With the 2013 MLS season thankfully drawing to a close, Ben Olsen elected to try something new against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night at RFK Stadium. D.C. United rolled out a three-man back line for the first time since the Tom Soehn years, and it actually worked pretty well. At least for 89 minutes or so.
- Stephen Goff (Washington Post): "D.C. United, flirting with the worst record in MLS history, was pretty darn good Saturday night against the Philadelphia Union. But after Nick DeLeon provided the lead with a searing shot late in the first half, United failed to seal the outcome. And typical of a campaign that has gone wrong in almost every conceivable way, D.C. conceded Jack McInerney’s equalizer in the 90th minute to finish in a 1-1 draw before an announced crowd of 11,213."
- Ben Olsen (dcunited.com): "If you let teams hang around like that and you don’t get the second, third or fourth goal, eventually they’re going to throw enough numbers forward and get the ball in the box where things happen like that. We’ve seen this before and you got to go get the second goal and be classy enough to have the composure with the final ball to finish off games."
- Nick DeLeon (dcunited.com): "A positive is we are creating a lot of chances, we just have to start putting more into the back of the net. It’s good. It’s progression for us. Because in the beginning of the season, we weren’t creating anything. Now we are starting to do that. We just have to get the finishing touch"
- William Murphy (Brotherly Game): "D.C. simply outplayed the Union for large parts of this game. All credit to Ben Olsen and the likes of Chris Pontius for getting a team with very little to play for to not only show up but are also to give a serious challenge. Their possession and penetration were creating problems for the Union, and they were not afraid to take a speculative shot on goal from distance in poor weather conditions."
- It wasn't the three-man back line that made this formation interesting to me. It was the front seven. By utilizing this formation, Olsen was able to get his seven best healthy midfielders/forwards on the field at the same time. Most folks would tell you that this was a 3-5-2 formation, but it played more like a 3-3-3-1, with Jared Jeffrey, Lewis Neal, and Perry Kitchen even in front of the defense, and Chris Pontius, Luis Silva, and Nick DeLeon roughly even in front of them. This put Neal's deep-lying playmaker skills to use while Jeffrey and Kitchen would take turns staying back, with the other allowed more freedom to join the attack.
- The Jeffrey-Neal-Kitchen central midfield tandem did well to shield what may have been the weakest three-man back line ever assembled. I wouldn't mind seeing this formation again with three different defenders next year. Dejan Jakovic, Oguchi Onyewu, and Ethan White perhaps?
- If he can't even get minutes when both of our top center backs are out two weeks in a row, why is Conor Shanosky still on this team?
The Last Word
At least United tried something different in this game. Rather than using the same crappy players in the same crappy formation, Olsen made adjustments that seemed to pay off.
What he's lost though is his ability to make a late-game change that positively affects the outcome of the match. It happened so many times last year, with tactical substitutions meant to either gain more possession (Branko Boskovic) or generate more aggression on offense (Maicon Santos). This year it's just, uh, Lionard Pajoy and Sainey Nyassi. Oh, and moving Kitchen to center back again.
No wonder we're in last place.