After putting in a disappointing effort (but still getting a win!) against the Philadelphia Union, D.C. United comes back this Sunday to take on the hated New York Red Bulls. A performance such as we saw last week will not cut it on Saturday, in New Jersey. On the other hand, how likely is it that we will see such terrible play from the entire team in two straight weeks? I do not think Dwayne De Rosario will allow it.
The key question is this: is Branko Boskovic's distribution good enough that the team can sit Maicon Santos? If Boskovic plays, that pushes Dwayne De Rosario up to the front line and pushes Santos, Chris Pontius, and Hamdi Salihi into a battle for one spot. If Santos plays, De Rosario is back in the midfield and Santos is partnering with Pontius or Salihi. Maybe one day United will even be able to rest Dwayne De Rosario!
United's lineup from match to match is likely going to be based on the ability to take advantage of the particular skills that his players bring and how they match the particular opponent that United is playing. In that regard, it is going to require Olsen to continue to perform well tactically. However, for this game, I think that Boskovic can find space to carve up a midfield featuring Dax McCarty and Rafa Marquez.
What all of these options give United, however, is a hammer that they can drop in the 65th minute. Philadelphia spent the first 70 minutes hounding United and throwing them off their game, but the Boskovic substitution changed the style of the team and he took advantage. Being able to bring in a Boskovic, or a Salihi, or a Pontius, or a Santos that late in a game is just as important as having people of their quality starting. It may suck for them to be on the bench personally, and may in some cases be seen as a "waste" of money, but even just 20 minutes of Maicon Santos causing havoc is worth every penny.
The rest of the lineup falls pretty easily, with only one or two question marks. One place where we could see a surprise change is at right midfield: even though we all know that Andy Najar has more creativity and a higher ceiling, the best soccer this team has played all year was when Danny Cruz was the right winger. Obviously, that is not all on Andy, but I think we may see Cruz more often unless Najar can fit into Olsen's system more seamlessly while still bringing the creativity that makes him a special player.
Finally, there is the question of center back. Emiliano Dudar, like everyone else on this team, is going to have to pass someone to be able to get back on the field. Might we see a Dudar-Dejan Jakovic combination at some point? And I may be alone in this, but I think we are only a couple more poor performances away from seeing Chris Korb overtake Robbie Russell.