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D.C. United still looking for right mix of players ahead of home stand

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With United at their healthiest this year, Ben Olsen is still looking to figure out his best eleven

After going down early last Saturday to the Montreal Impact, with Matteo Mancosu smashing the ball home from a deflection off of Kofi Opare, D.C. United could have been on the end of a loss that would have endangered their slim playoff hopes. Up to that point, United had managed just three points from losing positions this season, all in draws (two on the road, and one at home).

A loss to Montreal, one of the teams that United has to chase down to make the playoffs this year, could have made the points gap between the two clubs a bridge too far, despite United having five games in hand over the Québécois side.

Instead, United clawed their way back and got a second half equalizer from Yamil Asad, nominally keeping in United in the playoff chase for 2018.

“I think maybe this team two months ago, I don’t think we can recover from that,” head coach Ben Olsen said earlier this week after practice.

United followed that performance up with mixed results to close the secondary transfer window. Hometown hero Bill Hamid returned from Denmark on loan for the this season and next, while United addressed their fullback depth issue by bringing in Vytautas Andriuskevicius, better known as Vytas, from the Portland Timbers. They didn’t add anyone else, though, which means the group that was in place at the start of the window is largely intact.

On the docket now for United is putting all their games in hand to good use. Twelve of their next fifteen games will be at Audi Field, including three in a week starting on Sunday, with visits from Orlando City, the aforementioned Timbers, and the New England Revolution.

Against Montreal last weekend, Olsen opted for a slight formation change, one that United hasn’t used much to start games this year. He used the same 11 players that started the week before against the Colorado Rapids, but had Russell Canouse drop further back in midfield alongside Junior Moreno in a 4-2-3-1 look.

“That was a little tactical change. It was to draw Montreal out,” Canouse told B&RU earlier this week. “They were playing with two guys in there. We wanted to pull them out in the buildup, and defensively, stay compact.”

That seemed to do the trick for United, after falling behind to the early goal. Montreal has had better results this year when they’ve been more compact, but United had several good opportunities in the first half to level the score, including hitting the woodwork on three separate occasions.

However, Olsen indicated this week that the switch to that formation was one geared specifically towards the Impact. And that it was unlikely that the club would continue to use that set up, especially at home, in the back half of this season.

“You’re protecting your center backs more, and closing off that space with two guys,” Olsen said of the 4-2-3-1 look. “There are certain times when the game doesn’t warrant that, and we’re going to go a bit more attacking. And try to get wins that way.”

Olsen seems set for the most part on the 4-1-4-1 formation, though who the best personnel is on a game-to-game basis, is still up in the air. United have dealt with injuries for most of the season, and just now finally have everyone healthy save for Taylor Kemp and Nick DeLeon.

Schedule congestion will dictate some of the changes that Olsen will make in future games, but he’s also still trying to find the right recipe that maximize the results this team can achieve on the field.

“We’re still finding the right mix of guys and balance that makes us tick, and makes us at our best,” said Olsen.