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DCU's Defensive Effort

A few leftover quotes that did not appear in my story today about D.C. United's defensive issues.....

Kevin Payne:
"I definitely think what ailed us is fixable; we just can't make that many mistakes."
"I think we need to make some adjustments, but basically it's the same group that won the league in the regular season last year. It has just been mental errors, losses of concentration and a bunch of mistakes."
"We've never stopped looking to improve our team. There are a couple of guys, defenders, who we've talked about, but I don't know how realistic they are."

Dave Kasper:

"The first two goals come as a result of players slipping on the field. Where do you point the finger, how do you point your finger at that? The next two goals come after losing the ball in the middle of midfield, exposing our defense. The latter two you can correct, the first two, you have to correct your shoes, maybe? I thought we started the game well. We moved the ball quickly, we were going at them, then all of sudden, two players slip and we're down two goals. We were put in a very difficult position. We still came back, but then we gave the ball away in the middle of the park, twice, and we can't do that."
"It's going to get better. At the same time, we're always preparing, we're always monitoring the situation, and should we need to, we will have players identified to make our team better."
(Does he have a short list?) " A medium list."

Tom Soehn:
(The KC game) "Unforced errors and when we made those unforced errors, the separation between our backline and the rest of the team was too far, and Eddie and Sealy were able to check into those spaces and turn instead of us being right up their rear ends. Defensively our line has got to get a lot higher."
(Flank play?) "We got more service. The quality of service still has to get better and the quality of the runs have to improve. We made some positive strides."
(Fred?) "I thought when he did come in on the right, the understanding was pretty good. He continues to make progress and eventually we have to find whether it's a system or a lineup that suits us best, and he's going to continue to get more and more time because he's looking good."
(Player search?) "That's a constant process; we're always looking. Sometimes the waiting is good. It gives you time to research and figure out what piece is vital for the stretch run."

By Steve Goff  |  April 17, 2007; 9:06 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
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Many fans--and I agree- have been saying that the problem is not that Erpen is playing on the right, it's that he's a bad defender, period. Boswell needs to organize the defense with the help of Perkins. It's not a one-man job obviously, and the more bodies back there the better-- think back to soccer for 6-year olds, more IS sometimes better when you want to prevent a goal!

Posted by: DC fan | April 17, 2007 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Very dissapointing that Kasper thinks the cause of the first goal was that Erpen slipped. Harrington was long gone by the time Erpen hit the ground.

Posted by: Henchlow | April 17, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Its not that Erpen is a bad defender as admitted he is being played out of position. Secondly Bozwell is a bit overrated and does poorly in organizing the back with Perkins. Perkins does not come up with big saves. The whole defense needs to pick it up. Part of this is slack coaching how does this become an issue now? When Nowak was in charge these breakdowns didn't occur its the same defenders but all of a sudden they can't defend? This whole team better find itself and quickly there are only 30 games in the season.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Yeah and when Nowak was around, the team was pushed so hard right at the beginning of the season to the point that after the all-star break we had the worst record in the league. These breakdowns did occur last season just not to the extent at the beginning of the season as they did at the end or even the beginning of this season.

Posted by: DCUfrvr | April 17, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I disagree about the Erpen comment above. He fell right in front of my seat. Erpen was with him the whole way until he fell. The problem was the rest of the team was still many yards behind and once Erpen fell there was nothing to stop the goal.

Posted by: T. Henry | April 17, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

It seems to me that Kasper is sounding rather defensive in all these quotes. Like he knows they messed up not looking for more defenders and now the team is paying the price for his mistake.

Not sure that playing a higher line makes any sense. Our defenders are slow. Playing high just gives fast guys like EJ that much more empty space to run past them into.

Erpen is a bad defender. He makes some spectacular plays, but they are usually as a result of him giving the ball right to an opponent so he has to do something heroic to make up for it. That has nothing to do with playing on the side instead of playing in the middle, so this "out of position" excuse doesn't carry any weight. The guy just coughs the ball up to our opponents too frequently, period. Add that to his propensity to dive in on every play instead of just holding a guy up. The basics of defending are that you don't leave your feet unless it is a last resort. He makes lunging tackle attempts at midfield and almost always misses.

I think they will figure out how to fix things as best they can. But this is not going to be an easy season by any means. Gomez and the rest of the midfielders are going to need to work a lot harder. Jaime is going to need to start shooting the ball instead of always looking for a pass. Or he needs to go sit on the bench for a while.

