

A point on the board, a clean sheet, on the road, and probably the better team by a slight margin. All without two starters. Considering the struggles of the MLS Eastern Conference versus their Western Conference counterparts, that’s not a bad return.

Those less charitable might point out that Vancouver isn’t really all that great and will struggle to be involved in the playoff picture. Of course, that’s ignoring the possibility (probability?) that United are occupying the same leaky vessel.

Talking points?

  • In contrast with the previous games, United actually looked like a team. The ball movement was quick, players looked like they had an idea of what they wanted to do with the ball prior to receiving it, and the defense was far better organized. How much of that was down to playing a team that didn’t impose themselves on the game so well as previous opponents and how much is United starting to gel remains to be seen, but it did seem promising, particularly given the number of changes in the starting lineup.

  • While the defensive organization was better, I feared for United every time they got heavy numbers forward, particularly on set pieces. With the play in front of them and Vancouver lacking the requisite lock-pickers, the defense looked solid. On the break, United was stretched, scrambling and vulnerable.

  • While the possession play was better, Santos and Salihi seemed to have little understanding between them up top and chances were few and far between. That said, Salihi probably had two of the better opportunities, and though he had to find them from set pieces, only an excellent save from Cannon kept him from opening his league account. United had better chances when De Rosario moved up top, though that seemed more a function of the play getting more ragged and open in the latter stages. Of course, United seemed to exploit their width a little better with Boskovic looking to spread the ball about and De Rosario being more mobile and popping up in the wide channels more than either Salihi or Santos.

  • Part of my criticism in the previous match was how reactive United’s play was. We’ve already discussed United actually having ideas with the ball and executing those ideas quickly and with relatively good precision[1], but what also stuck out to me – as a defender – was Dudar’s habit of winning balls from attackers. You’d assume, given his height, that he’d be a menace in the air, but it was his feet that impressed me, not in passing but in the handful of times he robbed attackers on the dribble. With McDonald’s pace and a former-midfielder’s confidence on the ball, they look a more able “stopper/cover” pairing than anything else we can field. Hassli and LeToux are a handful but didn’t accomplish much.

  • Props to Woolard. I’ve been really critical of him and of the team for trusting him as a starting left back. But he played pretty well last night and certainly looked more competent than Russell, who alternated decent patches of play with being caught out for pace and speed of thought. Still, when Woolard did manage to get into attacking positions, he looked pretty much lost. I’d like to see more out of that position, but fair play to him for a decent outing.

And finally…

  • Dudar’s hair. Anybody else getting a Morrissey vibe? Dudar from the corner, I know, I know, he’s dangerous. Or how about...Panic in the box on set pieces. Here comes Dudar. Here comes Dudar. Here comes Dudar….Here comes Dudar! Sigh.

Conclusions? Not a bad outing. “Crawl before you run” and all that. I was pleasantly surprised at how much better United looked both with the ball and without it, where before they looked plodding and bereft of ideas. The lack of goals is worrying, but at least Salihi and De Rosario had the best of the chances, and those are the guys you want in those spots.

After the disjointed pre-season and first two matches, with the full complement of players either not available or struggling with fitness, Olsen is still mixing and matching, looking for the best combinations. I think he found one in McDonald/Dudar at the back. Given the fluency of the possession but lack of goals, finding a successful pairing up top has to be his biggest concern.

  1. At least my viewing wasn’t punctuated by a series of exasperated sighs as United stupidly conceded possession again, and again, and again…  ↩


  1. One glaring question that no one in the Press has discussed: What's the deal with Boskovic?

    Is he unofficially in Benny's doghouse or what? Why isn't he starting?

  2. Wild guess? Some combination of (a) not being fully fit and (b) not "gritty" enough for Olsen. Considering how little Santos has contributed over the last two matches and how much better De Rosario looked when he moved up top last night, I'd be shocked if we don't see Salihi/De Rosario up top and Boskovic starting in midfield. Of course, Olsen tried to play Wolff in central midfield in the home opener, so...

  3. How about Dejan in a coma, I know, I know, it's serious? Also, the primary hair issue on the back line is most assuredly not The Dudar. If McDonald wants to look like that, he'd best just go play for Kansas City.

    I despise Santos up top. And like you, I worry about the persistent last-ditch quality of the defense.

    You will pry props for Woolard out of my cold, dead fingers. But better, yes.

  4. Boskovic earned a shaky 5 out of 10, but compared to the -2 he was coming in against LA, I'll take it.

  5. I liked DeLeon on the left and he was pretty good with the set pieces. Maybe we can switch Pontius to either a forward position or to the right so I don't have to watch that ever predictable play where he brings the attack to a standstill when he stops to try and setup his right foot instead of continuing to his left.

  6. DeLeon's preferred movement is also to cut in from the left onto his favored right, judging by his college highlights. Don't know if we've seen enough of him for that to be evident.

    Both he and Pontius would benefit hugely from an overlapping left back (think Young and Evra down Manchester United's left flank), providing an outlet if the movement inside is checked.

    1. DeLeon does like the Pontius move to cut inside, but having seen him a couple times at Louisville, he has some other tricks.

      He did well in offering himself up for wall passes when the expected move was to run at his defender, and he has a good sense of when to play the ball low (and when he does so, he usually anticipates where his runner will be pretty well rather than just blindly firing a low ball in and hoping for the best).

    2. I can tell you that, paired with a cat-quick overlapping fullback in FM, Pontius was great. Paired with Daniel Woolard, well - sorry, Chris and Nick. You're on your own.

      BTW, Meester Fullback, I wrote about 2000 words on a DC United FM challenge ... but a bug in the MLS system has rendered the game unplayable. I can tell you that my (pre-Salihi) DCU got 40 points from the first 17 games (12-4-1)!

      The bug involves picking up a player on a free from another MLS club (I signed Grazzini whom the Fire had let go). For some reason, despite signing him before the roster freeze / salary guarantee date, I couldn't waive anyone else to make room ... so my game is eternally locked with me over the cap and unable to make changes. Fuuuuuuuhhhhhhhh.

      At least it's not Champ Man 99/00, where MLS teams in the north would have rain cancellations 70% of the time in the spring and fall.