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Stephen King & Dax McCarty Form New Central Midfield Pairing For D.C. United

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Dax McCarty may have found himself a new central midfield partner in Stephen King.
Dax McCarty may have found himself a new central midfield partner in Stephen King.

Since preseason, many of us had been hoping to one day see D.C. United try out a central midfield combination of Branko Boskovic and Dax McCarty , partnering the two most skilled central players on the team. Unfortunately, that’s something that we probably won’t ever get to see, as Boskovic’s season and likely his MLS career were ended short by Alan Koger of the New England Revolution in a U.S. Open Cup Qualifying match two weeks ago.

But that doesn’t mean that the idea of partnering two box-to-box type midfielders has to end. On Saturday night in the team’s scoreless draw against FC Dallas , Ben Olsen made a surprising tactical change by inserting rarely used Stephen King in the central partnership with McCarty.

Like Boskovic, King comes from an attacking background. Attacking midfield is the role that he played at the University of Maryland, with the Chicago Fire  in his rookie year, and occasionally with D.C. last season. He offers better passing awareness and higher-quality distribution than the alternative, which would be the more defensive-minded Clyde Simms .

I spoke with King after the game about how his role is different from past seasons. He said that he now has more defensive responsibility, which is something that he’s comfortable with. He also said that he had more freedom to go forward in last year’s system.

In his post-game press conference , Olsen addressed the new partnership, and he seemed to be fairly happy with it.

It’s a little bit of a different dynamic with [Dax McCarty] and [Stephen] King there than it would be with [McCarty] and Clyde [Simms]. King had a great understanding - when Dax [McCarty] sits [King] is more comfortable going forward. They played off each other pretty well all night long. Dax’s energy was great and he wasn’t surprised by his old friends from Dallas.

So then is this pairing we should expect to see more in the future? Yeah, I imagine it is. United’s 79% passing accuracy had a lot to do with McCarty and King. They also held FC Dallas to just 68% passing accuracy, the lowest total by any team United has faced all season. In case you’re wondering who had the highest passing accuracy against United so far, that would be the Colorado Rapids with 80%. They just happen to be paying a visit to RFK Stadium on Saturday. Those stats hint that we might get to see King-McCarty once again.

We probably won’t see them together every week though. Simms’ marking ability will still be useful against teams with top central attacking midfielders (most of whom are currently injured). But when Olsen’s strategy is to maximize possession and work the ball centrally, King may get some more chances.