Coming off a 1-1 tie to the Chicago Fire and a 4-0 domination of the Vancouver Whitecaps the week prior, D.C. United surprised many of us by making some big changes to the attacking portion of its starting lineup on Sunday against Sporting Kansas City. I wasn’t alone in predicting that Josh Wolff would take over for Charlie Davies up top, but the shock was that Davies wasn’t included in the 18-man roster at all. And that Dwayne De Rosario found himself on the bench.
Some are speculating that Coach Ben Olsen was trying to send a message to Davies by leaving him off the bench. There may be a bit of truth in that presumption, but I also think there’s more to it. I believe Olsen’s decisions to be well-thought out. Let’s not oversimplify. Let’s dig deeper.
First of all, I think it’s a pretty poorly kept secret that Davies isn’t exactly 100% right now. He’s been known to put ice on his knee after games and practices. Olsen has been cautious with Davies all year too. Remember when he was held out of our road game against the Colorado Rapids early in the season for no apparent reason? Davies was tearing up the league at that point, so that decision certainly wasn’t to send a message.
But if Davies was able to start and play 60 minutes on Thursday night, it stands to reason that he probably should have been at least healthy enough to make the bench. Right? So why didn’t he?
This isn’t the first time in the season that a player has been apparently demoted without strong cause. Andy Najar and Branko Boskovic were both second-choice in the early stages of the season. And Dax McCarty found himself behind Stephen King on our depth chart at one point before being traded. Was Olsen sending a message to these players? Hmm … maybe.
I prefer to look at it differently though. I think Olsen is very deliberate in his starting lineups and still has his eyes focused on a greater prize. I think that when a certain position has a decent amount of depth, Olsen isn’t afraid to use it. So when Fred da Silva was playing well, he was starting ahead of Najar temporarily. Why? Not just for motivational reasons, but also to keep Najar fresh. The same was going to be true for Boskovic before his season was obliterated by injury too. And I believe the same to be true about Davies now.
Of course there’s a fine line though between keeping a player fresh for the playoff push vs. having a bunch of fresh players after already being eliminated from playoff contention.
Davies’ body isn’t strong enough to play 900 minutes in the next 10 games. Neither is De Rosario’s. More often than not, Olsen’s tactical on-field personnel decisions have paid off. Let’s not write this one off until we see it through.