Tan vying for minutes in talented United attacking corp
WASHINGTON – In a training session that ran roughly a half-hour longer than usual to accommodate a finishing drill, D.C. United forward Long Tan worked on the one aspect of his game it could be argued needs the most fine-tuning.
Tan, who joined United on June 28, played 67 minutes against Paris Saint-Germain in Saturday’s 1-1 draw in the World Football Challenge and spent a majority of Tuesday’s training running alongside the starters.
“Our forwards all have different qualities," said United coach Ben Olsen. "Trying to find the one that works best for us right now is the challenge."
WATCH: Tan opens MLS account while with Vancouver
A slasher with an excellent work rate, Tan is emerging as an option in D.C.’s crowded front third as he, Hamdi Salihi (the team’s only Designated Player) and Maicon Santos all are under Olsen’s evaluation as United enter a grueling six-game month of August that kicks off Saturday with a home match against Columbus (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“It’s tough, I’m mixing up guys all the time," Olsen said. "We still haven’t narrowed down our starting 11 after all this. It’s a good and bad thing. I think it’s good in a sense that we’ve got a lot of options and it’s bad because eventually, you do want to get that 11 down and work with it consistently.”
The 24-year-old Tan was impressive in Saturday’s match, but struggled to break through on his best opportunities in the box. Before a 45-minute rain delay in the first half, Tan nearly snuck a header inside the far post. A few minutes earlier, he drew a foul five yards outside the box which set the stage for a threatening free kick by Branko Boskovic.
By comparison, Salihi logged 15 minutes against PSG, while Santos played the second half. This season, Salihi has scored five goals while Santos – who nearly bent in a beautiful left-footer against PSG goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez – is second on the team with seven.
“Hamdi’s obviously a guy in the box that is very clinical," Olsen said. "Maicon’s got the brawn and can physically do special things and Tan, he’s a runner, a slasher. And he keeps defenders on their toes at all times."
Tan’s extended stint against PSG came on the heels of 18 minutes at the end of D.C.’s 1-0 loss against Columbus on July 21, where he attempted three shots and came close to converting a wonderful setup from Dwayne De Rosario for a late equalizer.
“He’s a little raw, but he’s young and he’s willing," said United veteran forward Josh Wolff. "He has some qualities that are good, but by no means is he a finished product. He has to be reminded of all the little things that make up a game. Some days that’s going to be holding it, some days that’s going to be running.”
Tan, traded by Vancouver FC for a first round supplemental pick in the 2015 draft, was born in Dalian, China, and is the first Chinese-born player to play in MLS.
Nick Cammarota covers D.C. United for MLSsoccer.com.