WASHINGTON — “Wrong-footed wingers,” attacking flank players like Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben who are eager to cut inside onto their stronger foot and create, have become a hot trend in modern soccer.
Wrong-footed fullbacks? Not so much.
With natural lefties Rodney Wallace and Marc Burch beset by long-term injuries, D.C. United’s left back options have been chronically threadbare this season. The position has become a weekly challenge, with five players occupying the role at one point or another in 2010. It’s an uncomfortable place for a right-footed defender, but an important one given how many teams prefer to attack down their right flank.
Last week in Colorado, United coach Ben Olsen switched up his back line, moving Jed Zayner into the center and fielding Devon McTavish on the left. It was a difficult task, even for D.C.’s most versatile veteran, but a rare clean sheet offered ample reward for his efforts.
“It was pretty ugly at times,” McTavish said with a rueful chuckle on Tuesday. “You know, I’d never played a league game there. But defensively as a unit, I think we were pretty good. Jed did a good job of communicating with me and I think we did a good job as a team.”
Jordan Graye manned the left earlier this season, but the coaching staff has tried to simplify the rookie’s job by returning him to a more natural role on the right. With Zayner’s organizing abilities preferred in the middle, McTavish drew the short straw.
“In terms of right and left back, it’s kind of a tossup—what [Olsen] is in the mood for, if he wants Jordan on the right or on the left,” McTavish said. “He was telling me just keep it simple and play defense, especially on the road. If we get up a goal then we’ll grind out a win, so that’s what I tried to do.”
The choices are even more limited for this weekend’s tussle with San Jose, thanks to national team callups for first-choice center backs Julius James and Dejan Jakovic and lingering injuries to Barry Rice and Juan Manuel Pena. United are calling in reinforcements with an emergency loan or two from a lower-division side, but mainly to provide cover. So the back line practically picks itself: McTavish on the left, Graye on the right, with midfielder Clyde Simms slotting into center back alongside Zayner.
“We’ve got three defenders,” Olsen said on Tuesday. “And we’ve got Clyde, who can play there, and we might have a guy or two coming in to help us from other leagues, just to add to the bench. So we’ll deal with all that stuff this week.
“I trust all the guys that are here.”