After an 0-2 start that has featured precious little going forward, D.C. United fans are angry. While few are surprised to see a revamped team need some time to go from eleven players to one solid unit, it seems safe to say that the denizens of Lot 8 expected things to be further along than they are after deserved losses to Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy.
The targets for this anger include some popular choices like Branko Boskovic and Maicon Santos (who, to be fair, has really earned the complaints with some Ngwenya-esque finishing). Rather more surprising, we've seen some fans start to turn on club legend and head coach Ben Olsen, whose starting eleven against LA raised some eyebrows, some of which still haven't come down. Intriguingly, there have been fewer complaints about the performances of star players Andy Najar and Dwayne De Rosario, but no one would argue that either has been up to their normal standard at any point in this very young season.
So with fans questioning the coach, questioning a guy with a big paycheck but (thus far) small production, questioning the formation, and basically just plain old mad, I thought it was time to ask the straightforward question: What would you do? What players would you choose in an effort to jumpstart the attack against a Vancouver Whitecaps side that has yet to face a legitimate test in opening their season with two wins?
For the sake of brevity and simplicity, let's focus on the "front five", or the players that will join Marcelo Saragosa - who played well enough against LA that we can reasonably expect him to continue deputizing for Perry Kitchen - in our midfield and attack. Don't worry about the back four, where it seems safe to expect starts for Robbie Russell, Brandon McDonald, a left back that we'll all be worrying about either way, and
hopefully possibly Emiliano Dudar after Dejan Jakovic had another tough outing and left the game early with a pulled groin (not his normal pulled hamstring).
You choose the players, you choose the formation (feel free to explain your alignment in the comments). Go beyond the jump for a summation of my thoughts.
Sticking with the 442 for now, here are my five as of right now, in order of the strength of my preference (subject to change):
After watching Santos miss three or four good chances in the past two games either due to simple poor shooting mechanics, a desire to score the spectacular goal rather than make it easy on himself, or a blend of both, I'll take my chances with the guy whose career strike rate says he'd have put at least one - and probably two - of those in the goal. We would be nowhere near as worked up about this loss to the Galaxy if Santos had just converted one chance, and it's hard not to imagine that Salihi would have rewarded some MLS fantasy managers (read: me) if he'd have gotten the start.
No big surprise here with Najar going to the Honduran Olympic team. Cruz should bring some much-needed energy and determination to a team that could use it. Cruz is not the world's most gifted player, but you can be sure we won't be talking about how he got outworked or out-fought come 12:05am Sunday.
I'll even go this far: If Najar hadn't been called up by Honduras, Olsen may have selected Cruz over him anyway based purely on performance. Just like last year, it has not been the best start to the season for Najar. He's badly struggling with his delivery when he does get around his defender, which happened too infrequently against LA.
Dwayne De Rosario
De Ro has not been in MVP form in 2012. He was nagged by injury in the preseason, and Olsen noted after the season opener that he has a minor groin issue. That could be contributing to the somewhat less dynamic performances from the reigning Golden Boot winner. However, he's also been undermined by different causes (sloppy possession throughout the team against KC, while against LA it was more about the Galaxy pinning us back defensively) that are more about the midfield's struggles than his own. I'd like to see him continue up front, because he's never going to develop a partnership with Salihi if we don't play them together. Let's give this pairing a run of games before we make up our minds.
The reviews on Party Boy were mixed against the Galaxy. Some felt he didn't do enough to get into the game, while others thought he was let down by his teammates failing to do enough to get him the ball. While I lean towards the latter, I do have to admit that I'd be quite tempted to reward Nick DeLeon's sterling debut with a start out on the left. How tempted? I even thought about turning back on my long-standing opinion that Pontius isn't suited to play up front to make room for DeLeon. If the De Ro-Salihi pairing continues to struggle, and DeLeon continues to do well when given minutes, however, I'd have no problem making that switch.
Self-congratulatory P.S.: I told you DeLeon was a good pick!
I know we have more than a couple of commenters who are done with the guy, but I'm not there yet. For every Christian Gomez instant success story at the attacking midfield position, there are numerous times in MLS that a player from abroad has needed significant time to adjust to the role. David Ferreira, for example, looked too lightweight upon arrival for FC Dallas, but after a half-season in 2009, he exploded in 2010 and became the best traditional #10 in MLS (sorry Javier Morales). We may be seeing the same thing this year out of Davide Chiumiento in Vancouver, who was doubly hindered by his unfamiliarity with MLS and by a pair of coaches who had no idea what to do with him.
Boskovic hasn't had that chance yet, though obviously part of the reason that happened is that he showed up to training camp out of shape last year. His fitness issues this season have more to do with missing a couple of weeks in the preseason due to a calf contusion, but it should still be said that the Montenegrin is not blameless.
In any case, I stand by my opinion that Boskovic needs to be given more time. He may not be 90 minutes fit, but he's certainly fit enough to play 60-70 minimum, and if he does his job well we would have a lead to protect by that point anyway (making the sub tactically logical rather than simply a sub of necessity). I also think that having a true attacking midfield presence will cause Vancouver some problems that they haven't yet had to deal with.
However, you should note that he is fifth on my list; I may be a patient man, but I won't wait around forever. At a certain point the growth of players like DeLeon, De Ro's positional flexibility, and the presence of a clever player like Josh Wolff will mean that Olsen will have no choice but to consider something like moving Pontius up front and playing De Ro in the midfield. That time is not upon us yet, but the clock is ticking.