Feeble offensive output ranked as a major ingredient in D.C. United’s nightmare start to the season, as the Black-and-Red scored only two goals (compared to 13 allowed) during their five consecutive losses to open their 2010 campaign.
Recently, however, United have turned that horrid form around and have scored 15 goals during a 6-1-2 run in all competitions. Despite solid results, D.C. cannot afford to celebrate; sustained quality still eludes the front line, which remains a work in progress as coaches and players scrounge for the right mix of positioning and personnel.
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“We had a couple of good sequences where I thought we were playing some decent soccer and we were creating chances out of it,” said striker Adam Cristman in a discussion last week following his team’s recent loss to Columbus. “I feel like earlier in the year we had those opportunities where we were trying to look nice, but it ended up not looking that great, and we really didn’t create any chances out of it.”
United stopped the bleeding by embracing a more cautious, opportunistic style of play. Yet that’s also contributed to a lingering scarcity of scoring chances and the team remains goal-challenged, tied with Kansas City at the foot of the MLS scoring charts.
Given the understandable emphasis on collective defensive shape, creative responsibilities have largely been delegated to the wings under a 4-4-2 system that quickly becomes a 4-5-1 when Cristman is left alone up top. Chris Pontius displaced Christian Castillo on the left flank upon his return from a hamstring injury in late May, while teenage sensation Andy Najar has jumped to the front of the line at right mid.
“Our team has been working on a lot of team defending, and we’ve been talking a lot about our outside mids getting going early,” said Pontius after last Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup victory over the Richmond Kickers. “That’s my job as an outside mid, to get going after that right back if I’m playing left mid, so I try to make them make decisions and sit in pockets where I can find the ball, [which is] usually between the right mid and the right fullback.”
Pontius’ re-appearance has surely given United an offensive spark, but with D.C. needing to make up serious ground in the standings, more urgent measures have been taken in the form of foreign recruits Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez.
Both signings will be officially introduced this week, and the front office hopes that both can bolster the squad’s attacking power straight away.