When Kevin Payne held a team meeting with players and what coaches remained on Wednesday morning, he outlined three priorities for the remainder of the 2010 season:
1. Win the next game
2. Compete for 90 minutes in every match
3. Play for the shirt (whatever that really means)
Win the next game, huh? So that tells us that United will not be throwing caution to the wind tonight. They won't be benching all their veterans and giving starts to their younger players purely for the sake of additional experience.
They want to win.
If trying to win means that no player above the age of 26 (besides Branko Boskovic) will get the start, then so be it.
But does trying to win mean that we'll essentially be using the same lineup as we used last weekend in the 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake? No, not necessarily. And that's why I think the lineup decisions today will be a big hint as to what this team will look like for the rest of 2010. We'll know soon who Ben Olsen values, rather than just who Curt Onalfo valued.
There are lots of storylines tonight. For now though, let's focus on the questions that will be answered when the lineups are revealed one hour before kickoff.
Lots of you want to see Bill Hamid starting ahead of Troy Perkins for the rest of the season, and I don't blame you. Perkins had his worst match of the season in Utah last week, and really hasn't looked like his 2007 self much at all this year. Don't expect to see Hamid starting just because the team wants to give him more experience though, like many of you are suggesting. If Hamid does start, it will be because Olsen and his assistants think he gives the team the best chance to win RIGHT NOW. While Chest will probably yell at me for quoting this stat, it's hard to ignore that Hamid's 1.25 goals against average is considerably better than Perkins' 1.86, which is the worst in the league by the way (yes, worse even than Chris Seitz).
2. Center Back
Julius James has been one of the few reasons to be hopeful about United's future this season, but with Dejan Jakovic once again out with a hamstring strain, Olsen will have a big decision to make in the middle. Will he continue with Carey Talley, who was embarassed for two of RSL's goals last week? Or will we see the team turn to rookie Barry Rice? United is undefeated in Open Cup play, and for what it's worth, Rice has started in our last three Open Cup matches. I've said before that I think Rice will be a starter in this league. Maybe not this season and maybe not with this team, but he has the potential to do it. Will that begin tonight?
3. Central Defensive Midfielder
The injury to Clyde Simms last week was really a tough break for him and the team. This injury leaves Olsen a decision between two qualified individuals with different strengths. Kurt Morsink would be the default replacement. And while Morsink, for all his faults, is probably the better defensive option, he more than anyone else is a true representation of the Onalfo regime. Stephen King would signal a move towards a more attacking formation. He is a better and more decisive passer, and could be a good partner for Boskovic.
With Danny Allsopp putting in an unimpressive effort last week, and with Chris Pontius, Santino Quaranta, and Andy Najar all healthy, there's a good chance we'll see a different player lined up next to Pablo Hernandez tonight. Quaranta and Pontius have each had their chances at forward before, but we haven't seen Najar there yet this year. It's been said to be his best position...
Obviously the answer to this will depend somewhat on the answers to the first two questions. But Olsen would do well to shake things up here a bit. During his playing days, Olsen served as an occassional captain for United, and he filled that role with a lot of fire and compassion. What player on our current team has that same attitude? Maybe Quaranta? Maybe Boskovic? I don't know the answer to that, but I do think that Talley has been a generally ineffective on-field leader.