Reason for Improvement I: Changing the Central Midfield

Discussion in 'D.C. United' started by ursula, Nov 3, 2004.

  1. ursula

    ursula Member

    Feb 21, 1999
    Republic of Cascadia
    The recent Convey thread got me to thinking about the central midfield and how it's changed over the course of this season and I realized how important that change was. Here's the history as I see it:

    1) At the beginning of the year the central midfield consisted of Olsen, Kovalenko and Carroll. The big change that Nowak made to have that happen was moving Olsen to the middle as opposed to moving Convey there. By having Olsen, Dema, and Brian in the middle a big thing happened:

    - Primary offensive creativity on the team was moved from the central midfield (the traditional place for such on most soccer teams) and moved to a forward and a winger (Moreno and Convey). Instead, the central midfield became more complimentary and became devoted more to maintaining possession and stealing the ball back from the opposition.

    There were a couple of reasons for this. First Olsen and The Demanator are at heart two-way players. They have also been complimentary players on offense throughout their careers. Also Carroll was very much having an on-the-job learning experience at d-mid and so that inclined the other two to focus more on defense first.

    The upshot of this that while for periods the team looked like, as Eric Wynalda said several times, the best looking team in MLS, goals were hard to come by. (The goal difficulty was aggravated also by Eskandarian, like Carroll, still feeling his way along as the true #9 on the team.)

    So this was pretty much the MO of the team for the first half of the season, or until Convey left for Reading. (Again, this is NOT a slam Bobby thread. This world we live in is NOT actually Bobby's world and we are all just role players in it.) And of course when Bobby went on Nats leave the team suffered stylistically if not always results-wise.

    But then Convey left and Gomez eventually was hired. But the change wasn't that simplistic. Several other things happened and they started happening before Gomez started with the team.

    The first two changes were Nowak began starting Adu as the a-mid and he benched Carroll for a couple of games. Carroll was struggling in learning the d-mid role so in sitting him Nowak in effect re-emphasised the defensive roles of Olsen and Kovalenko.

    But then he brought in Adu as an a-mid to balance things out. This paid immediate dividends on offense because it put a new offensive creator very close to to main old one (Moreno), much closer than Convey, the older secondary offensive creator, was. Adu also had the advantage over Convey in that he had fewer defensive responsibilities than Convey had and so he could help Moreno more. Also having the focus of the offense move to the middle of the field allowed Nowak to get Gros (Convey's nominal replacement on the wing) to work on his defensive skills- which IMO have really improved over the last month. By having Gros thinking defense first, this took pressure off the d-mid and defense and is to me a big reason why our defense has improved this past month. Yes, getting Nellie back helped, but having Gros play defense first helped Petke immensely, allowing him to play his game better. I ask folks to look back at the last regular season DCU-metro game in the swamp with EZ in Nellie's role and how well we stopped that team. It's the team defense that's improved that makes me feel okay about missing Nelsen for the next game.

    The next step was the insertion of Gomez for Adu which was essentially a tactical upgrade rather than a strategic one. The offense is a little better with Gomez as a-mid rather than Adu.

    Next came a two-pronged step, though also tactical rather than strategic: The insertion of Carroll back at d-mid and moving Kovalenko over to right wing, benching Gros as the normal starter when everyone's available. Gros here loses out to Dema like Adu loses out to Gomez- the older vet is a bit smarter than the rook this year. I also guess that Nowak nows that Dema can get more into the attack from the wing than Gros can. (Now that Gros is playing defense first notice how rarely he's making those endline dashes that we saw so much of early in the season.

    Thus we now have the team. In short Nowak changed the offensive strategy of the team halfway through the year by inserting an a-mid.
     
  2. Cweedchop

    Cweedchop Member+

    Mar 6, 2000
    Ellicott City, Md
    Very well said Skip..

    To me, the key moves were instilling roles for players.. Carroll, Olsen and especially Stewart were designated specific roles and that has helped this team more than anything.. To me Convey was a sort of wild card in that he had an essential free role to start on the left but move along the midfield as the game went along and that did turn out to be effective at times.. As for Kovalenko, this guy is the ultimate team player and he seems to be a player without any set position.. He is our jack of all trades (albeit a suspended one) that will do the work at any position in midfield while the rest of the players have cemented roles..

    This to me was a genius move on Nowak's part and something that was direly needed after the Hudson years of pick up soccer..
     
  3. kravi

    kravi Member

    May 3, 2004
    Section 134
    @Ursula,

    Great analysis. You put into words what I was wondering about (but not quite getting). Thank you :)

    --kravi
     
  4. sch2383

    sch2383 New Member

    Feb 14, 2003
    Northern Virginia
    Good post. It seems to me that one of the biggest keys this year was the midfield finally getting its fitness level up. Early in the season, it seemed as if Nowak's system was leaving our players gassed around the 70 minute mark, but once they got their fitness up and the system down, that problem diminished. I think that this system requires the team to have a great deal of on the field chemistry, you have to know where your teammates are and are going to otherwise it won't work.
     
