Tough choices for United’s Ben Olsen – in a good way

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I have always advocated a steady starting 11 when injuries make that possible.

Coaches who swerve all over the road on their starting choices are usually barking up the wrong tree. Players need to feel settled, get comfortable with their roles and adjusted to the likes, dislikes and tendencies of the men around them. That level of familiarity creates the little edges that make big differences in close matches.

D.C. United manager Ben Olsen feels the same way, apparently. What he told the Washington Post following training on Tuesday:

It’s tough. I am mixing up guys all the time. We still haven’t narrowed down to our starting 11, after all this, which is a good and bad thing. It’s good in the sense we have a lot of options. It’s bad because eventually you want to get that 11 down and working with it consistently.”

Fair enough, but that means somebody is getting left behind.

On defense, where United still needs help and probably needed to be more aggressive in the just-closed transfer window, it’s really just about Olsen choosing the top foursome from a list of adequate choices. The more difficult calls are on offense.

Let’s remove Dwayne De Rosario (pictured) from this conversation. He’ll be on the field, and rightly so – whether that’s at attacking midfielder or as a second forward. No, he hasn’t been the full “De Ro” lately. But he’s always been streaky, and this is about where De Rosario starts raising his game annually; If it’s my call, I put my full trust in the man.

From there, the choices get tricky, particularly because United has done a good job of stockpiling talent. Some of Olsen’s options:

  • De Rosario sometimes looks better as midfielder, but that means Branko Boskovic keeps the role he’s seen a lot of this year, coming off the bench. Even at a recently renegotiated rate, that’s a lot of money to come off the bench in a playoff run.
  • Chris Pontius is the club’s best finisher. Period. Which may mean DP Hamdi Salihi gets stuck to the bench, depending on where Olsen deploys De Rosario.
  • Nick DeLeon looks like a De Ro starter kit. But can you play the talented rookie extensively down the stretch, when he could be subject to the “rookie wall?”
  • Andy Najar and Danny Cruz each offer different talents on the right. Najar is a more polished attacker, Cruz may offer a little more industry and tenacity.
  • At times this year, Maicon Santos has looked far more effective as a goal scorer than Salihi.
  • There’s also a couple of wild cards, like Lewis Neal, a hard-working veteran with a big soccer brain, someone who could partner with Perry Kitchen in the middle, adding a little more veteran know-how to a young midfield. Heck, Olsen could even tap Marcelo Saragosa if he decides more bite and defensive cover in midfield is required.
  • Speaking of veteran knowledge, Josh Wolff is still in play. He has just one start this year, and there’s a long history of injury to consider. Still, he could be an option on the left (along with a bunch of others).