When the midway point of the Major League Soccer season was reached with D.C. United in first placed in the Eastern Conference, head coach Ben Olsen was quick to point out that goals were not achieved and that the teams work was far from over.
The workload seems even greater now. Sporting Kansas City is back in first place. The New York Red Bulls managed to survive the heat, and a mid-week match against Chicago, to take all three points and leap over D.C. into second place. Uniteds opponent on Saturday, the Columbus Crew, is in eighth place and should be highly motivated playing at home.
Last week at Crew Stadium, the Crew was blanked by Kansas City 2-0. Forward Emilio Renteria received a red car for a head butt of Paulo Nagamura and will miss the United match. The two argued after Renteria was fouled by Nagamura. Renteria only has two goals on the season, but the Crews leading scorer Eddie Gaven only has 4 goals.
The Crew in 20 matches has managed only 17 goals. Only Chivas USA, with 12 goals on the season, has found the back of the newt fewer times. Injuries have been a problem for the Crew, who lost midfielder Bernardo Anor to a torn ACL, and now the team has 11 players on its injured list.
A wounded team can be a dangerous team, but still the Crew has failed to show real bite in its attack and has been shutout six times. To stay at least within shouting distance of the playoff race the Crew has relied heavily on the goalkeeping of Andy Gruenebaum and the organizational skills of defender Chad Marshall. The Crew has only allowed 19 goals.
United has been playing with less swagger of. As they reached the seasons 17-pgame mark there were troubling signs. The Black and Red managed to hold on to a 3-2 win over New England at home. That was followed by a less than convincing 1-0 road win in Philadelphia and then a collapse in 3-2 loss away to the New York Red Bulls.
Last week United showed plenty of promise in the opening 15 minutes in Houston. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid received a red card in the 16th minute and United was reduced to ten-men. Sometimes down a man teams will play inspired and punch above their weight to get a result. It was not that way for United against the Dynamo.
I thought we could have been meaner, I thought we could have been angrier, Olsen said.
I thought our shape could have been better and you keep the game 1-0 as long as you can. We got a little stretched, and we got impatient.
The first 15 minutes, it was going back and forth, added midfielder Danny Cruz. We had a couple great chances and they had a couple great chances and then the red card changes the entire dynamic of the game. Hats off to them, scoring four goals is not easy to do whether you are up a man or not. We just have to learn from it."
Olsen and United now have to figure out the response to the 4-0 loss to the Dynamo. On the team sheet there will be changes with defender Robbie Russell out with a foot injury and midfielder Branko Boskovic nursing a calf strain. As he did against the Dynamo, Chris Korb likely will replace Russell, but Boskovics replacement is open for debate.
In the last two months Boskovic has played his best soccer with United. Putting Boskovic in an attacking midfield role and then pushing Dwayne De Rosario closer to goal seemed to be the teams way forward. The question now has to be whether De Rosario drops back in the midfield or will Olsen try someone else there and keep De Rosario as a withdrawn striker.
If De Rosario is back in midfield then it likely would mean Chris Pontius would return to forward. That shuffle would then open an opportunity for Nick De Leon to return to the starting lineup and play on the left flank. De Leon is due to get a a chance again to show the spark that made him look like the steal of the MLS draft in the opening two months of the season.