The weeks before the season starts usually bubble withoptimism. Tickets are sold, offseason acquisitions are trumpeted, returningplayers express their intentions to improve on past performances. There’spotential all around, and universal eagerness to dive back into the game afterthe long winter layoff.
Yet that bubble has burst rather prematurely for D.C.United. In two losses to open the 2010 season, the Black-and-Red have alreadyrevealed shortcomings in a number of key facets that will continue to beexposed unless rapid improvement takes place. Though Saturday’s home loss toNew England was far more promising than the 4-0 season-opening thrashing inKansas City, disorganization, tactical naivete, wasteful finishing and a lackof intensity betrayed United on multiple occasions in both games.
None of this has been lost on the squad’s most experiencedmembers.
“We’ve got guys that can play soccer, we definitely do, andyou can see that – we move the ball around,” noted veteran defender CareyTalley after the 2-0 loss to the Revolution. “We play a good style of soccer,there’s no doubt about it. But in the end, we’ve got to make it ugly when we’redefending, or when we’re working. We’ve got to be able to defend for longstretches of time, together as a unit instead of maybe just defending the backsix.”
Talley, who entered the league with D.C. in 1998 beforeembarking on a nomadic career that took him to four other MLS clubs, began hissecond stint with United less than two weeks ago. But he’s already recognizedample potential among the squad’s junior members and believes that these harshlessons can lead to better things in the months ahead, as long as intensity andwork rate are addressed first.
“The young guys are out there to be brought along,” he said.“I think more than anything, we’ve got to talk to players about not being socasual, whether it’s on the ball or closing a guy down. You can’t be casual inthis league, ever, and I think we’re learning the hard way right now. I’m stillnew to this team. I’m not new to the club, and I know what this tradition’s allabout and what’s demanded of us. And I think that we should demand a lot moreof ourselves.”
His job may be easier than the one facing United’s attackingincumbents. While the back four showed signs of real assuredness against theRevs, the front line’s work in and around the box left much to be desired.Upcoming matches will likely feature some lineup shuffling, with marqueesigning Danny Allsopp a strong candidate to make his Black-and-Red debutagainst Philadelphia this weekend after a promising display in Monday’sscrimmage against second-division side Crystal Palace Baltimore. But the bigAustralian will depend on his teammates’ deliveries into the penalty box,another area of inconsistency thus far.
“First of all, I don’t think we got enough shots off,” SantinoQuaranta said after the New England loss. “I don’t think we got enough service– when we did get service tonight I think we were successful. When Brandon[Barklage] and those guys got some crosses in, I felt we were successful. Ithink we were trying to walk it in a little bit instead of taking more risksand taking more chances. I don’t think we were sharp enough in the attackingthird.”
Reaction from the club’s demanding fans has been swift andharsh, though head coach Curt Onalfo is resolutely focused on the positives.Noting his side’s relative youth, Onalfo vowed to address United’s flank playand finishing skills so as to translate possession into clearer scoringchances.
“Sometimes in life, some things don’t come easy and it’scertainly not coming easy for us right now,” he said. “I believe in this groupand we’re going to continue to get better. We have a lot of young players thathave got to continue to improve and we have to just make sure that we continueour path forward. And we will.”