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Manic Monday at RFK

[UPDATED....see below]

-- DCU will wear maroon jerseys Saturday at Columbus in honor of the Virginia Tech victims (the goalies will wear orange). The shirts will then be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. The jerseys will also include a VT patch.

-- A sign of things to come? During a half-field exercise at training this morning, Devon McTavish joined Bobby Boswell in central defense. They were flanked by Josh Gros on the left and Bryan Namoff on the right. While this was going on, Facundo Erpen, who was lifted at the half of the Kansas City game last week, worked at the other end of the field with John Wilson and Domenic Mediate, the former United player who was invited to training for conditioning purposes only. Will we see McTavish starting with Boswell in a 4-man backline Saturday, with Gros given the freedom to go forward on the left? It's a long week. Things could change. Read into it...or not. Perhaps it's just one of several experiments.

-- Marc Burch (foot) did not practice, while Rod Dyachenko (knee) and Clyde Simms (ankle) ran on the side. Erpen took a knock late in practice, but seems to be okay.

-- Jamaican trialist Nicholas Addlery remains in training camp, an indication that the club will likely sign him soon.

[UPDATED below: Soehn and McTavish quotes]

TOM SOEHN

(On the bye week) "I think the only one who didn't want two days off was me; I wanted to get right back on the field. But the guys needed it. I could tell today it was a different mentality coming in. We addressed a lot of issues last week and we reworked them today and there was some progress, and still more progress to make."

(On the approach) "We've gotten back to the basics. We were messing up on a lot of issues. When you go through stretches like that, you get back to the real issues, the basics."

(On Dyachenko) "I'm not sure where we are with him. [The doctors] can't figure out what's wrong with him."

(On Erpen's confidence and mentality) "I'm concerned about all of our mentalities, not just Facundo's. We got away from the things we were good at and we spent a lot of time working through that, watching it, and as we addressed in training today, I think there is more of a commitment to defending and we've got to make more of a commitment to be creative in offense and it doesn't take five or six guys to do it all; it takes just three or four. We're taking too many chances in the attack, setting up the counterattacks."

(On McTavish) "He's going to be given a chance like everybody else. We're going to watch him all week and see what kind of progress he makes, and if we feel comfortable enough to put him in there, we will."

DEVON MCTAVISH
(On where he is most comfortable) "I'd probably say outside back. That's where I played mostly in college. I am familiar with it."

(On playing in the middle) "We're working on pinching in more. We've been getting exposed, so that's why I was sliding in more. I am comfortable there. I played there in reserve games."

(The adjustment between playing outside and inside) "Always being aware of runners coming in. Usually when you are on the flank you know where the run is coming from -- it's coming down the line right at you. Being in the middle, you have guys coming off your shoulder a lot more. You have to pay attention to those runs."

(Chemistry with Boswell) "It's pretty good. We're still working on it because we haven't played together a lot, but we're communicating well."

(Joking about bonding with Boswell) "I don't ever talk to him. I just find out what's going on in his life through his Web site!"

(On breakdowns the first two games) "It comes from everywhere but the overall problem has been the intensity on the field -- people losing focus at bad times and just not paying attention to detail."


By Steve Goff  |  April 23, 2007; 11:46 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
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Comments

How serious is Rod's knee knock? How much longer will he be out?

Posted by: Logan Circle | April 23, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand going to a four back set and not using Erpen as a center back.

Posted by: Vicar | April 23, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Rod's injury is a bit of an mystery. Still awaiting a new timetable.

Posted by: Goff | April 23, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I pleased to see that the coaching staff is flexible enough to experiment with a 4-back set. I'd be more nervous if they were so rigid that they felt they had to stick with the 3-5-2 system no matter what.

And in answer to Vicar, Erpen's apparent benching might be a not-so-subtle message that he needs to step up his game and not be so casual on the ball. I think he has great upside, and this might be just the slap in the face he needs. He also might have picked up a small injury that we don't know about.

Posted by: MattM | April 23, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Steve, how was the fundraiser in Cleveland?

