I only caught the second half of D.C. United's 4-0 pre-season romp over the Tampa Bay Rowdies. That means I only really got to see the "first" team for 10-15 minutes before Olsen did a full swap of reserves and trialists. But what I did see was intriguing.
Sure there were the predictable gaps at the back and the Rowdies really didn't look up to much, but United's possession and general play were good. What particularly intrigued me was the play of Lionard Pajoy, often maligned in these very pixels for the majority of his time at United. The frustration for most United fans has been his lack of goals, but my particular bugbear has been his tendency to slow the attack down and try to do too much on the dribble.
Not so last night.
Pajoy did manage a couple of quality finishes with the two good chances he was presented: first a classic center forward's goal (back post header directed across the face of goal) followed by a good run, jink, and chip from the edge of the box. Now maybe this is why Olsen played him so much last year. Maybe he's the kind of player that shines in practice but gets a case of the excessive dribbles and loses composure in front of net when the big crowd is making noise.
But what gave me the most positive impression was that he was much more direct than last year. Instead of pulling wide to get the ball and then dwelling on it with pretty little touches, he took off down the flank, usually the left. That's particularly intriguing because Pontius has a natural tendency to play as an inverted winger on the left, cutting inside at every opportunity. I can see a pattern of Pajoy pulling wide, dribbling down the flank while De Rosario, Pontius, and DeLeon pile into the box with a midfielder trailing to pounce on scraps. Or Pontius dribbling inside with Pajoy pulling left for a ball laid through or Woolard steaming into space to hit a first-time cross.
Of course, MLS right flanks will almost certainly be better defended than Tampa Bay could manage last night. Still...
The combination play looked pretty good considering the lack of match practice. This was especially noticeable between Woolard and Pontius down the left, a pattern that continued with Kemp and whoever the viking trialing at left back was when the wave of subs came on. There was a fair share of one- and two-touch stuff and a decided tendency towards the Hollywood-ball switch from flank to flank to open space.
Some other quick observations...
* Hamid looked confident playing sweeper-keeper and commanding his box.
* I'd take a pass on Nane. He committed too many fouls and might have been sent off if this weren't pre-season. Also, he too often failed to cycle possession in favor of trying to shove balls into gaps that didn't exist.
* Seaton looked like a beast in the Altidore mold. Quick, making good runs, very big and very strong. MLS is probably a bridge to far, but I bet Richmond's coach was salivating at the sight of him causing fits for a lower-division defense.
I'll be interested to see how United fare against MLS opposition on Wednesday and whether the patterns of play on display last night can carry over against higher-quality opposition. It's still very early and there are real gaps in the roster that need to be addressed, but I like what I've seen thus far.