WASHINGTON. – In the end, this was the whole idea all along. When starters for D.C. United were injured, or needed a break, the backups were assumed to be capable enough to continue to carry the team.
With nagging injuries to Maicon Santos, Chris Pontius, Emiliano Dudar, Dejan Jakovic and Nick DeLeon, United manager Ben Olsen has been forced into making several changes during a busy stretch in the season. And after a long road trip, United’s current three-game homestand provides even more opportunities for the depth to shine through.
Three reserves played the hero roles for the Black and Red in their 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday. With Branko Boskovic (above) pulling the strings in D.C.’s midfield, Lewis Neal notched his first assist of the season, while Hamdi Salihi scored for the third time this campaign.
“It’s never easy to go away from your starting 11 as a coach,” Olsen told reporters after the win. “We’ve built depth and we’ve talked about it and we have to trust in it.”
At the beginning of the season, there was a common assumption that Designated Players Boskovic and Salihi would be leading the line for United. Boskovic had failed to impress in his previous year-and-a-half in the nation’s capital, but coming off a long injury, was primed to deliver from the center of the midfield. Salihi’s goal scoring looked to translate immediately in MLS.
But neither scenario has came to fruition through the first third of the season. Both Boskovic and Salihi were forced to watch United rack up wins while sitting on the bench as Olsen found other options.
But with United facing a stretch that involves three games in 10 days, Olsen turned to his high-priced stars against the Rapids on Wednesday night. The duo did little to disappoint the faithful, combining to help lead United’s charges in the win.
“It’s a tribute to our depth,” United defender Robbie Russell said when asked about the lineup changes. “It’s also a factor the fact that we’ve had so many injuries and guys had to fill in consistently and they’ve been getting minutes, and it’s starting to pay off a little bit. When guys come in, this is how it’s supposed to work.”
The play of Salihi and Boskovic, coupled with the performance of Neal, will likely give Olsen selection headaches ahead of the games against Toronto FC and the New England Revolution. Those are the types of problems that managers love to have, even if it means players might feel slighted when they are not being picked.
“The rest of the team will get used with the amount of games coming up,” Neal told MLSsoccer.com after the Rapids match, “so everyone has got to play the part and be ready when they get that shout to put the jersey on.”