Union know despite MLS record, United is no minor speed bump in club's playoff quest
D.C. United manager Ben Olsen has some unique decisions to make ahead of Saturday night's game against the Philadelphia Union.
Will he play the same first team squad that pulled off a shock victory at Real Salt Lake in last week's U.S. Open Cup final?
Or will he continue to give valuable to time to the younger players acquired midway through a forgettable league campaign?
United has rolled out what you might call a "second string" team in its most recent MLS matches. They are eliminated from the playoffs but capable of hindering Philadelphia's postseason chances – if they embrace the "spoiler" role.
"I know Ben, and Ben is a competitor," said Union manager John Hackworth, who coached alongside Olsen in the 2012 All-Star Game. "That's evident in the way he played the game and the way he coaches the game. There's no question in my mind that he's going to have his guys ready to play. I know that they'll try to win the game."
You saw familiar faces like Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius, Chris Korb, and Dejan Jakovic in the D.C. lineup that earned the 1-0 shutout at Rio Tinto Stadium.
A week later, those four players were left out of the starting XI in a 3-0 league play loss to Chicago.
Olsen opted instead to give time to a number of Summer signings like Luis Silva, Conor Doyle, Jared Jeffrey, and Collin Martin. Winger Sainey Nyassi played right fullback and holding midfielder Perry Kitchen was used in an experimental center back role.
"They'll put a team on the field that they think can win the game, and mixed in there, there might be some changes, and some young players, similar to what we did last year," Hackworth said. "They're truly in a growth phase right now. They have to figure out, going forward into next year who makes sense for them. That tells me as a coach that it's going to be a competitive game, one that we should not take lightly at all."
"I expect it to be probably one of their stronger teams," former D.C. man Brian Carroll said. "They go out and win the Open Cup. Then they throw in sort of a mixed team and bring in some of their studs more towards the end of the game against Chicago."
The 3-0 scoreline of the Chicago game is actually very misleading.
United's young squad had 68 percent of the possession on the evening and actually outshot the Fire by a 19-13 margin.
"You look at the tape of them playing Chicago last weekend and without (Chicago goalkeeper) Sean Johnson making some amazing saves in the first twenty minutes of that game, D.C. could have been up three to nothing," said Hackworth. "They still out-possessed them and out-played them and got more goal scoring opportunities. Right now it's a bit deceptive that they haven't gotten better results in the league."
What are your thoughts on what D.C. United could pose as a threat the Union's playoff aspirations? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org