Next year this will likely be a bigger issue as I suspect Andy Najar might be sold. DC holds 2 option years I believe, but he's too good for this league now that he's healthy again. We'll hopefully sign positional cover if this happens, but maybe something already exists for his absences this year. I'll explain later.
The most common tactics this year when Najar isn't available are generally to swing Pines to the right side and use him and Alfaro on the left to occasionally push the ball through the opposition first defensive line on the dribble (as opposed to just Najar doing this) and then distribute. This where Najar differs, he joins the attack and stays engaged and combining with his attacking creativity. Pines and Alfaro are decent at distribution when they are confident on the ball (not pressured immediately). Second difference, Pines pushes up on goal kicks to be isolated for winning them with mixed results.
Losing Najar as a starter adds defensive pressure to the attack when DC United is in possession, though not in transition which is why DC still looks threatening at times outside of free kicks. By roaming forword, he gives Arriola/Flores and Gressel time in the attack as he alone pulls 1 to 3 defenders out of their system and defensive structure. Najar is the most dangerous player on the field to opposing defenders because of his consistent 1:1 ability. Space is opened for the right and possibly the left side, just by adding him to the lineup.
So, what other options are available when Najar is not.
The most obvious would be if Hines-Ike were available, he would be a solid option and probably could be used next year if he returns on loan healthy or get's purchased outright. He's exhibited more consistent skill moving into the attack when available and arguably a better defensive player than anyone on the back line.
My, likely controversial, suggestion is to have Russell Canouse play RCB when Najar is unavailable and doing something similar to what Berhalter tried early in his national team days with Nick Lima as an inverted fullback. This would offer cover defensively, but also Canouse's ability to combine in tight spaces is severely underrated as shown in metrics and in game-state typically.
DCU would lose some flash going forward, but oddly Najar's %conversion on dribbles according to FBref this year (though far fewer) is on par with Canouse and their passing is similar as well with Canouse being better at long range passing. Continued dribbles (one after another) is a big difference though, and one that Canouse cannot match. I'd also argue that leaving Pines as LCB allows his best attributes to shine and he stays positionally consistent for someone relatively new to the league.
There is something lost centrally moving forward as well when removing Canouse at DM. This would fall to one of 3 players, each with a different profile. Nyeman, passing potential with technical ability to get out of danger. Felipe, decent all around but looks long before playing line breaking passes or combining. Skundrich, effort, knows how to make others shine, and more effort.
All that being said, if used, this should be a tactic reserved for turf games and when Najar needs the rest. No one wants Canouse out of central midfield, and he potentially adds to the defensive stability of the team as well when starting at CM. But with limited wins without starting Najar, having another option could be beneficial to break down opposition.
One question for next year. If we retain these tactics, can Ku-DiPietro defend well as an attacking RCB?