The injury that forces Luis Silva to leave late in the first half on Saturday afternoon looked like one that was going to put him out for a bit of time. D.C. United fans are now getting more info on the topic, with Soccer Insider Steve Goff tweeting the rather unsurprising news: It's probably going to be a month.
The unlucky injury came during Silva's best performance of the season, one in which he connected on every pass attempt, repeatedly made himself available for his teammates, and started to forge more of a connection with forwards Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola. It was no accident that United's best half of the season involved Silva playing well; in the 4132, his play as an attacking midfielder is a good indicator of how United will be doing as a whole.
For United, it's the kind of luck we're all too used to these days. Here's how things are for the Black-and-Red: Silva is often considered to be lacking a bit defensively, yet injured himself while tracking back and making a tackle.
That leaves Ben Olsen with a big problem in next weekend's game: The only player with a similar game to Silva is Collin Martin, who is currently on loan with the Richmond Kickers. He's not just down there for fun, either: Martin had two assists for the Kickers in their 2-2 draw with the Charleston Battery, which was good enough to get him into the USL-PRO team of the week. If United wants to build on three weeks of incremental progress, Martin is the only plug-and-play option that lets us stay in the 4132 with the same roles all over the field.
Recalling Martin only truly makes sense if Olsen plans on giving the 19 year old the start. After all, the whole point of Martin's loan is to get him regular starts. Disrupting that requires a damn good reason, and it can be argued that United having no other players who are ideally suited for Silva's role is a damn good reason. However, if the idea is to go conservative and then send Martin in if the game is tied or Untied is losing...well, that's dumb on two fronts. For one, we'd probably need more aggressive moves than that. Secondly, giving a playmaker - a player that thrives on rhythm - 20 minutes or so to change a game already in progress is asking a lot (particularly when said playmaker can't buy beer yet).
Naturally, there are other options. Nick DeLeon has often been talked up as a potential candidate to move into a central role, and he was looking more active and more creative against the Fire than in previous outings. The downside to DeLeon, of course, is that he hasn't often looked like taking a game over, and in central midfield he'd have to be "the man." Even in his very best form of 2012, he was a complimentary player; to succeed in this role, he'd have to shoulder more of the load.
Against Chicago, Olsen's choice was to send in Davy Arnaud, but the 4132 often became much more of a flat 442 as a result. Arnaud had a decent performance, but United's attack lost its edge without Silva. It's worth noting that Arnaud completed only 18 of 29 attempted passes, and while he probably made some more aggressive passes United likely needed a bit more in terms of rhythm and reliability.
Sticking with what we saw against Chicago, we also got a good look at Jared Jeffrey playing ahead of Kitchen in the 4132. However, I'm ruling that out as an option after Jeffrey struggled badly throughout the game. While I don't rule using Jeffrey as a sort of forward destroyer out entirely, it's not really what United needs against the Revs.
There's also the fact that switching to a flatter 442 requires wingers we just don't have. LEWIS NEAL! doesn't have the sort of speed you'd want to see in that role, and neither does DeLeon (though he is looking far fitter this year). Kyle Porter would actually be better suited to take the field in that alignment, and I doubt there are many United fans that want him starting. The 442 is also not an ideal tactic against a Revolution side that will be playing three central midfielders in their 4141.
Of course, Arnaud in the middle isn't the only way to play a 442. Neal saw some starts there last season, playing as a tempo-setter. Granted, those games were good examples of when United was comfortable in possession but lacked the thrust to make anything out of it, but it's still a job we know Neal can do.
That said, the argument for playing two holding midfielders does have some merit. United's defense was the main problem against Chicago, and one way to protect them a bit more would be to play more conservatively through the midfield. It won't win any popularity contests among fans, but if I gave you the choice between a ground-out 1-0 win playing a double-pivot or playing a 4132 with no guarantees, you'd probably take the win at this point.
If Olsen really wanted to get conservative, he could opt for playing Jeffrey and Kitchen deep in an empty bucket, with DeLeon and Neal taking up what are probably their most natural positions. Of course, the downside to the empty bucket is a lack of width, and while Sean Franklin has been more than willing to provide that from the right, we haven't seen Christian get forward often enough (or with enough conviction) on the opposite flank. Playing an empty bucket would help neutralize the Revs, but it would probably make us easier to contain as well.
There are other ways that seem less likely. For example, United could try a 433 with Conor Doyle coming in as a wide forward, and a midfield featuring Kitchen underneath Arnaud (playing the "runner" role) and DeLeon (as the "passer") isn't a farce on paper. Obviously it takes time to radically change things like that, and Doyle wasn't good against Chicago, and Olsen probably doesn't want to play 433 anyway, but I couldn't help myself.
Anyway, let's let democracy decide: