Armchair Analyst: Formation shift ahead for RBNY?

De Ro and Dax - Analyst

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

Dwayne De Rosario was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle in New York. The team and its fans had wanted someone to play at the “point” of the diamond midfield head coach Hans Backe has desired, and De Ro seemed a natural fit since that was the spot at which he won two MLS Cups with the Houston Dynamo.

Dax McCarty, meanwhile, was supposed to be a cornerstone of the D.C. United youth movement. A “young veteran” — McCarty is in his sixth MLS season at age 24 — the diminutive midfielder was coming off a key role in FC Dallas’ run to the MLS Cup final, and consensus was he’d provide the midfield bite and creativity DC lacked in 2010.

But things don’t always work as they’re supposed to.

WHAT DC GET

De Rosario may not have stood out in New York the way he did in Toronto, but that’s because he didn’t need to. Nonetheless, his impact can be measured by these numbers: In the 13 games the Red Bulls played with De Rosario in the lineup, they scored 23 goals. In the four games they played without him, they’ve scored just four times.

The Canadian wizard’s own numbers weren’t overwhelming, but prorate his NY stats over the course of the season and he’d contribute six goals and 12 assists. Not bad for a guy who was largely meant to create opportunities for Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers — neither of whom had a goal before De Rosario joined the Red Bulls, and both of whom are now amongst the league’s leading scorers.

It’s that ability to create chances for others and see the play in the final third that DC covet. In Washington, De Rosario will still play behind two strikers and alongside two very attack-minded flank midfielders, just as he did in New York.

Creatively, he’ll get free reign in DC. This was a role that United had hoped either McCarty or Designated Player Branko Boskovic could fill, but when McCarty’s production faltered and Boskovic went down for the season with a torn ACL, the need to make a move became obvious.

It’s not a surprise United head coach Ben Olsen would want to build a team around a formation that features a pure central attacking midfielder. Olsen, after all, came into the league in 1998, playing as one of the wingers on Bruce Arena’s last great DC team.

The driving force in the middle of the field for that squad was Bolivian Marco Etcheverry, perhaps still the league’s greatest No. 10. It’s the way D.C. United and Olsen have won in the past, and it’s the way they’ve committed themselves to for the rest of this year at least.

WHAT NY GET

First thing RBNY get is about 10 years younger. McCarty just turned 24 and is entering the prime of his career. That’s important for a club whose biggest names are either already on the wrong side of 30, or are about to be.

But the real question is where McCarty will fit. He became expendable in DC because he wasn’t able to provide the creative midfield spark at the point of a diamond. In Dallas, Schellas Hyndman famously said his preferred midfield was a 4-4-2 diamond, but that he couldn’t play it with the personnel he had on hand.

That was just before leaving McCarty unprotected in the Expansion Draft.

Either this means Backe has given up on the diamond experiment in New York, or he feels that he’s seen something in McCarty that Hyndman and Olsen have missed.

The other options, of course, are that a position switch is in order — McCarty has always looked to have a defensive midfielder’s instincts, and the club could use an understudy for the aging and oft-injured Teemu Tainio — or that McCarty could once again go on the trade block.

For the time being, though, the creative onus has shifted back toward Joel Lindpere and Mehdi Ballouchy, holdovers from 2010. Lindpere has been good, if not nearly as dynamic as he was in 2010, while Ballouchy has struggled when tasked with a creative role.

The other benefit for New York is that the move frees up some cap space which could be used on a goalkeeper, or perhaps on yet another midfielder. It’s a good bet that New York, who are caught in the midst of a slump that’s seen them win just once since April, aren’t yet done making deals.

Where that leaves McCarty when the dust settles remains to be seen.

Matthew Doyle can be reached for comment at matdoyle76@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @MLS_Analyst.