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With Szetela out, what are DCU's options?

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Steve Goff had mentioned that Danny Szetela had tweaked his knee, and the update earlier today was that it will require surgery. Like local snow totals, the news just keeps getting worse: United just announced on Behind the Badge that Szetela has a torn meniscus.

Once Troy Perkins was acquired, most of the talk concerning what the club should do next was about the need for a central midfielder of note. Opinions varied about Szetela, but he did seem to be the player most suited to the role on the current roster. Meniscus tears can easily keep a player out for three months (Goff is saying at least a month). In any case, DC is now in a real bind in central midfield, regardless of what kind of player we play alongside Clyde Simms. Most fans, myself included, seem to be agitating for a playmaker from abroad. Until that happens, however, it's high time to take a look at all the options we have on the roster, on trial, and even amongst the rumors out there.

To clarify this list, I'm just going down the roster by number. Once I hit the trialists and players we're rumored to be interested in, I'll be going in alphabetical order.

 

Floribert N'Galula: The word on Flo is that he was talked up as a potential Patrick Vieira clone while in Manchester United's youth setup. High praise, to be sure, but since those heady days N'Galula is said to have played just 2 senior club matches at Randers in Denmark before playing 12 times with the Sparta Rotterdam reserves. At his very young age, having few senior appearances doesn't make you a failure. However, it also makes you a pretty iffy answer to be thrust into a crucial starting role in a league you've never played in, and on a team that really needs the player in that position to succeed. On the plus side, Flo was still in the discussion for this position, along with Szetela and Santino Quaranta, before the injury (check the end of Goff's article on the first day of camp).

John DiRaimondo: Very recently, I had said that I thought it would be pretty hard for DiRaimondo to make the squad. Maybe not so much now. DiRaimondo is a classic tough-guy midfielder with a blistering shot that he occasionally puts to use (including the winning goal in last year's USL-2 championship game while on loan with the Richmond Kickers). However, DiRaimondo will never be confused with a midfield technician. His range of passing is pretty basic and he tries to stay within those confines.

Chris Pontius: Everyone at United said that Pontius would be staying up front and focusing on becoming a great forward as opposed to a good option all over the place. Still, we're looking at every option here, and Pontius did pretty well bursting from central midfield when called upon. I don't know if his vision and passing ability will be good enough to pick opponents apart, but he would not be a disaster here either. The trick would be how he takes to the position. If he tries to play like Javier Morales, it won't work because that's not his game. However, if he strives to imitate a guy like Stuart Holden by disrupting teams with his own runs more than his gifts as a passer, he could be an answer. However, the club is rightly going to use him as a striker, so this is more of an emergency provision than a realistic solution right now.

Devon McTavish: Like DiRaimondo, McTavish is a defensive midfielder who tries to keep the game simple. After winning the beep test, we at least can be sure he has the endurance to make life hard for opposing players for 90 minutes. However, it seems everyone's preference is for a guy that can make the attack go rather than a guy who will be mostly focused on defensive tasks.

Rodney Wallace: One of last year's pleasant surprises was seeing Wallace successfully adapt to a central role when called upon. It's not his best spot, but when the team needed a dynamic, abrasive presence when Olsen was being rested, Wallace did a good job. Like Pontius, though, the current plan has him playing elsewhere. If Wallace makes a short-term move to central midfield, Marc Burch will be recalled at left back (something that I don't find particularly appealing). As with most of the options discussed thus far, it also leaves us with 2 defensive midfielders in the middle (though Wallace is the most attack-minded of that group).

Brandon Barklage: Perhaps the most intriguing option, Barklage is the only other natural two-way central midfielder on the roster. He was something of a surprising success last season before he was unfortunate enough to suffer a torn ACL in the US Open Cup. This was a shame, because Barklage is the kind of all-action player this club could have used as a spark down the stretch last season. There are big questions about how fit he'll be following the surgery and lengthy rehab that comes with an ACL tear, but we do know that he'll fight, has a cannon of a shot, and makes quality runs forward. What I said about how Pontius should follow Holden's style of play is also applicable to Barklage.

