It's no secret that I wasn't a huge fan of Raphael Augusto when I first saw him at a reserve match for D.C. United that took place just two months ago but now feels like the distant past.
Following that game, I likened Augusto to a rather raw version of Fred. He started on the wing but liked to cut inside. He's aggressive in the attack with good ball skills and vision. He was accurate with short passes but didn't seem to have a big passing range or make the smart diagonal runs that made Fred so successful in 2007.
My biggest concern with the 21-year old Brazilian midfielder though was that he didn't track back defensively as often as he should. On a team coached by Ben Olsen, no midfielder will see much playing time if he can't be committed to helping the team defend.
Well Augusto finally got his playing time. He made his MLS debut just before halftime of United's 3-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo on Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Olsen showed a lot of faith in Augusto by using him in such an unfriendly environment and to replace fellow Brazilian Marcelo Saragosa, who had been the organizer of the defense for United in central midfield. Augusto rewarded Olsen's choice with some good passing and one truly outstanding run that almost cost the Dynamo one of their central defenders to a red card. Augusto completed 28 of his 32 pass attempts, and was much more involved in the attack than the man he was replacing.
But I question whether or not it was the right decision for Olsen to bring in a more attack-minded central midfielder in that specific situation. United was already up 1-0 in a match in which the visitors would surely be thrilled to escape with just a draw. The team had also already lost its leading scorer in Chris Pontius earlier in the match, meaning that Olsen would only have one more substitution for the entire second half. Protecting that lead would have seemed like the most probable strategy.
There were several other choices available to Olsen other than Augusto. My preference would have been to take a more defensive approach. United could have elected to bunker down and try to hold onto the 1-0 lead for as long as possible. If that was the strategy, then Augusto wouldn't have been the man to do it. A better option might have been to insert Daniel Woolard into the match. Woolard could have taken over the left midfield position with defense as his top priority, shifting Lewis Neal into the central midfield role that Saragosa was vacating. Alternatively, Woolard could have taken over his usual left back spot, moving Chris Korb to the right and Robbie Russell to defensive midfield, a position that he's played elsewhere in his MLS career.
Olsen instead opted to give Augusto a shot, and to hand him a responsibility that was similar to that of Branko Boskovic. Did it pay off? Even though Augusto had some positive moments, it would be hard to argue that this was the right move in hindsight. Boskovic lost his effectiveness, and both players were defensive liabilities for United. Both Augusto and Boskovic could be given some blame for the goals scored by the Dynamo. With someone else besides Augusto in central midfield, United may be returning to RFK Stadium with only a one-goal deficit, or maybe even with a level score.
In the end though, I think it's safe to say that Augusto has at least earned a spot on the training camp roster for next season. He could serve a larger role on this team in 2013 as the third choice withdrawn forward behind Dwayne De Rosario and Boskovic. If Augusto can learn just a few of the traits that each of these potential mentors possess, he will have a long and prosperous career.