The hopefully short-term departure of Emiliano Dudar from the D.C. United starting lineup comes at a tough time for the team. The combination of Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski may actually be the toughest attacking partnership in the league, and United will have to face them tomorrow night without the team's defensive leader, and most important player.
We started the conversation on our podcast early this morning, in which we devoted an entire segment to Dudar and how the team might go about replacing him, and continued the conversation today with our projected starting lineup. I'm going to take it a step farther and look at the back line in greater detail, and actually provide a counterpoint to Benuski's proposal.
Four of the five players who will occupy the defensive roles for United on Wednesday night are obvious. Their exact positions might not be though. We know that Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Robbie Russell, and Perry Kitchen will be on the field somewhere. Even though Dejan Jakovic will be listed as questionable for the match against the San Jose Earthquakes, he isn't likely to return yet, and Ethan White is still out. With those points in mind, Russell seems to be the presumptive starter at central defense next to McDonald. Kitchen and Woolard are other options for that role, but Ben Olsen prefers the experience and strength of Russell over the others.
That leaves Russell's spot on the right. Will Kitchen slide back to the role that he played most often in 2011, allowing Marcelo Saragosa to start in central defensive midfield? Or will Chris Korb get his third start of the year as a fullback?The decision isn't actually a difficult one in my eyes. I'm firmly in favor of Saragosa entering the starting 11.
Saragosa has been steady all year for United, and is a natural fit in the CDM role. When Kitchen stepped away for Olympic Qualifying, Saragosa stepped right in and the team didn't skip a beat. He's quick and competent, and he's not far behind Kitchen at this point in that young man's career. Had United been facing a player like David Ferreira or Javier Morales this week, I might lean towards starting Kitchen in central midfield. But the Earthquakes' strength is more on their wings. Cutting out balls to the middle and slowing those runs won't quite be our top priority tomorrow night.
On the other hand, I think fans who are supporting Korb's inclusion in the starting lineup are suffering from the recency effect. We witnessed Kitchen make a mistake in the first five minutes of his move to the right against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday before he was able to get comfortable with his new assignment. From that point on, he was fairly solid. Don't forget though that Korb has made that same mistake in that same position already this year. He gave Saer Sene a wide open cross just a few weeks ago in New England, leading to a goal for the Revolution. Korb was also at fault on goals against the Montreal Impact and LA Galaxy.
Not only is Kitchen a significant improvement over Korb at right back (more significant than Kitchen is over Saragosa in the midfield), but right back will also be a more vital position for us to defend on Wednesday. The choice is clear. Saragosa over Korb.
Of course this whole argument might be reduced in importance by the fact that United has two matches this week. Olsen might choose to use Saragosa for one match and Korb for another. And hopefully either Jakovic or Dudar will be back by next weekend in Houston so Russell can return to the right.