It was another beautiful day at the RFK training field, dampered only by smoke from the fire at nearby Eastern High School and the solitude from the first team's unfortunate 0-3 start.
Check Behind The Badge for the full writeup of the 2-2 tie, which saw Real Maryland get off to a 2-0 lead in the first half, until United powered their way back thanks to a great individual effort by Andy Najar, and almost grabbed the go-ahead goal in the final minutes as former DCUer Domenic Mediate's run resulted in a shot off the post.
Keeping in mind that the team's midfield was often fairly fluid, with guys like Khumalo and Shipalane often moving around and swapping, here's the best I can describe our lineups for the majority of each half:
Having now seen just about every player in person before, I went into this exhibition match with a certain thought in mind. I wanted to determine if there were any players among the reserves who may be able to earn starting roles. Specifically, I wanted to challenge this premise from yesterday's post:
Another thing in general that I'd really like to see is more competition for the starting lineup. After an 0-3 start, no one's job should be safe. That even means Perkins, who I think should be challenged by Josh Wicks when he returns this month. We could also very easily see Castillo losing his starting job to either Wallace or Pontius next week.
What was my conclusion? Find out below, as I break down each position.
It was great to see Bill Hamid back healthy, and he is certainly a large presence in net. He also seems to have good control over his line, frequently calling out instructions to defenders. But with that said, he didn't have a great match. Real Maryland's first goal was the result of a rebound (Where have we heard THAT before?!), and there was another sequence earlier in the match where Hamid came out of the net to challenge and could have given up a goal were it not for a Rice clearance off the line. United had the majority of chances in the second half, but Hamid did make one or two key saves. However, I don't think he's yet ready to challenge Troy Perkins for the starting job. I'm still holding out hope that Josh Wicks will return from injury this month and bring some additional competition to training.
Clearly we are going to need one of these reserves to step up next week with both Dejan Jakovic and Juan Manuel Pena potentially out for our game against Chicago. On Saturday, we should expect to see either a new right back with Carey Talley sliding into the middle next to Julius James, or a new central defender. Most would say that a starting role on Saturday was Devon McTavish's job to lose, and I'm not so sure that he didn't lose it today. McTavish was playing right back for RM's first goal, and it came from a cross from his side of the field. And their second goal, as you may have read, involved McTavish tripping over the ball when trying to dribble out of the box, leading to a turnover and an easy finish. McTavish actually played much better in the second half though while occupying the middle of a 3-5-2 defense.
Another player that I was keeping my eye on as a potential starter was rookie Barry Rice. He was very impressive in last week's reserve match, but didn't have much of a chance to make an impact here before leaving the match due to injury midway through the first half. Hopefully the injury won't be serious enough to keep him off the bench on Saturday night.
Of the other defenders, Jordan Graye stood out for me much more than Lyle Adams. Graye was frequently overlapping Castillo in the first half and getting involved in the attack. He's quick, and was able to shut down several RM attacks. I was surprised to see Lyle Adams playing center back during the first half. He didn't give up many chances, but needs to get more accurate on his crosses. Of all the young defenders, I actually think Jordan Graye might have the best chance of earning a start in the next couple months. If Castillo continues to struggle, the team may wish to try Graye at left back and Rodney Wallace at left midfield.
The midfield included two players in Christian Castillo and Boyzzz Khumalo who are already frequent contributors for the first team, and looked to be in a class slightly above their opponents.
But there was one player who stood out more than anyone else. Yes, the man of the match was 17-year old high school junior Andy Najar. By a mile. His free kick goal from just beyond the right corner of the box was the best free kick I've seen any United player strike this year. And it was also his corner kick that started the sequence that led to Khumalo's goal. Najar continues to shine in a central midfield role, and since Quaranta is now likely going to be starting on the right, I would have no reservations about starting Najar in the middle.
Of the other midfielders, Drew Yates and Tiyi Shipalane each had some positive moments. If Yates was auditioning to be a future member of the Real Maryland squad, he passed with flying colors. He is unexpectedly fast with the ball at his feet, and made two runs right up the middle of the field through traffic. But I don't see either of these players making significant impacts with the United first team very soon.
Adam Cristman had some positive plays in this match, and will continue to serve the team well in the fourth forward role, but probably won't ever be much more than that.
Of the two trialists, I can't say that either Junior da Silva or Edrissa Jarra impressed me too much. Junior had a couple nice moments dribbling along the sideline, enough to make his older brother Fred proud (who was in attendance, and shirtless). Jarra is big and imposing, but never looked to be on the same page as his teammates. It's nice to see United getting Ghambian forwards on trial, but I don't see this one earning a contract.