The last time DC United won three games in a row Ben Olsen was still playing, Tom Soehn was the coach and nobody on this current team was on the roster. It was June of 2008 and most of that roster is either retired, out of the league or more apropos, shouldn’t have been in the league in the first place.
United actually won four in a row, sweeping the month of June, conceding just a goal in each of those contests while popping in 13 of their own along the way. Olsen made his one and only appearance of the season, replacing Jaime Moreno in the 75th minute of a 4-1 thumping of the Los Angeles Galaxy in a game that started in the morning hours to accommodate the television audience for a US Men’s National Team fixture later that afternoon.
The starting XI for that match included: Zach Wells, Bryan Namoff, Gonzalo Peralta, Devon McTavish, Gonzalo Martinez, Santino Quaranta, Designated Player Marcelo Gallardo, Clyde Simms, Fred, Luciano Emilio and Moreno.
Oh dear! These were mostly good players individually but had no cohesion, and no chance or willingness to get it, and serious language barriers across the board.
That win left United 7-7-1 and what can only be considered a precursor of things to come, they won only four more games that season and a total of 35 in nearly four seasons’ worth of games since. United dropped 10 of their final 14 matches in all competitions in 2008 with just one win in that stretch.
With that context, and that United still has the most MLS Cup titles in the league’s history, now it’s clear why winning Saturday’s match at home against New England has some extra importance and there will be no complacency.
“I would hope not,” said Olsen about his team possibly being complacent after winning three of their last four and heading into a two week break after Saturday’s match. “We are in no position to be complacent; we haven’t made the playoffs in a few years.”
A win Saturday would vault United (7-4-3, 24 points) into first place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the New York Red Bulls.
“Yes it does mean something to me because I am part of this organization and part of this team now,” said Dwayne De Rosario, who has won four MLS Cup titles as well, two each with San Jose and Houston. “We always want to improve and we don’t want it to weigh over our heads as a negative thing. We want to continue to stay positive and continue to stay focused and not settle for just three wins in a row but keep going and try to progress further than that.”
United is playing significantly better than in previous years at this time and the results bear that out. They have been much tighter and responsible in the back, more compact defensively across the field and have been scoring goals fairly consistently.
“We are doing ok,” Olsen added, somewhat downplaying the results. In my mind we are doing what DC United should do and that’s start winning games and putting teams on their heels and entertaining the fans. This has to continue. We have to stay focused. It’s been a good first part of the season and I’d like to end it, this tough two month stretch with three wins at home. We have preached it-nine points in these last three games.”
Olsen has downplayed and understated his role during this nice run and he does have legitimate depth but more importantly, has pushed the right buttons and found the best combinations to give his team a chance to win every game.
“Look I am not doing anything that spectacular. We are putting good players out on the field and they are doing a good job wherever I put them,” said Olsen.
The depth on this team is more versatile with a higher soccer IQ than any of the teams in recent years highlighted by the fact that both of United’s Designated Players were on the bench and could not crack the lineup for various reasons. Olsen can, in many ways, use an American football approach with “personnel groupings” to fit the situation, opponent, in-game conditions or style of play he needs at any given moment.
“Every game is different. We evaluate the opponent and see which guys are going to work and which venues aren’t going to work for some guys,” said Olsen.
But in the end, De Rosario is the focal point, who can play any system, any way he wants it played. If he needs composure and savvy he can turn to Branko Boskovic and Lewis Neal in the wide positions. If he wants a more direct approach Danny Cruz and Nick Deleon can fill that role with ease.
Andy Najar, a flank attacking player by trade, has shown he can play right back. Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard have shown they can play inside or out and Perry Kitchen can move around the back as well, though he is definitively best suited for the holding midfield role.
Up front, the options and style of play also interplay well with Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos proving to be a nice combination of skilled forwards while Hamdi Salihi is a pure poacher, who has recently been finding his form.
“I think we have a very versatile bench of guys that can play numerous positions and play a lot of roles,” De Rosario said. “That is very important to have especially as you saw the last couple of months with guys being injured and guys having to play foreign positions and they have adapted really well and most importantly it shows the mentality and the desire of players to do whatever it takes for the good and betterment of the team to be successful.”
Injuries however, have forced Olsen to use several of his players either more often or earlier than he had originally planned on including.
“I think it’s been a blessing, I hate to say that, but it’s been a blessing that we’ve had some minor injuries throughout this stretch and guys have had to come in and do their part and for the most part they have done very well,” said Olsen. “Now going through this middle part of the season we continue to find that rhythm and continue to trust that depth and continue with wins.”
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