WASHINGTON – As D.C. United continue to adjust to life A.D. (After Dwayne De Rosario), coach Ben Olsen tinkered with his formation a bit for Thursday evening’s 1-0 victory against Philadelphia.
After deploying a 4-4-2 for nine of the club’s previous 10 matches, Olsen shifted his side to a 4-5-1 against the Union as his team gears up for the final five regular-season games.
Interestingly enough, the last time Olsen strayed from the 4-4-2 was against Philly, when he rolled out a 4-1-2-1-2 for a 1-1 draw in August. This time, the tactical shift was arguably more successful as United (14-10-5, 47 points) escaped PPL Park with their first road win in three months.
Now D.C. shift back home, where they’re unbeaten in 14 matches since a 1-0 loss to Kansas City on March 10 and welcome the Western Conference’s worst team, Chivas USA, to RFK Stadium on Sunday (7 pm ET; Galavision).
“We’re still trying to find ourselves as far as life after De Ro,” Olsen said Thursday. “We wanted to plug up that middle.”
With a quick turnaround, it’s hard to tell whether Olsen will stick with the 4-5-1 against Chivas (7-14-7, 28 points) or revert back to the 4-4-2. He made only one substitution against Philly – bringing on Maicon Santos for Branko Boskovic – so forward Hamdi Salihi should be fresh if Olsen opts to throw both Lionard Pajoy and Santos up top as he did in fourth-place United’s previous home win against New England.
“I think we held pretty well. I think mostly the idea was to maybe get a little more counterattack,” midfielder Lewis Neal said of the 4-5-1. “Maybe get Chris [Pontius] out wide, get in the box and create a few more chances. It practically worked.”
Pajoy has been a favorite of Olsen’s since joining D.C. The 31-year-old Colombian has started all seven matches after the Danny Cruz swap and has two goals with United.
“The amount of work Pajoy did [Thursday] was pretty remarkable. The guy can run for days,” Olsen said.
The 4-5-1 would seem appealing for United in that Pontius (the team’s leading scorer) would be able to play the left outside midfield position where Olsen favors him while adding a recently-strong Neal to the fold. Though he shot only twice against Philadelphia, Pontius – wearing the armband in De Rosario’s absence – had the assist on Pajoy’s game winner.
“Chris didn’t have his greatest day as far as touches. But he still makes a play that changes the game,” Olsen said.
D.C. have won two in a row, while Chivas – which has the worst goal differential in the league (-23) – are winless in eight attempts, with six losses. Still, in the throes of a playoff race, United aren’t taking the Goats for granted.
“It’s a dangerous game, especially when a team like Chivas doesn’t have a whole lot to lose,” Pontius said. “People are playing for their jobs there, so it’s an extra dangerous team. We’re at home, so hopefully we can see a bit more of the ball than we did [Thursday] and get control of the game more.”