DCU Struggles to Find Early Season Form

Walking out of Audi Field after Tuesday’s match v Montreal Impact, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of frustration. DC United fans had been subjected to their fifth consecutive half of scoreless football. And after a fast start to the still relatively young season, the higher than normal expectations for the 2019 season have come crashing down.

There were only two positives after Wednesday’s match vs the Canadian side, who fielded a younger squad and came without their two star players Ignacio Piatti and Maximiliano Urruti. DC United did keep a clean sheet, their fourth of the season. And three players got some much needed time on the pitch—Zoltan Stieber, Quincy Amarikwa, and Jalen Robinson, made a late game appearance.

But that’s where it ended.

After a 4-0 trashing at the hands of arguably the best side in the league, LAFC, there were many questions that were hanging around the DCU twittersphere.

At the top of the list was, who would fill in for Wayne Rooney after his red card for his late tackle on LAFC’s hattrick hero, Diego Rossi? Conventional wisdom would tell us that late preseason signing Quincy Amarikwa would settle in up top. Instead, DCU coach, Ben Olsen went with Ulises Segura, traditionally a midfielder, who had played at striker a handful of times for his previous teams.

DCU fans know that Segura doesn’t leave us wanting when it comes to work rate, especially when deployed in the midfield. But this decision by Olsen to not use the player, Amarikwa, he brought in for this very reason was ultimately a failure. Amarikwa did come on and provide a spark up top, but it wasn’t enough. With Rooney questionable (flu like symptoms), but traveling, for the road match against Colorado, Amarikwa could get his first start for DC United.

It wasn’t just Rooney’s positional play that was missing, though. In fact, I would argue his leadership is far more important. His mere presence on the field opens up so much more space for the rest of the attacking players as defenses tend to focus on the former Manchester United striker. And having him on the field coaching and encouraging goes a long way to helping players settle in to a game that could be a bit tougher than expected.

Filling in for Rooney, leadership wise, is always going to be a tough ask for any player. Those shoes are too big. But that no one really tried made the team feel rudderless in his absence. As I said above, it took until Amarikwa came on before the team looked anything like threatening. Even then, they couldn’t register a shot on target for the game.

Compounding the glaring issue of no coverage for when Rooney is out injured or suspended are the mounting injuries across the already thin backline. Joseph Mora (broken jaw) was injured in the Orlando game and Oneil Fisher (knee) is recovering from a knee injury suffered at the end of last season. Chris McCann, former Burnley captain, was brought on in the off-season to provide some cover at both center back and on the outside. After Mora’s injury against Orlando he stepped in and it was immediately clear he was not as pacy as Mora. LAFC’s game plan, in part, looked to exploit that issue and did with good effect. McCann got the start again on Wednesday, but pulled up lame with what looks like a hamstring injury that will keep him out for several days to a couple of weeks. Lucas Rodriguez came was subbed on for him, which forced Paul Arriola to deputize at left wing back.

Then towards the end of the match, Leonardo Jara injured his shoulder and after trying to play through the pain, he went to ground making it clear he couldn’t go on much longer. Jalen Robinson made his first, albeit a short one, appearance of the season. Reports suggest that Jara could be back sooner rather than later, but let’s assume in this short week, he won’t be available.

Without Mora, McCann, and Jara, Olsen is left with a handful of options. Robinson is one and he has played on the wing on occasion, but not often. Also on the bench are Akeem Ward and Donavan Pines both in their first season with DC United. Ward was selected in January’s MLS Super Draft, while Pines comes to DCU as a homegrown player after three seasons with the University of Maryland.

Pines is more of a Center Back and likely won’t figure into Olsen’s plans unless Frederic Brillant or Steve Birnbaum pick up a knock. Ward could fill in at either wing back position, though and may get a nod from Olsen on Saturday.

If I’m being honest, I suspect that on the road Olsen will want to go with players who have a bit more experience. Which may mean Arriola will be forced to drop in at either of the wing back positions, something he may not like as it could hurt his place with the US National Team. In the past, he has performed well-enough there and it may actually be a better fit for Olsen’s game plan. And that would leave either Ward or Robinson playing out on the other wing with Hungarian Zoltan Stieber getting his second start in the midfield in as many games.

Regardless of the lineup or tactics, Olsen and Company need to find a way out of the poor run of form. Colorado seems like the best opponent to help break that streak, as they’ve failed to win all season and have let in multiple goals in the last three games.

But look for the Rapids to drop in and play a low block, much like Montreal. While Rooney will travel, he may not be 100 percent. And DCU will possibly have to find some other ways to provide an offensive spark to unlock the Colorado’s defense.

My best guess: DC wins 2-0, both goals coming late. Rooney digs deep with Arriola providing an extra spark from the wing back position.

No Wayne, No Gain

It was the fall of 2002 and I was entering my third year of college. Unsurprisingly, at just 20 years old, I was far out of my depth. Just knowledgable about the subjects I was taking to mask my true ignorance about life. 

But on a grainy feed in my off-campus shit hole of a house I shared with several friends, I had the luxury of watching, most likely on replay and several days late, Wayne Rooney score his first Premier League goal against Arsenal. I knew then he was destined for greatness.

'What player, just a few games into his first full season in the Premier League, has the balls to hit a shot like that against a team that has a 30 game unbeaten streak,' I thought to myself. If I had said it out loud, none of my roommates would have understood. None of them grasped the madness of football. 

Rooney was on the brink of 17 years old, earning a mere £80 per week. He'd not been on the field long enough for anyone to actually think he would make an impact. But with less than 30 seconds to go, the new boy wonder controlled a speculative long ball, took a few touches toward goal, and as the Arsenal defenders decided to back off rather than close down he launched a curling shot from well outside the box. Just like Ronaldinho a few months earlier in Shizuoka Stadium, he surprised David Seaman, the England and Arsenal Goalkeeper, by tucking the ball into the upper left hand corner of the goal. 

To be sure, if Rooney's career had ended up a dud, we'd have all called it speculative. But 16 years later, looking back on one of the most storied careers for any English footballer, it was an introduction to precisely what we've come to expect. 

Yesterday, the former England captain signed with DC United, currently the worst team in Major League Soccer. For those who have watched Rooney's career, the decision to make the brand new Audi Field his new home certainly raises eyebrows.  But for the fans of the Black and Red (full disclosure, I'm a season ticket holder), his addition to a squad that's floundering not just in the offensive third, but also in the standings signifies a new hope and a chance to recapture the greatness that's been missing for more than a decade. 

Wazza's workmanlike style matched with the sort of cheeky initiative that drives defenders mad fits perfectly with the system DCU coach Ben Olsen has in mind. Given a backloaded season by MLS, so that Audi Field could host the majority of their home games this season, DCU needs all the breaks possible to reach the playoffs. Rooney just may be exactly what they need to slide into the post season. 

Injuries have plagued Rooney of late, however. And the MLS, despite the idea that it's a retirement league, isn't a push over. It will be physically grueling for the new signing. 

Nonetheless, he's already engendered himself to the city after making Wunder Garten, a beer garden in NOMA, one of his first stops in the city after arriving yesterday afternoon. 

Those of us who are DCU fans will certainly be looking forward to his efforts on the field. Maybe he'll be the first to score 15 goals since Dewayne DeRosario in 2011. Regardless, the excitement is building, hopefully he won't disappoint.