Posted by: soccer nerd | April 23, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

who is marc burch again?

did mediate not fully recover from his injury last year? i seem to remember him being a better prospect than mctavish, i was surprised to see him cut.

Posted by: pat | April 23, 2007 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Great event in Cleveland -- soldout at House of Blues, lots of $$$ raised for autism research.

Posted by: Goff | April 23, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

So no clues of the midfield alignment? Where's the 4-3-3 I've been pining for?

Posted by: d, dc | April 23, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Was Guy Kpene cut? He isnt listed on the roster anymore. Was he cut to open up room for Burch?

Thanks.

Posted by: cheat | April 23, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Interesting to see that Dom is training with United for fitness. Surprisingly, he didn't land at Crystal Palace USA

Posted by: JMR | April 23, 2007 12:59 PM | Report abuse

pat-

Marc Burch played at Maryland and actually scored the winner on the Terps' national championship team in 2005. He was drafted by LA, who then traded him to Columbus, who traded him to us. He's probably best as a left midfielder, but I recall both LA and Columbus trying to convert him into a left back.

McTavish over Erpen could be a sign of things to come, or it could just be that Soehn wants McTavish (who thus far looks like our first defender off the bench) to be more used to playing with the starters. It can't hurt to get him as comfortable as possible with the others in the back, no matter the formation.

Posted by: Chest Rockwell | April 23, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Kpene is still awaiting his work visa. It has been complicated by the fact that his mother is here in this country as a diplomat (representing the Ivory Coast at the United Nations). Rest assured, he's training with the club every day.

Posted by: Goff | April 23, 2007 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Did you get out of Cleveland before Wise and Steinberg hit town? Did you even let them know you were there?


Actual DC United question: Where was Erpen during this 4-man backline experiment? And who was in the midfield in front of it?

Posted by: Kim | April 23, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Great info as always Goff!

I think the pairing of McTavish and Boswell in the center of a back four is a great idea. Erpen, while more gifted than McTavish, needs to be more accountable for his play on the field and the coaching staff would certainly be making a statement if it were Boswell and McTavish. However, having both Boswell and Erpen in the middle of a back four would be ideal as to get Erpen into his more natural and preferred position.

I can't wait to see the maroon kits on Saturday! Great move by the club!

Vamos United!

Posted by: Keenan | April 23, 2007 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Hmmmm...no one seems to be discussing the real soccer issues from thei weekend. Nameley, was Homer correct to give Lisa a yellow card for diving? The red card was deserved. Also, funny that it was Ronaldo, and not Cristian Ronaldo in an episode about diving.

Posted by: T. Henry | April 23, 2007 1:51 PM | Report abuse

hmmmm.... McTavish in the middle over Namoff?... I realize that Bryon has always played a outside defensive role, but so far this season in alot of ways he has been the most consistent back on the field for United (outside of his Chivas blunder). I would much more perfer this, in a four back set....

--------------Perkins---------------
--------Boswell-----Namoff---------
---McTavish-----------------Gros---
--------------Olsen----------------
----Simms--------------Fred---------
-------------Gomez----------------
-----------Moreno-----------------
----------------Emillio-------------

Leaving Carroll out is a big step, and one that might have to be taken in order work out the problems in the back. Overall I think if Soehn chooses to drop one more back then this is a pretty good 11.

Posted by: Chris | April 23, 2007 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Simms on the right, with even more offensive responsibility than in the 3412? Fred on the left? I think you have a good group of 11 names, but they need to be sorted differently, Chris.

The only 442 I could possibly see working with our players would have a midfield of Fred on the right, Olsen holding, Gomez attacking, and Gros on the left. Since the process of making Fred a wide player is not going to be done overnight, it's already a flawed set up for right now. Not only that, with Gros in midfield, we'd have Wilson at left back. Maybe it's just me, but it seems that Soehn has less confidence in Wilson than Nowak did, and that he'd be less likely to make that move.

I still think that the problem isn't the formation, it's that we haven't held possession in either MLS game thus far. We could play 7 in the back and still lose with how cheaply we gave up the ball.

