D.C. United fell behind the Philadelphia Union in the second minute of overtime last night in the 2012 U.S. Open Cup match at the Maryland SoccerPlex. On the surface, that isn't a disaster. United had 28 minutes left to score again to tie it up. That's plenty of time. Hell, the New England Revolution and Harrisburg City Islanders combined for six goals in overtime just one week ago.
So with a one-goal deficit and with enough time to create chances and with lots of tired legs all over the field, an attacking substitution was required. United took off Branko Boskovic and put on... Marcelo Saragosa?!
Unfortunately, Saragosa was actually the best of a handful of bad options at that time. Ben Olsen looked down from his bench and saw Saragosa warming up with Stephen King, Ethan White, and Chris Korb and he knew he was in trouble.
This all happened mere moments after Antoine Hoppenot scored the winning goal for the Union. And after Hoppenot and Chandler Hoffman almost combined for a goal in the final minute of regulation. Philadelphia's two talented rookie attackers were putting Bill Hamid under continuous pressure. And United responded by inserting Saragosa.
I don't mean to take anything away from Saragosa - he has his strengths and some usefulness, no doubt - but he's not the talented young attacker that we needed at that very moment. Where was Blake Brettschneider? Where was Kenny Mansally? Where was Tiyi Shipalane? Where was Seth C'deBaca?
There's been talk on this very blog about United probably being up against the salary cap and wanting to specifically limit the number of players on the roster. That's not what this is about though. Any one of those young attackers would cost no more than $40,000 - $60,000. Any one of them would have been a better option than Saragosa.
Of course United wasn't at full strength. Because Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius, or Danny Cruz would have been better options too. And if you're looking at depth that actually plays, if you're looking at the regular 18, United is one of the best teams in the league. Regardless of last night's events, that should still be clear. Outside the 18 though? Outside the 18 the bench is bare.