We aren’t DC United followers around these parts (anymore!). To get the scoop on the Buzzard Point Boys, I caught up with Adam Taylor, who covers them for the Filibusteru Podcast and Black and Red United.
For Club and Country: DC has been injury-ravaged this year. Has that been perhaps the biggest factor in what has been a disappointing season so far?
Adam Taylor: “There has been a combination of factors–replacing Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta, integrating new attacking talent, this damn pandemic–but injuries are probably at the top of the list. Very few teams in MLS are going to be competitive with their entire complement of designated players on the shelf, and D.C. United without Paul Arriola or Edison Flores, unfortunately, are no exception. It certainly doesn’t help that the Black-and-Red are carrying a short roster even without injuries, but it’s especially rough when you’re two knocks away from having an Injured XI that would otherwise beat your Healthy XI.
FCAC: On a similar note, with the likes of Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, and Felipe Martins (among others) limited or out due to injury, who have been some of the unexpected contributors?
AT: This may be the silver lining to what has otherwise been a hell of a storm cloud over Audi Field. Two 17-year-old homegrowns have broken out for Ben Olsen’s side since the #MLSIsBack Tournament in Orlando: utility-man Kevin Paredes and attacker Griffin Yow. Both of them bring puppy dog levels of energy to every phase of the game and attack with the kind of purpose that it seems many of United’s other pieces have lost. Yow got his first MLS goal just this past weekend, scoring a weaker-foot volley for a late equalizer against Toronto FC.
Paredes has lined up everywhere from wing to #10 but has spent the most time at left wingback when United were playing a three-back system. There was some concern about his knee and hamstring before the last game, so he might be a late sub on Wednesday. Yow has had less playing time than Paredes but when he’s been out there he’s more of an attacker. Besides scoring, he also set up what was almost the game winner against Toronto and did some work on the endline to beat two defenders and set up another chance, as well.
With alternating injuries center backs Frederic Brillant and Steven Birnbaum, Donovan Pines, another homegrown who came out of the University of Maryland, has also featured since the return to play. His emergency defending has been great as he puts his crazy-long legs to really good use on tackles and blocks, but he’s prone to one or two bad mistakes per game, and they’ve been punished. Pines has a bright future, but has to get through this rough spell and learn those hard lessons.
FCAC: Ben Olsen’s style of play has certain… reputations. Is this the expected defense-first, limited offense squad we’ve come to expect from his teams? Or does some of the lack of output go back to less talent than expected/planned?
AT: I honestly think that Ben Olsen wants to play fun, attacking soccer. He’s said basically those exact words to me. But he also hates losing more than anyone I’ve ever met, and so when the chips are down–when he’s down some attacking players, when the defense isn’t holding its own–he has this tendency to go very pragmatic. Maybe the worst instance of this was early in this spell of injuries when United bunkered against the Red Bulls and came out with a win, followed by the history-making draw against NYCFC, in which D.C. became just the second team ever not to register a shot in a game (and the first not to lose by six goals!).
Thankfully in the last couple games, after complaints from fans and players alike, Olsen has gone away from that, out-possessing the Red Bulls in an unlucky 2-0 loss before going toe-to-toe with Toronto FC this past weekend. I expect United to do more to try to put Nashville’s goal under pressure than maybe you’d expect from reputation. Though whether they’ll be able to break down a set defense or will have to rely on counterattacks for real chances is another question.
FCAC: Meanwhile, the goals-against numbers don’t seem to indicate a team that’s strong defensively. What signs are there that the Black and Red can make strides and lock things down to close out the year?
AT: Hey, injuries don’t just hit attackers. As I mentioned, both of United’s starting center backs have missed time, with Birnbaum still listed as day-to-day. Add to that the injury churn in central midfield and the lack of any threat from the attack to keep the other team honest… well, it’s not a pretty picture.
I should note that the defending woes aren’t entirely due to injury. Outside of the two games when they completely parked the bus, this team has been making mistakes on set pieces and when dealing with any kind of real attacking numbers in the box. Marks get missed and goalscorers are left open. If it were happening last year, I’d call them uncharacteristic, but they seem to be who this team is in 2020: if you can overload the box, you can get a goal or two (or three).
FCAC: Finally, any specific predictions for the game (including a final score if you’re comfortable guessing at one)?
AT: I expect something like a 1-1 draw. Both teams should have strong spells with the ball, and I think United’s attack will find a goal one way or another, but the defense will let in another head-scratcher. Maybe somebody nabs a second one way or the other, but a draw seems the likeliest result.
Many thanks to Adam for his time. Follow him and the Filibuster Pod on social media for you DCU needs.