Posted by: Chest Rockwell | April 23, 2007 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Off topic: US to play Sweden on August 22. This, according to AP, Sweden's tune up for their Euro08 qualifier against Denmark.

MLS teams probably won't want their players gone again for a friendly, so an all Europe-based US team. August 22 is pretty close to the start of the Euro seasons, so Euro managers aren't going to be too happy either.

No more from me on this topic until Steve opens a thread for us to debate the roster and formation for a friendly that's four months away :-)

Posted by: I-270, Exit 1 | April 23, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

As a proud Hokie, I am glad to hear DC will be wearing maroon jerseys and orange for the keepers. Are there any pictures of the jersey? I saw a picture of the Houston "maroon" and it looked more like plain maroon(reddish brown) than Chicago maroon. Should we expect the kits to be Chicago maroon and burnt orange?

Posted by: sitruc | April 23, 2007 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Is Fred working with the starting 11?

Posted by: Chico | April 23, 2007 2:16 PM | Report abuse

The thing is, everybody keeps thinking of Gros as a classic fullback in a 4-4-2 alignment. If you put Erpen in the center with Gros on the left flank what you actually have is Gros playing a lot of midfield with Erpen shifting to the left when Gros moves up. We saw that several times last season under Nowak, and it was successful. And frankly, that might actually work well to have Fred playing mid on that left side in a 4-4-2. If Fred follows his natural tendency to move inside from the flank, Gros can make that overlapping run, Erpen slides out, voila: GOAL!

Posted by: Matt | April 23, 2007 2:19 PM | Report abuse

glad to see that Mediate is training with the club again (even if it's just for personal fitness purposes). I still feel bad about Ihemelu breaking his leg and his slow recovery from that injury.

Posted by: Diego R. | April 23, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Any news on the flying elbow in the Columbus/New England match? I thought Wynalda was going to go down to the field and drop the guy himself. It was one of the most obvious cheap shots I've seen in MLS.

Posted by: Hacksaw | April 23, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Quote from Matt:
If Fred follows his natural tendency to move inside from the flank, Gros can make that overlapping run, Erpen slides out, voila: GOAL!

My question for Matt:
Goal for DC or for Columbus?

Posted by: Voila? | April 23, 2007 2:32 PM | Report abuse

i could see erpen as an effective left back in a 4-4-2, ala roberto carlos. tough guy, likes to make tackles, likes to make runs, a bit careless sometimes, so you dont want him in the center of your defense, but can potentially be an attacking and defensive asset in that position.

thoughts?

Posted by: moses | April 23, 2007 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Voila?: My question for Matt:
Goal for DC or for Columbus?

Depends on if Carrol kicks the ball directly to Andy Herron, and if he can make us pay like Eddie Johnson did.

Posted by: LeesburgSoccerFan | April 23, 2007 2:44 PM | Report abuse

If he kicks it to herron, he'll be kicking it into the stands, b/c Herron will not be playing by then.

Posted by: DCAustinite | April 23, 2007 3:02 PM | Report abuse

"""I could see erpen as an effective left back in a 4-4-2, ala roberto carlos. tough guy, likes to make tackles, likes to make runs, a bit careless sometimes, so you dont want him in the center of your defense, but can potentially be an attacking and defensive asset in that position. """

No, no, no. He's not an offensive optino at all . . . he's not fast enough to get up and down the flanks, he doesn't have the foot speed to take people on, and hasn't demonstrated this season that he has any knack for making accurate passes out of the back (consistently).

Erpen's most natural spot would be next to Boz in a 4-4-2. Here's to hoping he gets out of his funk.

Posted by: delantero | April 23, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I can just as easily see Erpen coming in as a sub at midfield. He's got a shot, likes to go forward, makes bold tackles. Not necessarily the qualities you seek in a defender.

Everyone keeps claiming he's more comfortable as a center back...but does he have the natural qualities to excel there?

Posted by: Shmoo | April 23, 2007 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Any info on how and when the maroon jerseys will be auctioned?

