If there’s a theme to discussion of D.C. United’s remade roster coming into the 2020 season, it’s probably “versatility.” Russell Canouse, a natural defensive midfielder, will very likely start the season at right back. New acquisitions Edison Flores and Julian Gressel can play inside or outside, potentially on a couple different lines.
So over the course of this preseason, your friendly neighborhood soccer nerds here at B&RU have been tracking who’s been playing what positions for Ben Olsen’s side. We’ve got the number of appearances for each player at each spot over the five games, the number of starts for each, and the number of minutes played.
Keep in mind that this is not a depth chart. For instance, injuries to Flores and Yamil Asad kept them out of the lineup for most of preseason, and Paul Arriola’s potentially season-ending ACL tear obviously affected things. Olsen also used two similar but different systems during preseason. After starting off with the 4231 double-pivot setup used for most of last year, United transitioned to a true 433 with a single #6 and higher wingers for big chunks of the last few exhibitions. Roles in the two systems often, but not always, overlap.
The idea here is more to see the spots that different players can fill and get an idea for where Benny might prefer them to play, at least early in the year.
And now, without further ado: your 2020 minutes tracker:
(Apologies to mobile readers. The following table won’t render well on small screens.)
D.C. United 2020 Preseason Minutes Tracker
|Updated Feb 22, 2020||CB||App||St||Min||GK||App||St||Min|
|Through 5 preseason games||Steven Birnbaum||5||4||301||Bill Hamid||3||3||227|
|Key:||Frederic Brillant||5||4||283||Chris Seitz||2||2||151|
|* not under DCU contract||3||1||134||Earl Edwards Jr.||3||0||72|
|Russell Canouse||5||4||301||Felipe||4||3||211||Joseph Mora||4||3||256|
|Oniel Fisher||2||0||73||Junior Moreno||2||1||92||Chris Odoi-Atsem||3||1||89|
|Chris Odoi-Atsem||2||1||60||3||1||88||Oniel Fisher||1||1||45|
|Jacob Greene*||1||0||16||Academy DM||1||0||45||Academy LB*||1||0||45|
|Griffin Yow||3||1||150||Moses Nyeman||4||1||177||Emmanuel Boateng||4||2||237|
|Julian Gressel||2||2||107||Junior Moreno||3||2||107||Ulises Segura||4||3||137|
|Edison Flores||1||1||45||Michael Gamble*||1||1||45||Yamil Asad||1||0||31|
|Julian Gressel||3||1||134||Erik Sorga*||4||2||168|
|Kevin Paredes||3||1||106||Ola Kamara||3||2||120|
|Paul Arriola||2||2||92||Josh Fawole*||1||1||66|
|Moses Nyeman||1||1||45||Michael Gamble*||2||0||43|
|Not Appearing||Michael Gamble*||1||0||36||Ulises Segura||1||0||29|
|Simon Lefebvre*||Griffin Yow||1||0||28||Ted Ku-DiPietro*||1||0||24|
|Donovan Pines||Academy AM||1||0||9|
So. What are we looking at here?
GK & Defense
As expected, the defense is basically settled. Bill Hamid is the unquestioned starter in goal, and last year’s center back pairing of Steven Birnbaum and Frederic Brillant remain in place. Joseph Mora holds it down on the left, and natural d-mid Russell Canouse will start the year as he ended 2019, filling in at right back. (Though with the rumored acquisition of central midfielder Mohammed Abu, Canouse might be more than just starting the year at fullback.)
Further up the field is where the questions start to emerge. Felipe Martins led the way in minutes at the deepest midfield spot with Junior Moreno — who missed some time early in the preseason — right behind him.
With United spending time in both a 4231 and a 433, the #8 spot on the field has some questions associated with it that our table can’t answer. The position can play a little differently depending on the set-up — generally like a more mobile #6 in the 4231 and closer to a true box-to-box in the 433. Seeing Moses Nyeman with the most appearances and minutes in this spot is encouraging for my fellow homegrown player stans out there. But don’t expect the teenager to be first choice, at least early in the year (except maybe at Loudoun United).
Junior Moreno and Felipe got the next-most time in the #8 position. It’ll be interesting to see which of the two is deeper-lying. It’s entirely possible that we’ll see a fair amount of rotation between the two of them within games, whichever formation Ben Olsen runs out.
With Orejas Flores out for all but the last preseason game, the #10 spot was an open question coming into preseason. The answer was a surprise: Julian Gressel led the way ahead of homegrown rookie Keven Paredes. Both were better known for their exploits on the outside, though Gressel spent significant time centrally in a box-to-box role with Atlanta.
Flores, widely expected to slot into Luciano Acosta’s #10 role, instead made his one preseason appearance as a wide forward in a 433. If Olsen wants to run that formation in the regular season, that wide forward makes a lot of sense for him, especially since the most attacking central midfield role is deeper than in a 4231.
Which brings us back to Gressel and that central role. He also spent some time wide right, but he makes a lot of sense in the “deeper 10” of a 433, especially with the creativity that United can put out on the wings.
In those wide positions, another homegrown player, Griffin Yow, led the appearances and minutes counts on the right. In another surprise, Emmanuel Boateng got the most minutes on the left, while Ulises Segura started the most. It was Segura starting with the first team in the final preseason game against Philadelphia on Saturday, though, and with Paul Arriola out, the Costa Rican seems likely to get the nod if Yamil Asad isn’t ready to start by Saturday.
Up top, it’s a two-man show: namely the two forwards on the roster. (I guess technically there’s only one officially on the roster at the moment, but everyone seems to expect that to be rectified by Saturday.) Estonian newcomer Erik Sorga led the way, with presumptive starter Ola Kamara getting more time at the end of preseason.
Ben Olsen has a couple formation options that the team worked on in preseason, and the personnel to run either of them almost interchangeably. He could swap Gressel and Flores and rotate the midfield a bit to switch on the fly between the 433 we saw last weekend and the 4231 we’re more accustomed to.
We’ll find out what his true preference is on Saturday afternoon when — FINALLY!! — this long offseason will come to its merciful end and the 2020 season kicks off.