D.C. United earned its first win of the preseason today with a 1-0 defeat of the Chicago Fire. The win leaves United as the favorites to capture the Carolina Challenge Cup for the third year in a row. United will face the Charleston Battery on Wednesday and then the Columbus Crew next Saturday in what could likely be the deciding match of the tournament.
This match gave United fans plenty of what they were hoping to see. A goal from Hamdi Salihi. Competent defending from the other big international signing Emiliano Dudar. And a coach having the ability to make changes that pay off. We've seen that before though. But this time, Ben Olsen's team might just have the talent to back him up.
Salihi's goal was the exact kind that we would have seen from Luciano Emilio in his first year in the league. Not necessarily the strike - we'll need to see some higher quality video to confirm what the shot actually looked like - but the persistence. Salihi went the entire match without a good opportunity. And then a ball was played over the top by Ethan White and Salihi's impact was suddenly evident. That's the kind of impact that Emilio had. He could go 65 minutes without any service to speak of, and then score out of nowhere. Charlie Davies didn't have that kind of impact. But Emilio did. And so apparently does Salihi.
The Albanian wasn't the only one who impressed today though for United. Goalkeeper Joe Willis turned in an outstanding performance, including a penalty kick save among several others. Starting outside backs Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard each played well defensively, while Chris Pontius and Andy Najar each added some spark, although both disappeared from the match too often.
Two other players really showed up too. The second half center back tandem of Dudar and White specifically credited their communication for their success, while also noting that communication was exactly what was lacking between Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald in the first half. Dudar and White complimented each other nicely. Am I crazy to think that they might be United's starting center back combination at some point down the road?
The match didn't change though just because Dudar and White came on. It changed when Conor Shanosky came on for Dwayne De Rosario. Not because the inexperienced homegrown player was an upgrade over the MVP by any means (although he did play fairly well). But because the move forced United into a formation shift. By adding another midfielder, United was able to keep possession better, and to inspire the runs from Najar, and Danny Cruz to a lesser degree later in the match.
Olsen had mentioned that he wanted to try some different formations this week in Charleston. The most successful formation on the night was a 4-1-4-1, with Shanosky, Stephen King, and Lance Rozeboom (who probably should have been handed a contract before boarding the team bus tonight) all in the center of the field. This creates some questions though. We could see this formation working even better when Perry Kitchen and Branko Boskovic are also in the mix, but where then does De Rosario fit in? It also makes me wonder what we'll see next.