Posted by: dc hokie | April 23, 2007 4:31 PM | Report abuse

WHOOPS! Yeah Fred and Simms should be switched, I'm not that dumb, seriously.

Posted by: Chris | April 23, 2007 5:29 PM | Report abuse

I think people are losing sight of what Erpen brings, when he's right. It's understandable, since he hasn't really reminded us of his upside much this season.

Erpen's not blazing fast, but he has acceptable foot speed for a defender. Also, he is comfortable with the ball, passes well if inconsistently, and 'fights for the shirt,' as Christopher Sullivan would say -- when he's not having an existential crisis on the field.

When he's playing well and his confidence is high, he reads the game very well, and plays as a swashbuckling libero-style centerback. When his confidence is low, as it is now, his average acceleration and poor impulse control are exposed because he's not beating everyone else to the thought.

I think the bench is exactly the right move. Tell him you believe in him; say basically what I said above to him, about what you see as his strengths and weaknesses. Say that you're going to break it down to the basics for him, let him get his feet back under him, and play his way back into the lineup. I'm guessing that's what's about to happen with Facundo.

I think he'll handle it well, and be starting again before May's out. I believe in the kid.

Posted by: ionprovisioner | April 23, 2007 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Chest: I don't think Wilson is on the bench due to lack of confidence in his play, rather I would be willing to guess that the staff feels he is not a sure 90 minute option due to his severe injury last season and his age. The guy isn't getting any younger and players have retired at his age due to such knee injuries. In alot of ways we should be thankful that he's still around as a bench option, look no further than Dom Mediate to see my point.

Also, your right in pointing out that our control of possesion has been terrible. It has, but you also have to credit Kansas City in that they systematically dismantled our back line with well placed through balls in the air and on the ground. The jig is up and three years into it's life, the rest of the league apparently has found ways to attack and score on our 3-5-2 philosophy. This is not to say that the 3-5-2 is dead, it just needs to be improved. Our center-midfield and back line for the past few years have been able to slack on the small intabibles of the game like close marking, offensive positioning, and overall intensity and pressure. It was appartent when Boswell challenged Eddie Johnson to a head ball from about three arm lengths away in last weeks game that each individual players skills need to be improved and polished if United at all intends to be successful this season.

This all obviously can be done, but in my opinion United should go to a four back for the time being to sustain itself until it's overall level of play is well enough again to use the 3-5-2. This I think is a mark of a great team. Only the best teams in the world (and United's history) have been the ones that can easily switch between formations. See Bruce Arena's 98 side for a perfect example. Credit should be given to Nowak. His system worked realitivly well for about three seasons, but for now I think it's time for a change.

Posted by: Chris | April 23, 2007 6:00 PM | Report abuse

That's a good point, but I still don't think we fit a 442 very well. I'd prefer to see us in a 433 (Perkins; Namoff, Boswell, Erpen/McTavish, Gros; Simms, Gomez, Olsen; Fred, Emilio, Moreno) if we had to switch. I have reservations about that proposal as well (such as: Will Moreno and Fred stay wide enough to stretch defenses? Will those two and Gomez give us too many chefs in the kitchen? Does Gomez cover enough ground for us to play a 3 man midfield?), but it looks to me to be our best option with 4 backs.

The Wizards did very well to rip apart our system at or near its worst. Taking nothing away from them, if we're at our best I believe we still win that game (and beat any other MLS side, for that matter). However, with only Namoff, Olsen, and Emilio playing well and the rest of the team either stuck in mediocrity or actually playing their worst professional soccer ever (Erpen, B. Carroll), we will get beaten regularly. The parity of MLS means that while we have a great team on paper, other teams will beat us if we are even slightly off. The margin for error is small, and we were embarrassingly bad at the very things that made us so good.

I can see both sides of this argument, but ultimately I don't want Soehn to make a knee-jerk move. If he changes formation, it should be after a lot of thought. We just spent a whole offseason making changes aimed towards a 3412. Scrapping the whole thing is a major decision.