Santino Quaranta: Tino has been in the discussion to start in this position throughout the offseason, and those calls will only get stronger. We all saw Quaranta filling in there in 2008 when Gallardo went down. While he was not brilliant, he was one of the few players truly engaged in finding a way to make that season work out. If nothing else, it was a commendable effort in pretty dire circumstances. Quaranta does have a decent range of passes and certainly has the creative spark necessary to do at least an adequate job. In my opinion, however, we'd be moving one of MLS's best right midfielders into a role he'd be fairly average in, and Tino's replacement on the right would probably be Boyzzz Khumalo (a decent sub, but not necessarily a starter-in-sub's-clothing).

Jaime Moreno: Any time this club has needed a player linking midfield and attack, there are always a group of DC fans saying it should be Moreno. The logic goes that he's got tremendous skill and creativity, so surely he can do the job further from goal. This is further bolstered by the fact that, back in the day and on rare occasions in recent times, #99 has slotted back into this role and done alright. However, I've always disagreed with it as anything other than a last-ditch move. Especially nowadays, putting Moreno in midfield and asking him to do the running necessary for the job seems like a waste of his valuable energy. When you have a forward with Moreno's talents, it seems like the smartest thing to do is let him play the more liberated role that a forward gets. He can wander around, feeling out the weak points of the opposing defense, and attack a certain player or gap. Moved back, he will lose that freedom and have to spend more time chasing opposing players, which will obviously mean he's on the field for even less time.

Matias Corujo: Who? If you blinked, you might have missed the mention he got a little while ago on Soccer Insider. Essentially, Corujo was offered up to United, and the club's interest was apparently quite mild. Corujo is an Uruguayan midfielder playing at home with Montevideo Wanderers. There was no word at the time where in the midfield Corujo is most comfortable, so it's quite the long shot. Still, we could see the club re-evaluate that offer now that our need is more severe.

Christian Gomez: You knew this was coming, right? Shatz's farewell piece turned into a debate as to whether this team still needed Gomez. With our most likely attacking midfielder out for some unknown period, the calls for Gomez's return will increase. I still think he's not the answer, though, because of the defensive requirements in the position. For us to bring Gomez back, we'd have to abandon the 442 temporarily or watch teams slice through us like a knife through butter. We'd also be signing a guy making well into the 6 figure range to fill a temporary need (and we'd have to cut someone else, as well). I know it's tempting, but so is that late night call from your crazy ex. You broke up for a reason.

Two-Boys Gumede: Everyone's favorite new name is an attacking midfield/forward (some would call him a "tweener" but I hate that word) currently on trial after surprisingly going undrafted. I won't pretend to know more about him than that. He's supposedly a creative midfielder, and that's what we need. He was a long shot to make the team, and probably still is, but his odds have perhaps gotten a bit better.

Daniel Wasson: My memory of Wasson was that he's got decent technique, but plays a pretty basic game in central midfield. He's not quite a full-out defensive midfielder, but he's also not a guy I'd call a box-to-box type either. I would assume his time in the 2.Bundesliga with since-relegated Osnabrück improved his game somewhat, even if only because there is more pressure to succeed in Europe. Wasson won't set hearts alight, but we could do worse.

From where I sit, the option that appeals most is probably Barklage (so long as his fitness is there) followed by shifting Quaranta inside for the time being and starting Khumalo (or Shipalane) on the right. Barklage reminds me of a lower-level version of everybody's favorite assistant coach, Ben Olsen. Both are smallish guys that fight like hell, cover tons of ground, and can shoot from outside the box. I don't think Barklage, at this time, should be our long term starter, but for right now I think he's the best choice on the evidence I've seen.

I would be willing to accept using Pontius there and starting Moreno with Allsopp up front, but only as a stopgap for the short term. N'Galula seems to be a serious option if the coaches and Kasper are mentioning him by name to Goff in the central midfield discussion, but he's a totally unknown quantity. Everyone else that came up is either probably not going to make the team (Gumede), clearly better elsewhere (Moreno), a bad fit for the formation (Gomez), or another defensive midfielder (the rest). I don't see a dual holding system generating the kind of offensive showing that Kevin Payne has publicly declared is part of DC United's identity. I know that we're just talking about a short-to-medium term solution, but I can hardly imagine an attack-minded coach like Onalfo wanting to make his first impression to United fans be a defensive approach.