D.C. United's preseason preparations continued today with a 0-0 draw against Swedish club Jönköpings Södra IF on the training fields of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. United's big offseason signing Markus Halsti made his first appearance for the club, while Chris Rolfe and Nick DeLeon made their 2015 preseason debuts as well. While neither team could manage a goal, United rookie midfielder Dan Metzger was given his second yellow card in the 72nd minute. Preseason friendlies sometimes see teams continue playing with a full team after a red card, but United finished the game with ten men instead.
Ben Olsen opted to start this game with arguably the strongest lineup available to him once injuries and international call-ups are considered. Fabian Espindola and Chris Pontius started up front in the familiar 442, with the midfield filled out by Nick DeLeon, Markus Halsti, Davy Arnaud, and Chris Rolfe. In the back, United went with (from right to left) Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Opare, and Taylor Kemp. Trialist Diego Restrepo got his second preseason start in goal.
As this game was not available via video or audio, I think the best way to recap it is through the tweets of the two teams involved. It'll feel like you were there (and by "there" I of course mean "staring at a screen reading tweets"):
Matchen mot ett av Nordamerikas bästa lag har börjat. Matchen kan ni följa på @dcunited— Jönköpings Södra IF (@JSodra) February 3, 2015
Per Google Translate: "The match against one of North America's top teams have begun. The match you can follow thedcunited" That's a nice thing to say, which is appropriate since this is a friendly.
10 mins gone. Jönköpings with 2 corners, but #DCU finding its rhythm with the majority of possession so far.— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
This sounds like a positive. It took United until around the 10th minute against Orlando to start to control the game, so moving that up to the opening moments would be nice. Against Alajuelense, this could be crucial. They tend to like to control the pace of play whether or not they have most of the possession. Forcing them out of their comfort zone might be important.
23': Rolfe takes it on his own and forces the keeper into a save. #DCU's first corner is played short and ultimately cleared.— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
I know some of us demonize the short corner. I used to be in your ranks (mostly because I took corner kicks for both club and high school, and I was good at a standard delivery, so it was in my best interest). However, it helps to have options, and on a team with Espindola, Rolfe, and DeLeon there are legit reasons to draw players out of the box, attack on the dribble or via quick combinations, and then go to goal. It can cause a lot of chaos. Don't be afraid to try something new. It's how I got over being raised in a very picky household food-wise.
34' Fabi brought down from behind, and a yellow card is issued. Fabi over the ball for #DCU about 25 yards out.— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
34' Fabi finds Pontius' head, but he flicks it on wide of goal. #DCU.— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
Here's an underrated aspect of Party Boy's return to health: He's good in the air. United's normal starting eleven already features Boswell, Kitchen, Steve Birnbaum, and (sometimes) Eddie Johnson. Adding another real aerial threat will help, especially if Kemp continues to deliver crosses like he did against OCSC or if Espindola's free kick delivery finds targets like this one did.
37': SUB- Aguilar and Driver on for DeLeon and Rolfe, respectively. #DCU— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
This has all the trappings of a planned substitution. With Rolfe coming off of a procedure to remove some of the metal and plastic that kept his arm in place after he broke it last year, it makes perfect sense to be disciplined with his playing time and slowly ramp him up towards being able to start. Plus, Andrew Driver deserves a chance to state his case for a spot on the roster (even if left midfield is a logjam). Aguilar is, by all accounts, DeLeon's understudy on the right.
39': Arnaud shown a yellow for fouling from behind, trying to slow down a counter attack. #DCU— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
Arnaud is a true professional, and part of being a professional central midfielder is committing professional fouls. This is what I tell myself when I do the same in amateur league games. "Just like a pro, Jason, good job!"
So the good news is that there was no mention of Restrepo having to do anything. Actually, that extends to any defensive player. So that's a plus. On the other hand, this was apparently a quite uneventful first half in which one solo attack by Rolfe and one header off a free kick from Pontius make up the full list of times the goal was threatened. Hardly thrilling stuff, especially since United had that 10-15 minute spell against Orlando in which they looked fluid and dangerous. Maybe J-Sodra is more organized? Who knows? One thing I do know is that Restrepo is probably quite happy to finish his 45 minutes without another bad goal getting past him.
Let's check in on what our opposition thinks:
Träningsmatch: DC United (USA) - J-Södra: Halvtid: 0-0.— Jönköpings Södra IF (@JSodra) February 3, 2015
I don't think I need to translate that for you.
#DCU's second half lineup: Worra, McKenzie, St. Ledger, Guest Player, Korb; Aguilar, Martin, Metzger, Driver; Estrada, Arrieta— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
If the game against Orlando was an indicator, this means a 4132 rather than a flat 442. United took up a diamond look with Metzger (defensive) and Collin Martin (attacking) in central midfield. Elsewhere, trialist Rauwshan McKenzie is at right back again, which is odd given his history as pretty much exclusively playing centrally in MLS. Sean St. Ledger and a mystery man are in central defense with Chris Korbon the left. In goal, new trialist GK Travis Worra takes over from Restrepo.
I mean, I don't know what else to add here to give this some context. It sounds like this may have been the most compelling portion of the game, but I could also just be a bit desperate here.
72': Metzger is off with his second yellow. #DCU down to ten men. Olsen calls over Jeffrey.— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
Not a great way to ensure himself more time in the future. Metzger always had some bite to his game at Maryland, but he was also adept at staying out of the referee's notebook. It's obviously pure speculation on my part, but this could be a speed-of-play issue for Metzger. Defensive midfield is a tough position in terms of being able to think ahead of others. Whether it's that or simply a temper issue, it's an issue that will require fixing.
Looks a little like he wants some water instead. Nice evening, at least. I wish we were in light jacket weather instead of this below-freezing garbage weather currently depressing the DMV.
75': Jeffrey on for Driver, Estrada drops to left mid, Arrieta up top on his own. #DCU— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
I'd like to see whether this means Jeffrey is playing deep in what would be a 4131, or if he and Martin are alongside each other. Jeffrey is far more suited to playing a deeper role, where he can use his passing range without being pressured as often.
77': Doyle on for Aguilar. #DCU— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
Doyle gets some flack from United fans for not being a particularly goal-dangerous forward, but there is some use to having him on the team as a late-game, "let's not concede a goal" sub. It's not even a little sexy, but we'd be naive to underestimate the value of such a player.
That said, I wonder if Doyle will make the team or not. Estrada is also a very hard-working striker/wide midfielder combo, and he probably offers a little more going to goal. Driver is still in camp, and would be a starting-quality left midfielder for a lot of MLS teams. The depth at striker has increased with Arrieta's arrival. This is an important preseason for Doyle.
There's the whistle. #DCU 0 - Jönköpings 0.— D.C. United (@dcunited) February 3, 2015
United survives playing 11v10 for the final 18 minutes. That might not seem vital, but I can see Olsen's mindset in playing on without keeping things even. In the CONCACAF Champions League, MLS teams have a long history of getting red cards. Obviously Plan A in the CCL will be "don't get red cards," but getting some work in while playing down a man could end up being of some value in the near future.
Or maybe the other coach was just a jerk about the whole thing. We'll never know.
United's next preseason match will be the Markus Halsti Derby, as Malmo FF - the Swedish club that United has faced several times in the past - is the opponent. This should be a significant step up, as Malmo were in the UEFA Champions League's group stage this past season. That match will be Friday, February 6th, and we'll have as much coverage as we can manage. There's currently no stream listed, though, so you might be in for another post like this.