In the last seven games of the 2012 MLS regular season, we've seen a shift in strategies from Ben Olsen. In those games since the injury to Dwayne De Rosario, Olsen and D.C. United have adopted an approach that isn't exactly sexy, and isn't necessarily meant to win over fans of The Beautiful Game.
Recently, United has taken on a more conservative approach, especially on the road. Olsen has emphasized possession, defensive structure, and a high work rate over maximizing the number of goal-scoring chances created. United has been content to carry a scoreless draw into the second half of each road game, and then bringing on more firepower to steal a goal and secure three points.
At RFK Stadium though, United has pursued the win with more aggression and fervor. That's why Maicon Santos started against the Columbus Crew when we were at home, but not on the road against the Chicago Fire.
This is why the second seed in the Eastern Conference was the perfect situation for Olsen's United as they take on the New York Red Bulls. With the first game on the road, United could use its standard conservative road tactics to keep the match tied for as long as possible, and maybe steal a late goal, or maybe not. And then with the return home for the second leg of the series, United could employ a more attacking lineup and go for the win.
Unfortunately, Sandy changed all that. Hurricanes suck.
Now, United can't afford to use a conservative approach in the first match, with the first match being at home. United needs to go for the win at RFK Stadium. Then and only then will D.C. be able to take on a more defensive style in New York, as the past seven games has told us that Olsen would prefer to do.
But what if disaster should strike? And I don't mean a natural disaster this time. The starting lineup for tomorrow's game is basically set. We're fairly certain that Santos will get the start as the second forward next to Lionard Pajoy. But if United leaves D.C. with only a tie or a loss tonight, the tactics will change on Wednesday. A conservative approach won't be a viable option anymore at Red Bull Arena. There won't be time to sit back and hope to keep the score level and then hope that the Red Bulls pull a Milos Kocic and give us a mistake to capitalize on. United will have to go for broke. That could mean Santos instead of Branko Boskovic with another start on the road. Or it could mean Chris Pontius at forward. Or even Hamdi Salihi. It could mean anything.
Hopefully we won't have to see what Olsen looks like with his back against the wall though. I'd prefer to see Hans Backe and the Red Bulls with their backs against the wall on Wednesday night instead. Given their history, and given ours, I think it's easy to see how that would turn out.