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Posted at 11:43 AM ET, 03/11/2011

D.C. United preseason lessons

By Jeff Maurer

Going into the preseason, I had no idea how United would line up on opening day. Would Perry Kitchen be a center back or a midfielder? Was there a chance we'd see a 3-5-2? What combination of our "meh"-caliber strikers (Wolff, Ngwenya, Pontius) would be on the field? How many Kurt Morsink jokes do I need to have locked and loaded to produce this blog for a whole season? Do I need to learn Blake Boxleitner's name?

Ben's formations and tactics during the preseason have answered a lot of these questions. Of course, we won't know anything for sure until opening day, but you can tell a lot from the lineups used during scrimmages and practice games. I, for one, got very good at making predictions based on scrimmage linueps during my playing days in high school. You just needed to look at the teams. On the other team: the coach's son, the senior who already has a scholarship to UVa., and the German exchange student. On my team: the captain of the chess club, Fatty McNotalent and the kid with the eye patch. Prediction: probably won't need to wash the uniform after this week's game.

Here's what we've learned so far:

Perry Kitchen will play center back. On draft day, Goff reported that United see him primarily as a center back. Ben then proceeded to play him almost exclusively at center back. United then released Julius James, a center back. Ben's plans for Kitchen are more obvious than a Jay Leno monologue joke.

It'll be a 4-4-2 with a flat midfield. The acquisition of McCarty plus the initial uncertainty of whether and where Kitchen will play made me think that a 3-5-2 might be in our future, but it's pretty clear now that United will play a 4-4-2. McCarty and Simms will be the engine room, Kitchen and Jakovic will be the center backs. If any of you are Fulham fans (shout out to my fellow EPL masochists!), it's pretty much the same system: the center of the park links and organizes, most of the attacking comes from the wings. It's also the system the USMNT used for most of 2009-10. I have to say: unless you're just completely over-matched (and Fulham often are), this system only seems to work well when the central midfielders get forward with frequency. Simms and McCarty will have to cover a lot of ground.

Jed Zayner is your starting right back. Ben seems to rate Zayner more highly than I do. And you know what? Ben's at practice every day and Ben's played at the highest level, so he's definitely in a better position to make that assessment than I am. Also, it's his job on the line if his things don't work out, whereas I get to keep writing this blog no matter how often I'm wrong, a fact that I intend to prove throughout the course of this season.

Daniel Woolard might beat out Marc Burch for the left back spot. The lineups Ben has put out lead me to believe that Woolard might very well be the first choice left back. If so, I'll interpret that as a sign of progress; last season was so bleak that when Burch - a borderline starter during his first three seasons with United - returned from injury, it seemed like a major upgrade. Chris Korb seems to also be in the mix, but if he plays, it'll probably be on the right.

Pontius will mostly play left mid. I'm not a huge fan of this decision: I think that Pontius is best used as a striker. But I am a huge fan of generally playing your best 11, so maybe putting Pontius in the midfield will be worth it. Although - as my wife's Jersey-based family would say - not for nothin': I've seen Josh Wolff play as a midfielder before.

Boskovic and Quaranta are not automatic starters. Ben already has one coaching trait that is abundantly clear: he's not afraid to bench guys who aren't performing. He benched Perkins last year in favor of Hamid. When Boskovic didn't play well, he'd start the next game on the bench. Boskovic is United's designated player, and Quaranta has the longest tenure with the team, but right now it looks like both will start out on the bench. I like this approach: soccer, like everything, should be a meritocracy. Make 'em earn it.

Charlie Davies will probably start out on the bench. Again, make him earn it. And I suspect that he will.

Blake Brettschneider might get some minutes.Yes, you do need to learn his name. United seem to like him, and I thought he looked pretty good against Chicago (blurry, but good). Kitchen will definitely play, and Brettschneider and Korb seem to be in the mix, so you could see all three of United's 2011 draft picks playing a role in their rookie year, a significant change from the Justin Moose/Nick Van Sicklen era. If you add the contributions of Pontius, McCarty (acquired in a trade for Rodney Wallace) and maybe Barklage, then you'd have to say that United have done pretty well in their last couple drafts.

By Jeff Maurer  | March 11, 2011; 11:43 AM ET
Categories:  Jeff Maurer, United  | Tags:  DC United, Jeff Maurer  
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