Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America Classifieds
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
D.C. United looks like a worthy longshot
by Ridge Mahoney, April 18th, 2012 2:04AM

MOST READ
TAGS:  d.c. united, mls


By Ridge Mahoney

Four-time MLS Cup champion D.C. United is trying to break a four-year playoff drought and despite problems in several areas, there's sufficient promise and potential to believe this feat can be accomplished in 2012.

If the first month of the MLS season is any indicator, the Eastern Conference will feature Sporting Kansas City and Houston in the top two slots, and who knows after that.

Last year, Philly, New York and Columbus claimed the next three slots, and despite the Union’s rough start and New York’s laughable excuse for a back line, the conference is muddled enough that those teams could re-qualify for the postseason. The Crew, too, has realistic hopes, though putting the entire goalkeeping burden on Andy Gruenebaum – with Will Hesmer sidelined for six months recovering from microfracture surgery on his right hip – may stretch him too far.

But my sleeper pick to slip into the postseason is D.C. United, and I first got this notion about two months ago, not in the wake of a 2-1 comeback victory over New England Saturday night at Gillette Stadium that ran its unbeaten streak to four in a row. There are myriad problems with D.C, that’s for certain, yet it has strengths that not many conference foes can match.

To start with the negative, Designated Player Branko Boskovic has yet to live up to the hallowed No. 10 role bestowed upon him by Coach Ben Olsen and D.C. management. He managed to play only four games in 2011, and thus has to be given more time to fully recover from the torn ACL and hairline fracture of the left knee he suffered about a year ago.

Such comparisons may be blatantly unfair, yet the miniscule menace when Boskovic is on the ball as compared to that presented by Dwayne De Rosario or Chris Pontius or even Andy Najar is glaring. United generated 22 shots in beating the Revs without Boskovic and had to chase the game after falling behind in the sixth minute. Najar also sat out the game, with Olsen perhaps looking forward to a thick run of schedule against Montreal Wednesday, New York Saturday, and Houston a week later. That stretch of games will determine just how good D.C. is at this point of the season.

Moving on to DP No. 2, striker Hamdi Salihi, he’s started five of six games and taken 12 shots while putting four on target. Still learning his teammates and the league, he’s been caught making the wrong run or mis-reading a pass. His intrinsic ability, however, doesn’t seem to be anything special. Yet if he can become one of those strikers who doesn’t do much in the box but score, that will be plenty. Still, when a journeyman like Maicon Santos often outshines him, there’s cause for concern.

Prior to the four-game unbeaten run, United crumbled against the Galaxy, 3-1, at Home Depot Center. Nobody looked capable of containing Robbie Keane and while the Irish international will most likely make a lot of opponents look ordinary this season, the ease with which he skipped past every member of the back line at various times in the match emphasized how much D.C. depends on defensive cohesion and denial of space.

Emiliano Dudar has looked the most secure of the D.C. defenders in his limited time (315 minutes) on the field. He provides a toughness that the more skilled Dejan Jakovic can’t supply, and is absolutely critical in light of the two young keepers, Joe Willis (23) and Bill Hamid (21), D.C. is going with in 2012. Shutting out Seattle and Vancouver in the four-game streak offers hope that even with youth in goal United can still crank out zeroes.

Dwayne De Rosario has yet to score this season, yet once again he conjured up an intoxicating mixture of the spectacular and audacious to set up a goal. He scissor-kicked a volley at goal and Santos’ header re-directed it into the net to tie up the Revs, 1-1, in the 19th minute. Pontius – a bit peeved he didn’t start – got a late winner two minutes after coming on as a sub by cutting inside from the left and whipping a shot inside the far post. If he can stay healthy for a full season, he'll take his place among the most skilled and dangerous U.S. attackers in MLS.

The attacking array of De Rosario, Najar, Santos, Pontius, veteran Josh Wolff, and electrifying rookie Nick De Leon may not be the league’s best, but there’s both variety and quality available.

I have to say not many offensive rookies have impressed me in recent years as much as De Leon. He’s not only daring and strong and incredibly fast, he’s got more than a clue of what to do. He set up the winner for Pontius by winning a duel to head a bouncing ball to his teammate, and then raced forward into the box just in case a return pass or rebound might be on the way. He’ll need to improve and adjust as the league gets to know him but so far, so very good.

Midfield is anchored by Perry Kitchen. Circumstances required him to play a lot in the back line during his rookie season rather than his best spot in front of the back four, and while president Kevin Payne is never shy about praising his players, he’s not alone in his high regard for this one.

“His best qualities are the ones you don’t necessarily see when you’re watching the game,” says Payne of Kitchen. “His professionalism is unbelievable for a kid his age, and so are his focus, his mentality, and his leadership qualities. He’s going to be a big-time player for us for a long time to come.”

There’s lots of ground to make up before D.C. can lure back the disgruntled fans who’ve abandoned their team by the thousands, and no doubt a few decisions by the front office and Coach Olsen will trigger considerable angst. But there’s more than a smidgen of sense that after several barren seasons rickety, ramshackle RFK is regaining its rock’em, sock’em mojo.



2 comments
  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: April 23, 2012 at 11:35 a.m.
    "New York’s laughable excuse for a back line..." It's now April 23, the day after DC and Pontius made this diagnosis look brilliant. I like what Payne and Olsen have done. Even taking Salihi and Boskovic in account, DC is pretty solid everywhere on the field. There is no substitute for experience in a 'keeper, but Willis looks more solid in the air and less prone to gaffes than Hamid. The back line, when anchored by Dudar, is solid. And Olsen has a cornucopia of choices in midfield. What's not to like?

  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: April 28, 2012 at 6:09 p.m.
    Dudar is a liability while DeLeon is the one and only new bright light to shine. He's got technical skills and a soccer IQ which most MLS players would kill for.


Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now




AUTHORS

ARCHIVES
FOLLOW SOCCERAMERICA

Recent Soccer America Confidential
MLS is going out on a limb with Atlanta    
Soccer will again share a facility with the NFL when a new stadium to house the ...
Donovan plays out third act of an amazing saga    
The career of Landon Donovan is winding down yet there are myriad possibilities of what the ...
It's much too soon to bring up the R-word    
The growing contingent of MLS players in the national-team pool has prompted fears they will regress ...
Soccer America's 20+3: our editors' World Cup selections    
That sound you heard across the country late last Wednesday night and early Thursday morning was ...
Wondo puts past disappointments behind him     
He may not make it to Brazil, but his goal against Mexico has erased a little ...
U.S. Player Ratings: Mexico rally taints superb first half for USA    
A disallowed goal, a two-goal lead that evaporated, Rafael Marquez on the scoresheet, a frenzied crowd ...
Midfield mates Bradley and Beckerman tune up with intriguing MLS battle    
A strong contingent of domestic players is likely headed to Brazil for the World Cup, with ...
Toronto FC rides into Real Salt Lake sleek and shiny    
The Toronto FC Watch moves to Utah, where nearly two years ago two very different teams ...
Consistency is the creed in 'Porterland'    
Fans may be concerned that the Timbers have yet to win in three games so far ...
Well, now what for MLS in the Concacaf Champions League?    
Another round of MLS-Liga MX matchups in the Concacaf Champions League has ended in disappointment for ...
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives