DC closed out the Bradenton leg of camp by splitting the players in camp and winning dual scrimmages. Something closer to a first team beat Florida Gulf Coast University 1-0, with Dejan Jakovic heading in a Santino Quaranta corner kick. Meanwhile, a squad mostly made of reserves beat the USA u-17 national team 5-2. The goals in that game came via Boyzzz Khumalo (two), John DiRaimondo, Adam Cristman, and Two-Boys Gumede.
There was an awful lot to digest from both games. Kurt Morsink, recently waived by the Kansas City Wizards, joined United's camp on trial and played 90 minutes in defensive midfield with the A squad. Meanwhile, Quaranta and Julius James both played in their first preseason matches, going 56 minutes and the full 90, respectively.
I'll expand on what Morsink could bring to the table, as well as attempt to divine some meaning from the two wins, after the jump.
The most interesting thing to come out yesterday was probably that Morsink is in camp. We've all been talking about central midfield as a weak spot, and Morsink is a player with decent experience there in MLS. He is not, however, a playmaker. Rather, Morsink's time under Curt Onalfo with the Wizards was spent in both of the central roles in the flat midfield four that, at this point, it looks like we'll be employing. Being able to play as both a more defensive and more offensive midfielder in that setup is an advantage, but my opinion on Morsink was that he looked more comfortable in the attacking role. However, that should not indicate that he's a standout there; rather, he seems best suited for some kind of 5 man midfield, in which there is both a dedicated defensive midfielder and clear playmaker on either side of him.
I think the fact that Morsink logged significant minutes in KC during his first 2 seasons (23 starts, 19 substitute appearances, plus 3 playoff starts in 2007) is more a sign of what ultimately undid the Wizards as an attacking team. He is a pretty decent reserve in the right system, though inconsistent. However, if you're relying on him to play such a key role in central midfield, you might not create too many chances. Looking around the Wizards team, you could see that their midfield and forwards had some truly good players (Josh Wolff, Davy Arnaud, and sometimes Claudio Lopez), while the rest of the group consisted of journeymen-level players. Morsink was very much in that group. It's most telling that, when he and the high-energy Kevin Souter were waived, Wizards fans seemed more upset about the loss of Souter.
Now, onto the games. For the sake of clarity, I'll address the game against FGCU first, and then get to the match against the u-17s. In game 1, United sent out a team fairly close to the best available squad:
I'm not going to lie: Having Quaranta available, and playing him centrally while playing Barklage wide is somewhat irritating to me. I'm a huge believer in playing people in their natural positions, and in this case I think both players would be better off being swapped. However, this is only a preseason game; perhaps it's just a test of how such an alignment would work. In any case, it's good to hear that Tino was on the field. The other things that jump out at me as remarkable with this squad are that McTavish was given a run at right back, and that Burch was chosen over James (who was fit to play in game 2, as we'll see later) in central defense.
As for the action, DC took the lead in the 15th minute, as Quaranta's corner was headed in by Jakovic. Between last year's burst of goals from set pieces from our defenders (with Namoff, Jakovic, and James all scoring at least once via headers) and things like this, I believe it's safe to say that the days of worrying about our ability to score from set pieces are over. In fact, with Gomez gone, the more likely problem is going to be service rather than having the size, power, and desire to turn corners and freekicks into goals.
Moreno went close to doubling the lead in the 21st minute, and then Quaranta was again involved a few minutes later, as Morsink put him through only for the FGCU keeper to just barely beat him to the ball. In the 35th minute, Jakovic again sprung up to head in a set piece (this one from Castillo), but the goal was called back for offside. There was little else of note in the first half, with United apparently enjoying a large possession advantage.
Coming out with the same team for the second half, DC again nearly made it 2-0. This time, Danny Allsopp rung the post after being set up by Barklage on the right. Finally, on 56 minutes, Onalfo saw fit to make a sub, with Khumalo departing game 1 and entering game 2 for Quaranta. The team re-aligned to look like this:
This adjustment was a good chance for Onalfo to see Jaime Moreno in the playmaker's role. This is worth thinking about, since United was apparently in total control but not generating too many good chances against what was very likely a bunkering opponent. While I'm not the biggest fan of asking Moreno to do the running required in midfield, I can imagine Onalfo playing him in this role when we're up against teams that are defending in numbers (something that happens somewhat regularly at RFK).
On this occasion, however, the move did not change the game very much. Other than a corner from Castillo and an attempt by Allsopp to chip the keeper that went close, there was little else reported. I would guess that the fact that Behind the Badge's Alex Caulfield was having to tweet about 2 games going on at once had something to do with this (especially since game 2 had more goals and more subs to note). There was one more formation change, as Shipalane and Adams left game 2 and jumped in for Castillo and Burch, respectively:
It is intriguing to see Shipalane used on the left (a position he also saw time in while playing in game 2). Perhaps he's more versatile than many of us believed? It would certainly be nice if Shipalane proves himself worth a spot on the team, because he has game-breaking speed. Elsewhere, I am interested in the fact that Adams got a look in with the stronger group. It could be meaningless, or it could point to him having a real shot at making the team.
Despite adding some speed to the group, the game ended up 1-0 for United. While it's not exactly encouraging to see the team struggle to generate a ton of chances against a college team, it is worth noting that FGCU created no chances of note at all throughout the game. To quote Dejan Jakovic from the BTB write up:
"I think we kept the ball really well in this game – it seemed like we had the ball for 90 percent of the match."
In other words, the sky isn't falling. The games in the upcoming Carolina Challenge Cup will be a more accurate gauge of where the team is at the moment. Let's at least be happy that the more likely defensive starters have not given up a goal since the McTavish own goal in the 8th minute of the very first preseason game.
On to game 2, where United fielded most of its trialists and "bubble" players. Here's how we came out:
As you can see, James was partnered with Arzu in central defense. Given the nature of his recent injury (shoulder), and the physical style of play in the college game, I was not too surprised to see Onalfo put him out against the u-17s. The rest of the squad featured no real surprises; Wasson being stationed on the left possibly confirmed my memories of him playing there in Colorado.
Unlike the other game, this one was action-packed. The u-17s took a shock early lead, with Alessandro Mion heading in a 4th minute corner kick. With this many unfamiliar faces, I can't say I'm surprised to hear that we were soft on set pieces. That tends to be one of the last things worked on in training camp.
However, DC responded to the surprise of being behind a group of teenagers with a flurry of goals. Boyzzz Khumalo tied it up at 1 in the 16th minute, before John DiRaimondo slotted home a penalty in the 25th (no word on who won the PK). Khumalo then made it a double just a minute later, giving United a 3-1 lead in the 26th minute. Soon thereafter, a first change was made: Bill Hamid came off after half an hour for Ray Burse in goal. The u-17s wouldn't go away easily, however, and James was called into action to break up a 37th minute counter attack. The danger wasn't done, though, as Mario Rodriguez made it 3-2 just 3 minutes later.
Halftime arrived, and the Black-and-Red made two changes. Adams came out for draft pick Jordan Graye, while Wasson was replaced by Two-Boys Gumede. As a result, the team looked like this:
After that, things started to get confusing. Khumalo left this game in the 56th minute, and was apparently replaced by Adams. I'm not sure whether Adams played right midfield, or if he played right back and Vaughn moved up into the midfield (a position he played a couple times at Chivas USA). In any case, that was quickly followed up by Andrew Quinn getting a shot in goal, replacing Burse.
Soon after these subs, United made it 4-2. Adam Cristman was put through near the center line, and managed to put away what was apparently a clear breakaway in the 62nd minute. DC was hungry for more, though, and in the 70th minute Shipalane found space on the left to cross to his compatriot Gumede, who finished the chance off to make the score 5-2.
A final batch of subs left me scratching my head. Shipalane and Adams were called into game 1 in the 77th minute. Shipalane was replaced by "an IMG guest player", while there was no mention at all on who replaced Adams. In either case, these mystery men made no apparent impact in the proceedings, as the game ended 5-2 without any more notable incidents.
Given the hectic nature of these games, there is only so much I can infer without it being entirely speculative. The fact that McTavish and Adams were the two players to feature at right back with the stronger group is fascinating; it seemed to this point that Vaughn was the more likely first choice as long as Bryan Namoff was out. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks at that position, since there should be a fierce competition for that job.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in either game was that we saw Quaranta playing centrally while Barklage was on the right. Both players are certainly capable in those roles, but Quaranta is better suited to a wide role, and I think Barklage's energy and desire to make tackles makes him a better central midfielder than it does a wide man. I would have really liked to see how this worked. There could also have been a time where they swapped positions that was not noted on the Twitter feed. Speculation, obviously, but that's kind of the game when you're creating a second-hand account of something.
DC's preseason continues back in the District for a spell before heading to Charleston, SC for the aforementioned Challenge Cup. It seems safe to assume that, between now and then, we'll see some trialists come and go, and I would not rule out at least one player from the 2009 squad being let go (just a hunch, based on who we have and what we need). Hopefully we'll hear something about our needs in attacking midfield and central defense being addressed before heading down to the Palmetto State for games against RSL (3/13), Toronto (3/17), and the Charleston Battery (3/20).