Do a few underwhelming performances mean Nick DeLeon will lose his starting job for D.C. United?
Ben Olsen faces some difficult but enviable decisions this weekend. And while the goalkeeper position was won by Bill Hamid long ago, and the back line seems set with Perry Kitchen shielding them in defensive midfield, the High Five for D.C. United remains in flux, especially on the wings.
That's a good thing though. It means there are several worthy players of starting on Sunday. It means competition.
The New York Red Bulls sit just three points behind United in the standings, making this match one of the most important of the season for both clubs. So how will Olsen decide which players to start on Sunday? Will he choose the players who match up best with the New York defenders so to try to take advantage of the opposition's inefficiencies? Or will he choose the players who are most in form at this particular moment?
United has players with different talents, different skills, and different abilities capable of playing the wings. And best of all, they're all healthy. Here are the options that Olsen will choose from:Just a few weeks ago, Nick DeLeon was still considered the favorite to win the Rookie Of The Year award. He's since put in a small helping of unimpressive performances, failing to show the quickness, agility, and aggressiveness that had earned his a starting job earlier in the season, pushing Chris Pontius higher up the field. Has he hit the proverbial Rookie Wall at this point? Has he earned a few more games of leniency? Or is he just not yet at full health?
On the right side, Andy Najar has been dangerous and has shown a great ability to break deep into attacking territory, but doesn't have a whole lot to show for it so far. Najar scored five goals in each of the last two seasons, adding six assists last year as well. Najar has just two assists and no goals so far in 2012 though. But he's not really doing anything differently. Perhaps his statistics are down because the rest of the team around him is better. Or perhaps the goals will come shortly.
Danny Cruz is also an option for United. As Chest pointed out earlier this week, the exhausted Red Bulls could be a perfect matchup for him. Cruz's usual energetic effort would be an upgrade over what we got from DeLeon and Najar in the first half against the Philadelphia Union last Saturday. Pestering the already vulnerable back line of the Red Bulls could lead to some cards for Rafael Marquez, and some free kick chances for Branko Boskovic, both of which could help United towards a victory.
There's one other name that deserves mention, as D.C. improved when he came in off the bench against the Union. Lewis Neal isn't likely to be a starter for United on Sunday, but a substitute appearance seems likely for the Englishman for the majority of the remaining games this season. Whether its to kill off the game or to provide a little extra energy, Neal is a valuable asset for United. Olsen could choose to give Neal another chance as a starter.
Personally, I'd prefer Najar and Cruz to get the starting nods on Sunday. I'd like to see DeLeon try to earn his way back into the starting lineup as a substitute, just like Boskovic, Pontius, and Hamdi Salihi have all had to do at some point this season. Do you agree? Or should Olsen go in a different direction?