Posted by: Glenn | April 17, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Shut up about Erpen! You idiots should just cut him with no potions and then see how well we do! HE IS OUT OF POSITION! put him in centerback in a 4-4-2 with Boswell and then see. So if Fred turns out to be a back right winger, who's fault is that going to be, Fred's? in a 3-5-2 when the two d-mids are playing like crap and the wingers are all the way upfield, don't be surprised if the backs get caught out and look terrible at it too.

Posted by: DCAustinite | April 17, 2007 10:38 AM | Report abuse

dcaustinite, you should learn to chill! at least you made a post without mentioning that you think eddie lewis is the answer to all our problems, even though he can't seem to help his current club from being relegated to the 3rd division.

Posted by: dcu_fan | April 17, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Hate to say it, but I'd rather see us play like crap now and realize we need to get our stuff together than play great and get complacent like last season. A few more good losses will do just enough to shake things up and get people moving.

No need to go ballistic. Yet... (Although, got to say, if the problem with Erpen is that he's out of position then we need to get an outside back that isn't so easily beaten.)

Posted by: Hacksaw | April 17, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I only joke about eddie lewis, sure I'd love to see him, but what gets my goat is we play a 3-5-2, Only boswell is playing in his natural position, Namoff is a converted dmf who gives up PKs and bad tackles all the time and yet it's FIRE ERPEN, FIRE ERPEN. Where's the 'fire Namoff?' Or, better yet, where's the rage at Kevin Payne and the front office who spent months trying to get some guy from the aussie league so he could play out of his natural position and didn't do thing one to address the defensive lapse? We're stuck until July. How do you feel about that one? Go ahead and fire Erpen I say. We'll do really great with John Wilson in there. A converted forward. Don't worry if/when he gets hurt we have a rookie. Oh, don't worry, if he gets a red card we'll just replace him with the 400,000 dollars in cap space we didn't use. I'm sure a big pile of money would distract everybody but Beckham.

Posted by: DCU_fan | April 17, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Its offical, the Red Bull are set to announce the signing of Juan Pablo Angel in about 6 minutes on Good signing by New York, now lets pray that we can defend against him.

Posted by: DC United Fan | April 17, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I prefer this approach to the Nowak "work till you drop" approach. We've already seen more shuffling of rookies and inexperienced players into the lineup than before, and I think that has contributed to our lack of total team defense. Getting players the time they need to understand the team's flow is critical, and is better done now than in July and August when games are on the line and Jaime is gassed.

Posted by: Logan Circle | April 17, 2007 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I totally agree with the Moreno comment, he, and all of the forwards (with the exception of Emilio) need to shoot the ball when there's an opening. After the Chiva loss I was watching an interview on one of the spanish channels and they asked that dude who scored from far out through Perkins gloves and he said that basically it was a lucky goal and then he said that you'll never win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. Moreno NEVER buys that damn ticket!!!

Posted by: El Mago | April 17, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

We need to play a higher line. And we need to go to two d-middies. By going to a higher line, you compress the midfield, put better pressure on the ball there and don't allow the deep balls that have been killing us. Several people have made this point, that the whole concept of five midfielders is to clog up the middle and prevent penetrating balls.

Put Olsen and Carroll in front of the back three and voila, it's like you have a fourth defender. One of those two has to drop in line when Erpen or Namoff goes out to the wing and then you've got your cover. But one of the two has to stay home at all times, which might be why Simms is a better call there. He never looks to go forward. Then you have four on d at all times, and another ball- winner to cover if Namoff or Erpen gets turned on the flank.

It also frees up Gomez to bomb forward, to put Fred in and for him and Moreno to rotate through the midfield, kinda like how Roma has been able to play.

I think personnel wise we need to stay with the 3-5-2, or go 3-2-3-1-1 with Olsen and Carroll/Simms sitting behind Gros Fred and Gomez. Five defensive minded players can sit back and either one of the two d-middies can go forward as long as the other stays home. It also allows for more improvisation up top where Fred can tuck in and then Carroll or Olsen seizes the space and we still have cover.

Basically, if Carroll gets back in form and starts becoming a ball-winner in midfield, a lot of things change. The biggest is that Victorino and other playmakers had too much time on the ball to find Johnson running in.

The end is not here yet, but the effort right now isn't cutting it. I think the key to this is how the d-middies hold up and if they can start winning balls all over the park. If that happens, then the Magic Rhombus is going to explode.

