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3 observations from D.C. United’s 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union

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Stieber, Durkin, and the goalkeeper battle caught our eyes

D.C. United have now completed half of their preseason games in their preparation for the 2018 season. Last night, they defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-1, thanks to goals from Darren Mattocks and Luciano Acosta. Their final two games of the preseason will come against lower division competition, the Jacksonville Armada on Wednesday, and Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday.

United had some good moments in the win over the Union, to go along with deficiencies that need to be worked on in the next two weeks, before the team opens the 2018 season with a trip to Orlando City. Here are some of our observations from the game against the Union, and what to look for in the final two friendlies.

Don’t count out Zoltan Stieber just yet

Obviously, the addition of Yamil Asad has made the competition at attacking positions quite juicy. Assuming Ben Olsen doesn’t go outside of the box and play with a false nine, or play someone who isn’t naturally a defender as a defender, there are four players vying for three spots in the midfield.

Asad spent most of last season playing as a left winger for Atlanta United, which just happens to be where Stieber was used after his summer arrival last year. Against the Union, Stieber started out in the center, and occasionally strayed out wide, before shifting to the left wing when Asad was taken off at halftime. Stieber was arguably the best performer of the night for United, delivering a perfect cross for Mattocks’ goal in the first half. This is what Olsen had to say about Stieber after the game:

“Stieber had a good game. Playing him central is a different look for him with us. You can see, when he comes inside the field on his preferred left, he has a real eyes for players. His service is dangerous, is pretty exact. He’s willing to do the work defensively, and he was pretty selfless centrally, to help out the six.”

If Stieber can continue playing as well in the regular season, it will make Olsen’s decision on who to keep on the bench a difficult one. United have been using a 4-1-4-1 formation so far, with Ulises Segura starting in the middle in both of the preseason games. So there could be situations in which all four attacking midfielders play together, but my guess would be that Olsen won’t lean on that to start games very often.

There’s a proper goalkeeper battle brewing

That there is a competition ongoing isn’t surprising, given that United wanted to bring someone in during the offseason to challenge Steve Clark. The team signed David Ousted, one of the better keepers in the league over the past couple of seasons, giving United two good options as the team moves on from Bill Hamid.

Ousted missed the first preseason game, but was healthy to play last night. Yet, Clark was the one who was given the start, and did well to make several saves in the first half, including a CJ Sapong penalty. Olsen noted Clark’s performance after the game, naming him among the players who had a good outing against the Union.

Ousted came on for the second half, and had a solid performance, even with the goal conceded late on. But if we are making snap judgments from the lineups used on Saturday night, it would appear that Clark has the upper hand at the moment. Does that continue for the next two weeks, ahead of the season opener? Or will Ousted be able to overtake Clark?

Chris Durkin was given some first team minutes, and impressed the boss

The homegrown midfielder, who recently turned 18, came on at halftime in place of Junior Moreno as the lone defensive midfielder to shield the back line (as United continued in a 4-1-4-1 formation). That gave Durkin about 25 minutes with most of the team that started the game, and Durkin had himself a good performance against the Union.

Defensively, he made several interceptions, had a couple of tackles, and won defensive headers. When United had the ball deep in their own half, Durkin dropped back to provide an outlet in the middle for Ousted. Not much came from Durkin’s passes and possession in those situations, but the team was clearly comfortable with the teenager being the point man between the two central defenders. Durkin apparently has several European suitors, but it seems like United are keen to keep hold of him. He doesn’t seem likely to become a full time starter anytime soon, but if he continues to keep up his performances, it might force Olsen’s hand to finally give him minutes in MLS for the first time this season.

Here’s what Olsen had to say about Durkin after the game against Philadelphia:

“He has made a big step from last year. Now what’s next? We’re giving him some time here with the first team, and he continues to do pretty well. He’s still young. He’s still a work in progress, but we certainly like his development over the last year, and where he’s at currently.”