Last night's match put Columbus Crew at the top of the Eastern Conference and DC United at the bottom (Well Toronto is officially, but they have a game in hand over DC). With just 1 win in four matches, United are off to a poor start and it is actually worse than the conference table implies.
Last nights match against Columbus has demonstrated a number of glaring weaknesses, but some possibilities as well.
First, Emilio needs to ride the pine for a little while and earn his place back in the starting line-up. I know that maybe hard to do when he was a 20 goal scorer last year. But his performance in the league matches has been less than attractive and I expect more from him. I am thankful that the Front Office decided not to renegotiate his contract for more money. Just about everytime he got the ball with his back to goal last night he was unable to turn it to United's advantage. He was dispossessed with alarming regularity and/or gave the ball away. I don't know if it is a situation where he is just not strong enough to deal with the physicality of MLS central defenders or his form is just off, but until he can prove he has it back, it is time to ride the pine.
Second, the midfield is a shambles of players lacking cohesion. Individually, the players are doing well, in particular Gallardo and the ever steady Clyde Simms. But as a group, they don't seem to be communicating or if they are, they aren't getting together mentally. Gallardo is new to the league, but he has brilliant vision, but the problem is that his vision is about 3 second ahead of action by the rest of his team. Which leads me to
Third, the pacing of the game last night was horrid. It is evident that Gallardo is used to working much faster than the rest of the squad and it shows. I don't think the lack of pace is a fitness issue, but rather it appears to be simply more evident that United are just not working as fast as they can or should. For example, switching the field of play from one side to the other is just simply too slow to penetrate a compact team, which is what Columbus was presenting last night. Without crisp and quick ball movement, you can't spread a defense out. Of course, even if United were able to move the ball around quicker, they didn't seem all that capable of exploiting any resulting gaps.
Fourth, I have to say that our goalkeeping is a real problem this year. Carvallo seems lost and Zach Wells isn't getting it done. I know it is not fair to Carvallo or Wells to be compared to Nick Rimando or Troy Perkins, but such comparisons are hard to avoid. Rimando dominates the box with his presence and it is part of the reason why Real Salt Lake are much improved this season. Perkins on the other hand is not as dominating physically, but his positioning was far superior, he seemed to know exactly when to stay on his line and when to leave it. Wells on the other hand does not apparently have the respect and trust of his central defenders (the Gonzalos) and doesn't have the smarts with regard to his positioning. I would hope that he can improve that in the next couple of weeks, but unless his performance gets better, it is time for Soehn and Kevin Payne to go shopping for a keeper--even a loan from Europe would help.
Fifth, I understand why Soehn might want to get Dyachenko back onto the field in order to demonstrate that one bad performance is not an end to the season, but Dyachenko looked lost last night. He probably needed to sit for another game or two.
But there are possibilities. As I mentioned, Garllardo is turning out to be a wonderful acquisition. I had my doubts about him initially and some of those doubts have been expressed. But I like the fact that he hasn't really slowed down his thinking and match pace. He can hold the ball, make smart plays with the ball and off the ball. As long as he is the dominant force on the team and makes the rest of United catch up with him, I think United will get on another one of the mid-season tears, string together another long series of results and challenge again for the Supporter's Shield and the playoffs. On the other hand, if he "slows down" to the current DC United level, we could in for a long season.
Gonzalo Martinez impressed me a great deal last night, more so than in previous matches. I liked it at the end of the match with him pressing forward. I think he is much more comfortable on the ball, although I wish he would have unleashed a few shots from 25 yards out or so since I think Wil Hesmer was dozing a little.
While I think Ben Olsen is a briliant player and I can't wait for him to return to form, I think it is likewise silly to believe that he is the answer to the United's woes. Will be provide some leadership--absolutely. Can he add some skill--no doubt. But the longer he is out, the more likely it is that he will not mesh will into the line-up as the current mix of starters and first tier subs get playing time together.
What I would like to see is for Soehn to start looking at a system that capitalizes on Gallardo's vision and movement. A midfield that moves and shuffles around. I think Gallardo, Fred, Quaranta, Simms, McTavish and later Olsen need to be mindful of what can happen when you shake things up in the midfield. Columbus was more vulnerable when Gallardo was out on the wings moving into the center than vice versa, if Soehn can exploit that with a system that features such movement regularly, United can start getting more done.
Earlier in the week I talked about the discussions regarding Soehn and his job security. I think he made the right responses in terms of his work in reaction to Real Salt Lake, but he was let down by his players. He still needs to work with them to get them to mesh, but the only fault I can find is playing Dyachenko last night.