Posted by: G-Unit | April 17, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

after being at the game in person I just watched the "highlights" for the first time a few minutes ago (a glutton for punishment I know) and here's some thoughts:

With this offense, we will definitely be able to compete this season. Luciano Emilio is amazing and his dedication to the team is remarkable for such a new player. Once the season gets going I imagine will see Emilio and Fred up top with Gomez behind them and Moreno coming off the bench. It'll work...

Let's wait for some decent weather. All four games played on US soil this year have been absolutely miserable. I imagine that the atrocious conditions magnified the defensive lapses.

Posted by: Diego R. | April 17, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I agree with DCUFan about Erpen. He isn't a natural to play on the wing. I do disagree about Boswell, however. He's not in a natural position, because he doesn't have a central partner, and therefore must cover too much space. He's not fast enough to do that. He and Erpen need to be in the center together. The 4-3-3 is the best idea I've heard in a while, with Fred playing centrally up front, rotating with Gomez, depending on who's feeling frisky at the moment.

Posted by: grotus | April 17, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Let's not panic yet. This team played a great game a few weeks ago in Mexico, despite the loss. That level of play will win 80% of games in this league. The problem is consistency.

I'm a little puzzled by the sudden consternation about the defenders. This defense has never been great (notwithstanding some questionable awards last year). At the beginning of last year the ball rarely got through midfield; that was DC's strength. This year the midfield has played strong in stretches but gives away too many balls, and the defensive mids are too far forward - with a slow backline, I think Soehn is making a mistake saying the backline needs to press forward more. A fast forward who can get that first touch past Boswell is gone. It seems like the answer is to keep emphasizing the same things and maybe move at least one of the defensive mids back a few steps, but above all not to panic.

On the 4-4-2, I think it is a mistake. First, it takes away the "best defense is a good offense" philosophy that has been United's hallmark when playing at its best. Second, Perkins' strongest quality as a goal keeper by far is his ability to control the box and intercept serves in from the flanks. By contrast, he is a poor shot blocker. So we want the other side to try to come down the flank and serve it in, rather than attack directly. The problem is when there is a breakdown in midfield that allows a fast break in which a player coming from the flank runs into the box. But that should be fixed by pushing the defensive midfield back, not by adding a fourth player to the back line.

As to those who want to fire the coach and the front office after six games - go bother the Redskins. Has anyone noticed that the forward these guys brought in has had six goals and an assist in six games? They looked for defensive help, but didn't find anyone they liked better. I'm disappointed in that, but respect their judgement.

Posted by: Regular fan | April 17, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Erpen does have faults, namely he makes risky decisions in his positioning and tackling, and attempts long crossfield passes, that typically give away possession. But he has always played that way. The same goes for the other defenders, that is the key. They are playing just as well, or as bad, as they did last season. The only difference is now they are they are just getting truly punished for it. There have always been shaky moments in the backline and in goal (moreso even with Rimando b/w the pipes). However, with four across the back there was more coverage and better damage control.

The DCU backs have major problems with pacy forwards, as Eddie Johnson made abundantly clear. Unless DCU can send the backline to Balco for a weekend "speed-enhancement session," (Will Chang knows Barry Bonds right, just kidding...) the only real solution is to add another defender to help cover the gaps.

The bigger worry is that these guys, with questionable decision making and iffy speed, will be in difficult game situations where they are beaten for pace and spaces and may be stuck with the unenviable choice of either allowing a likely goal, or committing a professional foul. Should we expect more fouls? Cards? Set-pieces against us?

In the end, no matter who is playing in the back they will look better if they have a fourth defender in the back.

Our defenders are just as slow or last season. Rain affects the grass just as it did last season. Those lads did not magically degenerate into shambolic defenders during the off-season. What changed? Hmmm. The formation? Hmmm. No it must have just been the grass. I will swallow the propaganda on that one.

Finally, when the powers that be say it is only two games and all is well, remember that the league has retooled the tables. All games mean something! DCU wants to either with the league or win the MLS Cup in order to advance to SuperLiga or Champions Cup. As such, points count. Giving up points this cheaply, this early, does not help.

Posted by: Erick | April 17, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I have no doubt United will switch to a four man backline because the rest of MLS has figured out how to expose the 3 man it has been using. What DC needs also to do is play much quicker. They are at least two steps slower than last year and in the past 2 games there was not one clever combination to be seen.As the coaches are always saying, "make the ball do the work for you."

