As Shatz pointed out just a few minutes ago, Dave Kasper has confirmed that Danny Allsopp is being looked at as a starter.
Since Chris "Party Boy" Pontius has already been endorsed as a starting forward this season, it seems appropriate to wonder how this will impact the rest of the team. I've got three thoughts beyond the jump:1. A more physical/athletic approach to attacking
Last year, the lion's share of minutes at forward were taken by Luciano Emilio and Moreno. While both have plenty of gifts, neither made the game physically taxing for our opponents. Emilio preferred being elusive, while Moreno's approach is all about cunning and skill. That's not to say that Pontius and Allsopp are just big oafs (see: Alan Gordon) or guys who only rely on speed (see: Dominic Oduro). However, Pontius is undeniably more physical and more athletic than Emilio or Moreno, and Allsopp's reputation points to a similar approach.
Many of our attacks last year broke down because, even as elusive and intelligent as we could be going forward, the athletic gap between our attackers and opposing defenses could make up for being out-thought. A great off-the-ball run can be cancelled out if the run is too slow, and a gap to pass through can be closed if you can't shrug off the shoulder-to-shoulder challenge that should be the last obstacle to your through ball.
2. Attacking from the wing is going to be a bigger factor
This comes hand-in-hand with my first thought. All United fans know that the team doesn't rain in crosses like, say, Houston does. Part of this, undoubtedly, was a lack of truly gifted crossers. This has been a popular complaint in the stands of RFK for years, and for good reason. I attempted to look for pictures online to post, and could find no photographic evidence that we had ever scored a goal on a header. Marc Burch was probably our most consistent in terms of accuracy, but his lack of mobility meant that everyone in the stadium knew he was going to cross from about 40-45 yards away (which gives you plenty of time to defend). After that, Quaranta's crosses are inconsistent, Wallace often struggled to get his crosses around the defender he had beaten, and Namoff doesn't come forward all that often. However, that situation should improve to some extent with the addition of Castillo.
All that aside, the fact was that having a guy like Brad Davis wouldn't have helped us to the extent that it does Houston. Crosses, unless they're absolutely perfect, require some work from your forwards to convert. This means being able to muscle past markers and outjump tall players. Crossing to Emilio, if he was marked, usually didn't work because he couldn't jump particularly high and gave away 2-4 inches against most MLS center backs. Having stronger players with better leaping ability opens up the possibility of winning more crosses, which in turn makes crossing a more inviting option. It's also worth pointing out that Pontius and Allsopp (if the word on him is accurate) are more brave and more likely to relish the physical side of the game that comes with jumping up amongst the heads and swinging elbows one must get past to win headers in the box.
We also can't ignore that we currently have no natural playmaker. We have guys capable of keeping the ball moving, but no one that will dominate play from the center of the field. Until such a signing is made, our best creative players are Quaranta and Castillo, who are pencilled in at right and left midfield respectively. If that's the team we have, we shouldn't try to fight it. There are few things so frustrating as watching a potentially promising team misunderstand their identity and underuse their strengths. If we enter 2010 with Szetela or another two-way guy alongside Simms, we should absolutely be looking to push the ball to the wings as often as possible.
3. Moreno as super-sub
While no one has ruled out the possibility of Moreno functioning in a playmaker's role, I don't know if he has the mobility to be there as a starter (it might happen in the run of play or as a desperate measure if we're trailing). So, if Allsopp and Pontius are starting, Moreno will probably feature as a regular sub. When winning, we can bring him on to help control the tempo and lead our efforts to keep the ball away from the opponent. If losing, we have a guy capable of breaking the game open with a moment of brilliance.
What particularly interests me is who would come off to allow this sub. Obviously it could be either forward if we stay in the 442, but there are lots of other possibilities. You could see Pontius move to a wide midfield role with Quaranta or Castillo coming off. It could be a move to a 343 formation (Onalfo does this whenever his side is losing, whenever tied late at home, and even sometimes during tied road games), which would probably see Castillo come off and Wallace move to left midfield. It could also be a back three of Namoff-Jakovic-Wallace, with James (or whomever the eventual partner for Jakovic is) departing.