Can D.C. United get a win with a change in goal?
Talk to D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen and the passion is as strong as ever. Olsen knows disappointment and he knows how to persevere. As a player Olsen recovered from a career-threatening ankle injury to represent the United States at the 2006 World Cup and complete a twelve-season career with United.
Olsen suffered his serious ankle injury while on loan with Nottingham Forest in 2001. After missing all of the 2001 MLS season, Olsen returned to the field and proved doubters wrong including a seven-goal season in 2007. Now it is Olsen as the coach that has to stay the course and prove the doubters wrong with another road challenge Sunday against Colorado.
“It’s tough to say, but I was pleased with most of the way we played -- the way we built up our attack,” Olsen said after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Seattle. “But again, the final stuff just isn’t there. The quality just isn’t there. It’s a very frustrating thing because we’re getting the right numbers there; we’re getting in the right situations to get good service”
There is evidence to back up Olsen’s contention. Against Seattle, United had the statistical advantage in several offensive categories. United had more attempts on goal with nine to the Sounders eight. Shots on target were also in United’s favor 4-3 and the Black and Red had 17 open play crosses to the Sounders 12.
In the 21st minute Lionard Pajoy scored, but it was called back for offside. United was whistled for offside seven times against the Sounders. Pajoy was guilty of offside most often. Is it the timing of Pajoy’s run or the pass or cross? Whatever the reason the inability to connect in attack has been a season long problem for United.
The work rate is there, but United has not scored in the run of play in 655 minutes. It is a quest for quality. To add to United’s challenge in Colorado help is not on the way. Dwayne De Rosario and Nick De Leon will not return from injuries to play against the Rapids. On the plus side John Thorington was able to rest Wednesday and should be ready to play Sunday.
Thorington will be needed in either a starting or substitute’s role in the center of the midfield with Marcelo Saragosa sidelined once again with an injury. Saragosa has been out since May with a knee injury and joined the team on this road trip, but will not be a part of the eighteen on Sunday.
For many United supporters it is hard to wrap their heads around United’s rapid decline. The good fortune, defined as good health, that was part of last year’s strong start has been missing this season. Attack-minded players brought in like Marcos Sanchez and Rafael have not worked out and now it is up to the existing corps to sort things out.
“Last year we were getting players in the box and making real runs,” said United forward Chris Pontius. “We were fit boys who were hard to handle and we just haven't been that this year."
Things can change. Colorado appeared to be in a free fall with a recent three-game losing streak that started with a bitter 2-1 home loss to San Jose. Now the Rapids are on the rise again with two straight wins including a wild 4-3 road victory against Montreal and then a decisive 2-0 result on Thursday at home against New York.
The six goals in the last two games for the Rapids have come from five different players. The Rapids impressive rookie class has been in the scoring mix. Forward Deshorn Brown, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 SuperDraft, scored two of the goals and midfielder Dillon Powers, drafted 11th overall, also found the net.
“The young boys are maturing,” said Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja. “We expect progression from them. Sometimes you have to deal with not having the best performance, but these young boys are getting some maturity. Being more consistent in the middle, we're getting more control of the game.”
In short it is not getting any easier for United. Colorado is on form and has belief again. Playing at home the Rapids will be aggressive. United will have to change the script and avoid getting behind and then maybe be in a position to offer a surprise on the counter.