United midfield suddenly crowded
After making two additions to his midfield in the last week, D.C. United head coach Peter Nowak is looking at the final 11 games of the regular season as a new campaign.
New signings Christian Gomez and Tim Lawson now have a week's worth of practice sessions under their belts, and their presence has quickly enhanced intensity levels on the training ground - and has greatly increased Nowak's tactical options.
"What we've seen in the last couple of days (is) people realizing that they've got to fight for their position," said Nowak. "It's like starting preseason again, working hard as a team again. As I said, we prefer competition."
The experienced Gomez brings a dose of South American flair to the Black-and-Red, having spent 13 years in the Argentine first and second divisions. Lawson was a midfield standout over his four-year career at the University of Washington before spending the last five years in Germany with regional side SV Elversburg.
"They're both very promising," says Nowak. "Of course we'll look to strengthen our midfield, especially with Christian. What we've seen (this week) is great stuff."
Gomez, whose entrance was trumpeted with a post-game press conference and video highlights presentation after Saturday's 2-2 draw with New England, seems to have been earmarked as the missing link in United's inconsistent attack. He is still waiting for a work visa and thus may not be available for this Saturday's match at Columbus.
Nonetheless, Nowak is clearly anxious to put Gomez into a game situation, despite recognizing the inevitable learning curve with a new player.
"Of course he needs the understanding, and the players around him have to understand his way of playing," says Nowak. "It's going to take a couple of weeks, but soccer is the international language. We would like to have him on the field right away, because the game is different than practice. It's nothing to risk -- just putting him on the field to see what he can do."
But if Gomez is to be slotted into the starting 11, Nowak faces an intriguing lineup reshuffle. Who makes way for the Argentinian?
Ben Olsen has impressed in central midfield, while also providing inspirational leadership and intensity. The combative Dema Kovalenko, Nowak's former teammate in Chicago, has been a mainstay in the middle and rarely misses a start -- and the first-year coach seems hesitant to move his midfield enforcer.
"We'll see what we can do about it, but I am not the guy who can really jump from tree to tree and put Dema at left back, or as a left winger, or on the right wing," says Nowak. "It's just not my game, so we'll see. There are so many options right now."
Teen prodigy Freddy Adu currently occupies Gomez's preferred attacking midfield spot, but Adu displayed strong performances in D.C.'s last two matches and calls the attacking midfield role his "natural position." Nowak may have to consider Adu's continuing emergence and confidence before sending him back to the bench.
Add holding midfielders Lawson and Brian Carroll (who has started all but two matches) to the mix, and United suddenly has the luxury of a crowded central midfield.
Nowak seems thrilled to have such choices before him. When asked if both Gomez and Adu could play an attacking midfield role at the same time, he grinned coyly and said, "Why not? Why not?"
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to approval by MLS or its clubs.