WASHINGTON – In an effort to spark his struggling club, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen has been more than willing to tinker with his lineup in recent weeks.
One such change that has had its intended effect so far, even if it may be temporary, involved shifting second-year winger Nick DeLeon to central midfield for Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Sporting Kansas City.
“I thought he filled it in very nicely,” Olsen said following Tuesday’s training session. “When you do that sometimes, you now have options going forward. And Nick’s one of those kids that I feel comfortable plugging in anywhere on the field except center back. He’s one of those guys that kind of gets it. I’m looking forward to him being on the field consistently for us.”
DeLeon missed four matches with a hamstring strain before returning May 8 against Houston. He then played 45 minutes against Dallas before going the full 90 in Sunday’s match against Kansas City.
“I liked it. I enjoyed it in there,” DeLeon said of playing center mid. “The game was kind of tough. We defended a lot, but I felt like I got on the ball a little more, so I liked it. The more touches I can get, the better I feel.
“[Perry Kitchen] is good in the middle and he’s a hard worker and he’s fun to play with. I think if I do stay in the middle, our relationship will just get better and better.”
United midfielder Chris Pontius, who usually plays out wide opposite DeLeon, said he thought last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up did well in the middle.
“Obviously he got a little bit leggy at the end, which is expected, but I thought he did well,” Pontius said. “He’s a kid that’s comfortable on the ball. It’s a new position for him, but I think he could be a good fit in there.”
DeLeon said he’s not sure what the club’s plans are for him as various players continue to come back from injury, but he feels comfortable virtually anywhere on the pitch.
“Wherever I can play, man,” said DeLeon who also has experience at right back. “If you want to put me wherever, I’ll play there and give it everything I have. It’s pretty cool that [Olsen] said that. That shows a lot of confidence in me, so that’s definitely pretty cool.”