Sunday, April 3, 2011

DC United Gets Butt Kicked by Colorado Rapids

The still-frozen field, cold, thin air, and great play by Colorado was too much for United to handle on Sunday night.

The environment was strange from the beginning. Snow was plowed off the field just a few hours before the start of the game. The ball bounced oddly, moved quickly and was very difficult to control. Coach Ben Olsen withdrew Charlie Davies from the lineup when he was injured before the game. Instead, Blake Brettschneider, the 19-year-old rookie, debuted in his first ever game with the first team with Chris Pontius (leaving both Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolff on the bench). Olsen surprisingly did not start Najar in this game, going with Branko Boscovic in midfield instead and adding Santino Quaranta in the extra midfield slot.

During the first half, DC played well despite giving up a goal. That first goal was hard fought-for by Rapids' Caleb Folan, as the Rapids capitalized on a long ball and brilliant footwork from Folan. For the first twenty-five minutes of the second half DC played fairly. They kept the ball more but the speed of play had slowed noticeably. Quaranta scored on an excellent cross from rightback Chris Korb in the 25th minute, but that excitement lasted less than a minute as Jamie Smith beat United's defense with a header; this was then followed up with two additional Colorado goals to which DC was unable to respond.

This match was destined to be a battle for DC. With most of the starting defense injured or otherwise away, DC's makeshift back line simply was not up to the task. Starting Woolard at centerback was a mistake; it should have been the more experienced Mark Burch. Morsink disappeared for much of the game and Pontius looked to be playing more on the left wing than as a striker at times. Pat Onstad played poorly today; in both of the last two goals he had a legitimate chance to stop the ball but did not react quickly enough (possibly because playing goalie in weather that cold probably slowed his ability to react quickly or he may simply have been encased in ice). The most concerning thing for this team right now, is that there is still a lack of creativity up front. Crosses into the box look haphazard, and too often players seem to try to score by running or shooting generally toward the goal.

What's going on? DC United are going through a tough week right now. They played Sunday, they play an Open Cup qualifier on Wednesday and they play on Saturday against LA Galaxy. DC's defense will improve as players return, and we may have just seen Pat Onstad's final game. But it could be that the selection of Brettschneider and Pontius up front, was intended to keep Ngwenya and Wolff relatively fresh for the next two games. DC has not won anything since the 2008 Open Cup and they will need to play-in to get a shot at this bit of silverware. Perhaps, starting different forwards today, will allow DC a better shot at winning this week's next two games. Besides, it is too early in the season to worry about the grey clouds.

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