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Knockdown Dragout: Where Should De Rosario Start for United?

When Dwayne De Rosario lifts the MLS MVP trophy at the end of the year, will it be as a midfielder or a forward?
When Dwayne De Rosario lifts the MLS MVP trophy at the end of the year, will it be as a midfielder or a forward?

There's been an ongoing debate here in the DMV since Dwayne De Rosario's arrival from New York. (Aside: Wow does that ever seem like a long time ago. Reminder: Dax McCarty played for DC United this season.) It's nothing to do with formation (4-4-2 diamond is the right answer there) or even who should be starting (at least, not directly).

The big question that demands an answer from Ben Olsen & co. is where to deploy the 5-time MLS Best XI attacker. Should he be in the midfield, where he can dictate tempo, or a forward where he'll be closer to goal? Either way, we know he's going to find his space between the lines and be the force he's always been. My opinion on this question is fairly well-known around these parts, but for now I'll put on my objective hat and hash out the arguments on each side.

I fully expect you readers to help me hash it out in the comments. So read on after the jump, vote in the poll, and help the debate on in the comments.

De Rosario as Forward

DDR has scored six goals in his nine games as a member of the Black-and-Red, and most of them have come when he's lined up on the front line. As a forward, De Rosario starts off closer to goal, which makes his lethal finishing ability even more deadly. He plays the withdrawn forward role, which would otherwise be played by Josh Wolff, better than anybody else on the DC roster, and moving him up allows for more solidity in the midfield. This provides cover and stability for the defense, as shown by United's much-improved goals against mark since his arrival in the Nation's Capital. Clearly, he should run out as a forward.

De Rosario as Midfielder

Yes, DeRo has scored a boatload of goals as a forward, but he best serves United as a midfielder. DeRo's propensity to drop deep leaves our top striker, Charlie Davies, on an island and fails to take advantage of his speed. Davies' hold-up play against Vancouver was admirable, but he showed against Chicago that it's not his forte. Indeed, Davies has been more than somewhat ineffective since partnering DeRo up top, largely because of their dischordant styles. Moreover, without De Rosario in the midfield, our boys in black are left without a cutting edge in the midfield; Santino Quaranta prefers to be out wide, Stephen King isn't an elite attacker at this level, and nobody else really fits the bill (save, of course, the injured Branko Boskovic). So we're left with a solid defense totally disconnected from the attack and a midfield that breaks things up a lot better than they create things for themselves, which is a pretty good way of describing what we saw in Chicago and Kansas City last month.

The Answer

Personally, I'm an adamant believer that De Rosario is best used as a midfielder for this version of United. If Boskovic were healthy or we had somebody who could really play as a target striker, things might work differently, but with our current roster, there's no question in my mind that DeRo should play behind two strikers - probably Wolff & Davies - as an attacking midfielder. When De Rosario lines up at forward against competent defenses (i.e. those from south of the 49th parallel), we're left totally adrift in the midfield, with Davies and DeRo chasing long balls played over the top - because we don't have the chops to break organized defenses down through less direct means. When he lines up in the midfield, United have that catalyst who will make himself available for shorter passes and find a way to link play forward. He'll still get his goals, but so will Davies, Pontius, Najar and Wolff - something that's not happening with any regularity when he lines up closer to goal.

To grossly oversimplify, what I think it comes down to is this: Dax McCarty. With De Rosario at forward, United come out of the trade with New York with a significant downgrade at midfield (McCarty to King) and a less significant upgrade at forward (Wolff to De Rosario). With DeRo in the midfield, it's an upgrade in the center of the park with no downgrade anywhere else on the field.

Alright, valued readers, let's have at it. I know at least some of you are big fans of DeRo-as-forward, and others are in my let-him-play-midfielder camp. It's time to let your voice be heard, both in our poll and in the comments. Don't hold back; this is something that needs to be settled once and for all.