Going into Sundays match at R.F.K Stadium against the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United has confidence from an unbeaten string of five consecutive matches. There is also concern and a desire for more with the Black and Reds run including three draws punctuated by a 1-1 tie on Wednesday at home against expansion Montreal.
We just didnt have that pep, that anger we needed, United head coach Ben Olsen said after the Montreal game. Now, the second half was great, but it takes me to get them riled up at halftime to get that kind of response."
With a heavy schedule that started with last Saturdays 2-1 road win against the New England Revolution, Olsen decided to make changes on Wednesday against the Impact. Most notably forward Maicon Santos was dropped from the starting lineup. Dwayne De Rosario moved from midfield to forward to form a partnership up top with Chins Pontius.
Pontius earned a return to the first eleven after scoring the game winning goal against New England. A switch for designated player Hamdi Salihi, who has been struggling and yet to score, at forward was not a surprise, but Santos was missed at the beginning of the game. Santos played the final 30 minutes and still managed to fire off eight shots, only one less than the rest of United combined.
Were trying to get him to face goal more right now; we know he hits a stinger, Olsen said of Santos. He was great when he came on. I didnt think he could go another 90 minutes, we were really grinding him out. Hes worked as hard as he has defensively, I think, in his entire career. Its really helped him get fitter, and hes been very good for us."
Managing minutes is always a challenge for head coach during a busy period, but it is likely Santos will be back in the starting lineup against the Red Bulls. Also on Sunday it will be interesting to see if De Rosario moves back to midfield. With De Rosario at forward Wednesday, Branko Boskovic was able to get back into the side as the attacking midfielder.
There were some really good minutes from Branko, said Olsen. You can tell that technically hes really sound. He knows how to play that position. I think he got a little leggy there; that was his first real long span of minutes.
Andy Najar was also back in Uniteds starting lineup on Wednesday when he started ahead of Danny Cruz on the right flank. It was Najars first start and minutes for United since the second game of the season. Rusty at the beginning, Najar, like the whole United team, had a better second half.
With rookie Nick De Leons play forcing his selection as the starting left-sided midfielder, Pontius now seems to be more in the mix at the forward position Olsen was impressed with Pontius work rate and is hopeful that will lead to more looks at the goal.
Defender Emiliano Dudar trained again on Friday and appears ready for possible selection Sunday against the Red Bulls. Dudar has missed the last two matches with a hamstring strain and his return would allow Robbie Russell to switch to his more comfortable right back position. Dejan Jakovic remains sidelined with a sprained ankle.
Uniteds defense will need to be ready for an attack-minded New York Red Bulls side. With 16 goals the Red Bulls have scored more goals than any other team in Major League Soccer. Forwards Thierry Henry and Kenny Copper have each scored 7 goals. Out wide Mehdi Ballouchy and Dane Richards expand the Red Bulls attack from their midfield positions,
The Red Bulls will be playing without defensive midfielder Rafa Marquez, who has been suspended for three games. The Mexican international was hit with the penalty by the MLS disciplinary committee for his tackle on San Joses Shea Salinas.
It happened in the 42ndminute of last weeks 2-2 draw with the Earthquakes. Marquez tackled Salinas from behind and kicked him resulting in broken left clavicle that will force Salinas to be out six to eight weeks.
Marquezs absence might slow the Red Bulls attack. Marquez ability to distribute the ball is a study in precision. Even with Marquez patrolling the defensive midfield, the Red Bulls have been struggling on defense and have conceded ten goals in six matches. Central defender Tim Ream is now playing in England and Markus Holgersson and Stephen Keel are still searching for chemistry in the middle of the back line.