Posted by: crowbar | April 17, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I think the concentration on our defense is slightly misplaced. Over the past two games I have seen a lot more problems with Olsen/Gomez/Moreno/Emilio/Gros completing a single pass.

Just from a general feeling (since I can't find possession data anywhere) it seemed like DC held the ball much better against Olympia and Chivas than they are now against other MLS sides.

If I were playing defense I know exactly where I would put the blame. How can you win a game when your defense is always under attack with no breaks? Our mids had so many god awful passes over the past two games they probably have a completion % comparable to a U-8 co-ed team, not to mention the bunch ball positioning we are starting to master.

Having 5 players all playing the center mid attacking position is not helping anyone. I almost miss having Adu and Santino outside on the wing to open up the field.

Posted by: Southeasterner | April 17, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Goff, do you think if Casal and Fred get more minutes on the field and perform well that United might consider trading for a defender like Todd Dunivant? The Red Bulls just signed Juan Pablo Angel so they're gonna have to get rid of one maybe two players. Maybe a combination of Gros or Simms and a draft pick might get a quality player to improve the defense? Eddie Lewis might also be available if Leeds gets relegated.

Posted by: Mike | April 17, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

With guys like Finley and Galindo entering the league, EJ at KC, Dane Richards at NY, Herc Gomez solidified in a spot out on Erpen's wing, the eternal Jeff Cunningham, and Ngwenya/Rogers at Columbus, that defense is going to be tested for pace all across the schedule.

Going 4-3-3 would also help Josh Gros out by finally getting him in a position he needs to learn if he wants to be on the national team.

Posted by: Shmenge | April 17, 2007 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget, when Erpen was so good when he arrived in 2005, he was playing in the middle. You can't leave Erpen off the field (who would you genuinely put on in his place?), so go to 4 in the back with Boswell and Erpen in the middle. Things would have to get better with Erpen in his natural position.

Posted by: Mike | April 17, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Don't bad mouth Erpen. He got his mandatory bicycle kick in. That's all that matters.



Posted by: JayRockers! | April 17, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

The Erpen goal (and even the Gros goal) were about much more than someone slipping. I hate to see the team dismiss it as something like that. It's not like there were two times that the forward was completely stopped and a silly slip allowed an open net. Both times, there were other mess-ups in the defense (before and after)

Posted by: RB | April 17, 2007 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Two d-mids and 3 defenders is a tragic mistake for this team/league -- we give away way too much on the flanks. When the defenders get pressured or the mid gets pressured, we lose the ball and give away goals.

We have better players than most teams in the league -- if we play more conservatively and don't give up easy goals, we'll be able to slug it out against most of the teams (like the beginning of last year -- we held teams from scoring, we didn't play as fast and loose as the end of last season and this year)

Posted by: RB | April 17, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: DCFANINL.A. | April 18, 2007 12:53 AM | Report abuse

I recall the qoutes when Erpen was signed. They went a little like this. He's great in the air....he has a great shot....loves to support the attack....Bottom line beware of defenders that are discribed as being good offensive players.

Posted by: MCR | April 18, 2007 8:04 AM | Report abuse

MLS is still years away from hiring Premiership/Championship caliber coaches.
Soehn had United performing much better in CONCACAF than Nowak did, he's just had 2 poor showings in MLS play. This is not the end of the World.
Also, United has tried to give Gomez a hefty raise, he has chosen not to take the raise and contract extension so he can possibly sign elsewhere for a LOT more money than United would be willing to pay him. Let's face it, Gomez is hitting his mid-30s and is no longer a 90 minute player. Do you believe he's worth the DP spot? That's the only way he'd earn more than the reported $345k that United has offered.

Posted by: AlecW81 | April 18, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

go to a 4-3-3 formation is wat they need to do. our DBs are not that fast really so thats y they need the xtra DB to cover the backline. this will also help in declogging the midfield so that they can execute passes and combinations much better. but watever formations they use GO UNITED ALL THE WAY!

Posted by: dc_united1426 | April 18, 2007 11:37 PM | Report abuse

Yes, seems there is a strong sense that DCU must adjust defensive formation ... but why the focus on 4-3-3? Most of the world is playing a variation of 4-4-2, and it seems to me DCU indeed has the personnel to do the same, and maybe prepare their players better for national team duty. Gross played right back for the USMNT, yes? Simms can stay at home on either side, and Wilson can attack from the right ...

Posted by: soccer1 | April 19, 2007 12:48 PM | Report abuse

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