Posted by: Chest Rockwell | April 23, 2007 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Adding to the constant flurry of United formation proposals I'll throw this out there: It might be interesting to try and play something like a 4312. In that Gomez would be settled behind the two forwards and Fred as his cover. Or perhaps have Emilio as a lone striker with Gomez and Fred/Moreno behind him as the forwards.

Posted by: DC Attack | April 23, 2007 8:02 PM | Report abuse

I could see a 4-4-2 looking like this for DC. With Gros playing outside back but slightly higher than Namoff would, almost right behind the D.Mids, enabling him to run the sidelines like he did a few times last season. This could also allow Fred to roam the sidelines as well as push towards the middle as long as Gomez pushes closer to the sideline on occasion.

T. Perkins

B. Boswell F. Erpen/D. McT
B. Namoff
J. Gros
C. Simms/B. Carroll B. Olsen

Fred/Casal
C. Gomez

L. Emilio J. Moreno

Posted by: DCUfrvr | April 23, 2007 10:18 PM | Report abuse

Lets try this again.
------------T. Perkins---------

-------B. Boswell----F. Erpen/D. McT----
B. Namoff------------------------------
----------------------------------J. Gros
-----C. Simms/B. Carroll-- B. Olsen------

---Fred/Casal--------------------------
---------------------C. Gomez---------

-------L. Emilio -----------J. Moreno

Posted by: DCUfrvr | April 23, 2007 10:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm just glad to see Soehn realizes that not as many people need to get forward on each attack. It sometimes has gotten crazy with both wings making deep runs, moreno and emilio up top, and gomez pushing forward... that's just looking to give up a counterattacking opportunity.

It gets even worse when the D-mids have the ball and namoff looks to run up the wing.

We'll score without devoting that many players to the attack. We need to defend in numbers, get our 1 or 2 goals a game from emilio/gomez/moreno being bad-@sses and say thank you for 3 points.

Posted by: RB | April 23, 2007 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Who goes forward is not as important as who covers. If Namoff, Erpen or Gros (if he becomes the fourth as expected, though I'll comment on this later) wants to go forward, by all means they can, as long as the remaining three backs fill in and slide over with either the other winger or one of the D-mids sliding back some. I would prefer seeing one of the D-mids hang back because it becomes their job to break up attacks and cover in front of the remaining back three.

As for Gros, though I understand the lack of defensive depth means that for Erpen to be benched (which he has to be right now) then McTavish has to play in the middle. I'd prefer a back four of McT (his natural position is outside), Boswell, Erpen, and Namoff. This is because Gros is not quick enough to play outside back and has very obvious defensive shortcomings because he's just not a fullback. Gros can run forever and has the ability to cover box to box with adequate speed, which makes him a good option on the flank. My option would obviously create a squeeze for spots in the midfield and by extension the withdrawn forward (I'm also assuming a 4-4-2, though a 4-3-3 is intriguing), but that's a problem good teams should have.

Posted by: G-Dub | April 24, 2007 12:53 AM | Report abuse

Just wondering: Does United still hold the rights to Jay Needham? Could we bring him back if we wanted at some point? I'm not saying he's the answer, he's just a rookie, but we need to bolster that D Corps, and he sounded like he had a great future.

Posted by: grotus | April 24, 2007 7:44 AM | Report abuse

While I wouldn't mind seeing a new formation -- esp. one with 4 in the back -- our problems so far this year have been more mental on the players' part than tactical on Tommy's. Unless a new formation forces the players to concentrate more on what they're doing, I'd reckon that giving the players new positions to learn is unlikely to reduce the number of stupid errors, and could well increase them.

Posted by: asfoolasiam | April 24, 2007 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Grotus: I believe United can sign Needham at any time. However, he's currently not starting in Puerto Rico, as they're converting him to an outside-back, which would be beneficial to United if they do decide to bring him back. I could see United signing him during the Summer Window, if none of the reserves pan out as adequate cover in defense, but I won't be surprised if United waits until the offseason to bring him back in.

Posted by: AlecW81 | April 24, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

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