MLS Spotlight: DC United struggles beyond McDonald’s gaffes

(Image, DC United website)

(Image, DC United website)

Staff Writer

Despite the transfer of Andy Najar, it was hard not to see DC United as a contender in the East (I had picked them to finish fourth in a very tight Eastern Conference).

Saturday’s 3-0 loss against the Columbus Crew shows just how badly United are struggling. A six game winless streak and one victory in their first eight has DC last place – in the entire league.

Why? For starters, the DC defense has allowed eight goals in their last three games. The back four of Daniel Woolard, Dejan Jakovic, Brandon McDonald and Chris Korb have been together in each game and it should be evident for coach Ben Olsen that a change is needed. McDonald seems to be the fall guy, or at least he’s the one to self-identify as such. With two of the three goals on him, he may have a case.

But there is plenty of blame to go around.

The Crew’s first goal would have happened moments earlier had McDonald not recovered so well and made a block on Jairo Arrieta’s shot. Unfortunately for the snake-bit United side, Eddie Gaven quickly recovers and gets Arrieta the ball in the box again. Arrieta beats McDonald to the byline and cuts it back to Dominic Oduro who taps it in.

McDonald is at fault for getting crossed up by Arrieta six yards from goal but Jakovic does nothing to close down the only passing lane Arrieta could have from that angle. While Jakovic loafs, Oduro runs into the vacant space, easily getting by Woolard who cannot allow himself to be beat in that situation, but does because he fails to check and see where Oduro is before it is too late.

Unfortunately for McDonald, the last two goals are on him. It is a simple man-marking assignment for him against Josh Williams. Williams does just does enough to gain a step on McDonald to volley it in. McDonald could not keep up with his footwork, often grabbing hold of his jersey.

Standard operating procedure when marking in tight areas, but also indicative of a defender’s desperation.

The third goal, a penalty conversion from Federico Higuain, is connected to the first goal. Once again, Arrieta gets the better of McDonald. Arrieta’s skillful play leads the front line for the Crew but he does not serve as a typical target man. At 5’8,” Arrieta would not have a job in MLS trying to serve as a typical target man, so instead, he uses his pace and aggression to get onto long balls and gain possession. His skillful play has a way of forcing centerbacks to leave their position and try to go one-on-one against him.

McDonald does this by trying to engage him near the left corner flag. Arrieta cuts back to Gaven who heads to the byline. Arrieta uses his pace to get a step in front of McDonald, receives a back-heel and the defender trips him from behind inside the box allowing Higuain to make it 3-0.

McDonald is subbed off at halftime and DC continues its slide.

When one defender gets repeatedly beaten by his assignment throughout a game, it is imperative that the other defenders,as well as the defensive midfield, adjust to compensate. With Perry Kitchen and Raphael Augusto padding the backline, DC is capable of lightening the load – but it didn’t happen last Saturday.

With formidable opponents in Houston, Dallas and Sporting Kansas City coming up, adjustments need to be made. If it doesn’t happen for DC United, then Brandon McDonald will not be the only fall guy for long.