As the 2013 MLS season approaches, we're counting down the days to March 2 and looking over what we can expect from D.C. United this year. Today's subject: the apparent fall of the central attacking midfielder.
There was a time when D.C. United was fully associated with the use of a central attacking midfielder, who would stay high up the pitch, between the opposition midfield and defense, and run the attack. Possessions would always be funneled through this trequartista, and he would play the killer passes to unlock the defense. The tradition started in MLS' inaugural year, 1996, with Marco Etcheverry, and Christian Gomez continued the tradition in the next decade.
But today, there is no such player on United's roster and head coach Ben Olsen, who played on those great United sides that featured gentlemen wearing the 10-shirt, has built a system heading into 2013 that appears to have no room for an attacking midfielder with little defensive responsibility. Instead, that forward-leaning midfielder position is more of a withdrawn forward, and his name is Dwayne De Rosario.
DeRo can play - and has played many games - as a midfielder, but he's not the same type of playmaker as El Diablo or Gomito. De Rosario can play those killer passes, but he's more of a driving, direct force than the traditional #10 usually is. Last time he was asked to play as a trequartista, DeRo found that he didn't mesh well with Thierry Henry and then was traded from the New York Red Bulls to join the forces of good in exchange for Dax McCarty, himself a failed experiment as a CAM.
More importantly, though, with DeRo on the field as anything other than a lone forward (We'd all agree that's not his best use, yes?), the rest of United's setup does not appear to have room for a new trequartista. Like it or not, the 4-4-2 diamond doesn't appear to be in the plans for this season, as Olsen has opted for a sturdier if more conservative double pivot system, which provides the defense more cover, allowing the fullbacks greater license to burst forward and join the attack.
What's more, much of Major League Soccer has also adopted similar tactics, crowding the middle of the park with three-man midfields or using double pivots that deny creative central midfields the space they crave to work their magic. There are some in recent years who have adapted to these tactics and the physical nature league - RSL's Javier Morales and FC Dallas' David Ferreira come to mind - but that is the exception more than the rule anymore.
But that doesn't mean there's no room for any players more attacking than, say, yesterday's countdown subject Marcelo Saragosa (link to the article over on the right-hand side as part of this StoryStream). It will just need to be a midfielder with more tactical responsibility than "attack, attack, attack." As we discussed yesterday, it could be any number of guys currently on the roster (or not currently on the roster), but at this point, I don't think it'll be a guy in the mold of Etch or Gomez.
What do you think? Will - or should - United find a #10 to quarterback the attack? What kind of tactical changes would you be willing to see to make it happen?