United 1, Impact 1: three thoughts

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Penalty Kicks,Sports,D.C. United,Craig Stouffer

 

Three observations from D.C. United’s 1-1 draw with the Montreal Impact after one quick statement: the 12th minute tribute to fallen longtime fan Chico Solares was solid. He’ll be missed.

D.C. United still needs to crawl before it can walk. A five-game unbeaten stretch is plenty to be excited about for a team that is getting used to being in contention instead of hoping not to fall apart. But as much as United deserved to defeat the rugged but unrefined Impact, they walked away with a fair result, especially considering the lackluster first half. United players were late to 50-50 balls and physically pounded.

Similar to the New England game, however, this group is considerably dangerous once they do get the ball into possession. Nick DeLeon is a constant threat on the wing, Dwayne De Rosario has shown flashes of his form from last season, and Maicon Santos has transformed himself into an unbelievable signing. Both Branko Boskovic and Andy Najar also showed signs, but what stood out against Montreal was a total change in mentality from all the field players after halftime. Everything was better following the break, aside from the Impact’s scoring counter, and that’s something D.C. can hang its hat on, that it won’t allow itself to get down and get beaten by a subpar opening 45 minutes. Instead, this is a team that appears to get better as the game wears on.

Just as it takes time for a first team to come together, it’s going to take time for D.C. United to get the most out of the players coming into the rotation when normal starters need a break. Ben Olsen’s greatest challenge remains managing his players, balancing the need to get guys rest and the need to get guys minutes. Patience has to be the operative word for Boskovic and Najar, who were both back in the starting lineup for the first time since the opening two weeks of the season.

“He did fine,” Olsen said of Boskovic. “It was real good minutes from Branko. You can tell, technically he’s just really sound, and he knows how to play that position. I think he was getting a little leggy there. That was his first real long span of minutes so I wanted get Dwayne back in there and more importantly, get Maicon on the field.”

As for Najar, “I thought Andy had an okay day. I was looking for more from Andy in the first half, and I saw it in the second half. he came out with a little more buzz about him.”

When asked about Montreal’s goal scoring sequence and the role played by Chris Korb, Olsen glossed over the subject and complimented Robbie Russell in the center of the defense. D.C. needs Emiliano Dudar and Dejan Jakovic to get healthy.

What changes are worth anticipating for Sunday’s big clash with New York? (And, by the way, why hasn’t there been a ruling yet on Rafael Marquez? What’s the holdup already?)

Based on how he’s played guys and his comments, it’s fair to expect Olsen to reinsert Santos and Danny Cruz back in the starting lineup and move Najar and Boskovic to the bench again, regardless of the effect on the latter two players. Forward is a little more tricky, but Hamdi Salihi didn’t even get a chance to come off the bench against Montreal; Olsen instead opted to get Lewis Neal his first MLS minutes. At some level, it certainly felt like a statement about both players’ value.

The goalkeeper situation has already been discussed. Joe Willis had a quiet night against Montreal and should be in fine standing against the Red Bulls. Bill Hamid needs a game, but to throw him in a nationally televised rivalry match against New York is now a risky prospect given how long he’s been out, and it seems unlikely given the way he’s been supplanted as the starter. It remains to be seen how this affects D.C. United over the longer term. In the case of Hamid, Najar, Salihi and Boskovic, Olsen continues to ride the hot hand and the guys he meshes with better style-wise over those that are supposed to have the most upside and the most talent. It’s hard to argue when D.C. hasn’t lost since the second week of the year, but it’s tough to know if it’s a sustainable plan over the course of a full season. 

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