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The Third Sixth: In Which United Makes Their Move, Off the Field, if not On

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Can anybody think of anything important that happened with D.C. United during the last few games?
Can anybody think of anything important that happened with D.C. United during the last few games?

Well here we are - halfway through the 2011 D.C. United season. You've seen the midseason assessments on a league-wide basis, but here at B&RU, we like to whittle down our segments a bit more. Feel free to look back at the First and Second sixths for reference, but be sure to get back here and read about the last third of the first half, which involved nothing short of a defensive dismantling, a blockbuster trade, and a road victory against the MetroScum. Welcome to the Third Sixth.

Results: L-T-T-T-W (1-1-3, 4 6 points); 8 GF, 9 GA (-1 diff.)

Standings: Sixth in the East, tied with Sporting Kansas City on 22 points, but losing out on goal differential. Funnily enough, 22 points is exactly where the playoff line is, but United is on the wrong side currently, thanks again to that pesky -5 goal differential. Luckily, United has played fewer games than everybody in the league save Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers.

Some quick counting work on my magic spreadsheet tells me that if we look only at each team's first 17 games, United would be sitting fourth in the East, ninth place overall - just in playoff position.

Season Leaders:  Charlie Davies (8 goals, one off the current leaders' totals, and 1 assist), Chris Pontius (5 goals, 1 assist), Josh Wolff (4 goals, team-leading 5 assists), Andy Najar (2 goals, 3 assists). Pontius still leads the team in minutes, and remains with Wolff as the only players to appear in every league game this season. Party Boy also leads the team in fouls suffered.

MVP of the Sixth: This is a tough call - the many draws during this Sixth all but scream that no one part of the team stood out. I'll give the nod to newly-minted captain Josh Wolff, who managed to find the scoresheet in every game but one during this segment, notching a goal and three assists through the five-game duration. Even before the trade, Wolff had begun dropping off of the front line to play provider and facilitate the runs of Davies, Brettschneider, Pontius, and Najar. Just this weekend, he did the same for Dwayne De Rosario, assisting on the game's only goal. Speaking of DeRo...

Defining Moment: For the first time this season, the defining moment wasn't at the penalty spot. It wasn't even on the field, really. This will go down as the Sixth when Ben Olsen decided that he didn't have the right players to fit his system, and so he and the front office went out and got them. In the same day, the team brought in Brandon McDonald from San Jose to shore up the defense and swapped Dax McCarty for DDR straight up to add some flair to the attack. As has been said, the moves effectively flipped the switch from Rebuilding Mode to Win Now. In the two games since the trade, McDonald has orchestrated a shut out in Jersey, and DeRo has a goal and an assist.

Jump with me to see United's most-used starting XI and some positives and negatives from the Sixth.

First XI:

football formations

Kind of a curious situation during this Sixth. Even though he only played two games, De Rosario still had more starts than any other central midfielder not named Clyde Simms. (Fred da Silva, Stephen King, and Dax McCarty started a game apiece.) This means that the formation in the diagram is a bit misleading, as the majority of games this segment involved a much flatter 4-4-2 than the diamond-ish formation depicted above - but De Rosario never played in that formation. In the defense, Kitchen split time between the central position shown here and the right side, but he featured more in the center during this segment, so I put him there. I could have put him on the right as well - he and Zayner each started twice - but I decided against getting metaphysical and listed Zayner in that spot instead. All in all, the Third Sixth featured a lineup very much in flux, due to injuries, trades, and tactical adjustments.

Best Positive from the Third Sixth:

Attacking Impetus - United have not trailed in their last three games. The only game where they conceded the first goal during this Sixth was a spot kick in Salt Lake. Even against San Jose, United found the net first. Even with the less than stellar results as the team approached the season's midpoint, it's tough to be disappointed in the team's proclivity for scoring first.

Worst Negative from the Third Sixth:

Closing - I have to think Ben Olsen went all Alec Baldwin on the team after the Philly game, denying them hydration at practices and saying matter of factly, "Gatorade is for closers." (Video NSFW, Baldwinian language.) After giving up 89th and 84th minute equalizers at home, I wouldn't be surprised at any locker room tactics Benny might have used to get the team to stay focused during the closing stages of games. A lot of this is due to youth, and hopefully the McDonald acquisition and the 0-1 win over Red Bull foretell a newfound store of focus.

Overall Impression:

As with last time, I think it's too early to say whether we've turned the corner and are ready to make a run through the second half of the season. The additions of De Rosario and McDonald - as well as the team's win in the Swamps of New Jersey - do make me confident that the corner is near though. United have games in hand on every one of their Eastern Conference competitors, and despite the Spork's impending massive homestand (the flip-side of starting the year on a ridiculous road trip), I do like the Black-and-Red's playoff chances. If our boys in black don't find themselves in the playoff places after the next Sixth, though, you might see me start to fret. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. 

So what does everybody think about United at the halfway point? Are they a team on the verge of turning the corner, or do you think they'll have to keep flailing a while longer?