  5. Tweaked

    Tweaked Member

    Jan 30, 2003
    The Hill
    I'd also add that once the system is learned, you can use the system to conserve energy, allowing players to be more effective in the latter stage of the game. In the beginning of the year, players were still learning the system so they had to work harder to make in work. Now that they have the system down and the pieces fit better, it works alot smoother.

    Also, our ability to score goals and get teams down makes our opponents have to chase and work harder, allowing DC to play smarter and conserve energy throughout the game.
     
  6. onefineesq

    onefineesq Member+

    Sep 16, 2003
    Laurel, MD
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I know that this isn't a slam Bobby thread, but i have to call a spade a spade. before this season, most United posters here wanted Bobby in the middle. Nowak came on as coach, and quickly stated that he would have Bobby in the middle, running things. However, a funny thing happened along the way. After camp (and presumably an opportunity for Nowak to actually witness Bobby in the middle), Nowak chose NOT to play Convey in the middle. I know that many people here would love to find justification for it, but the bottom line is Nowak realized the obvious, which is that Bobby isn't a playmaker. He figured that since he was the best crosser though, that he could stick him on the wing and hope for the best. This was done despite the fact that we had not one player who had any real experience playing amid. At one point, we even tried Jaime there because we were so thin. So the big reason for the improvement is simple. The two guys that we have manning the middle of the field from the a-mid spot (Gomez and Adu since his switch to and development in the amid postion at the end of the year), are just plain better playmakers than Bobby. As such, we have a true amid on the field now, instead of a host of tidy little square ball passers all clogging up the midfield. We can dance around that any way we want, but it doens't change the reality. This late season run has DIRECTLY coincided with Gomez' arrival and Adu's development. If Bobby truly were a good playmaker, United would have been having better results throughout the early part of the year.
     
  7. Sanguine

    Sanguine Member

    Jul 4, 2003
    Reston, VA
    Ursula - It's funny that you and I were at odds in the Convey thread, since I agree with pretty much everything you said here. (Except you said Dema was playing right midfield now, when he's really on the left - but I'll chalk that up to a brain fart)
     
  8. BBBulldog

    BBBulldog Moderator
    Staff Member

    Jun 25, 2004
    Dinamo Zagreb
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    Croatia
    I thought Ursula was a chick :D OK nothing to see here, keep talkin..
     
  9. ursula

    ursula Member

    Feb 21, 1999
    Republic of Cascadia
    Yeah I know. That thread was bothering me. I could tell I was reacting more than thinking. So I stepped back and thought what exactly happened during the season with Convey and Gomez and the defense, etc? So I looked at the main personnel moves, especially the ones where people changed positions or left the team (Convey) or joined it (Gomez or Hendrickson). That led me to look at that curious decision by Nowak: starting Benny Olsen in the middle of the field. (I have a question for all: Has any intrepid reporter ever asked Nowak to talk about that decision, which carries with it the decision NOT to move Convey into the middle?)

    Then everything clicked for me once I keyed on Olsen, not Convey.

    But it's interesting to read the other posts here. Cweed. Onefineesq. Tweeked. sch2383. I think kravi hit it right- not so much about me but about there are a bunch of us here in some level of our brains trying to figure out just what Nowak is thinking, what it is about Convey or the defense, various other questions. We can all see a slightly different picture on the team and thus sometimes, like in the case of Robert Convey, those slightly different impressions get polarized into seemingly opposite viewpoints. But they aren't really.


    And Dema was a brain fart!
     
  10. garbaggio

    garbaggio Member

    Jan 3, 2001
    Arlington
    Great stuff!

    In my mind, it seems we've moved from a swarming midfield where the players seemed like interchangeable parts during the course of any game
    - to a system where our midfielders have more defined roles. Especially now with Gomez as our principal creative mid.

    I don't know if what I just said makes any sense. But what Ursula and others have described does make sense and jibes with my muddled impressions.

    Thanks for putting your observations into intelligible English!
     
  11. mcontento

    mcontento Member

    Jun 26, 2000
    Catalina Wine Mixer
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I think the answer of Olsen is right in front of you Skip. Think who is the coach for a second and what type of a player he was. Who on DC has a heart as big as Nowak? There's only one that comes to mind. Ben.

    Now you support Ben with two warriors like Dema and Carroll, and add hard working runners like Gros and Earnie to the mix and you start to see what our old coach would call a "Ben Hur" type player running the midfield. Bobby could never fill that role in spite of his so-called talent.

    The addition of Adu and Gomez gave us some offensive flair once the defensive mentality was already set. This allowed them to flourish since they were surrounded by players who would go 100mph to win balls and fight defensively behind them if they turned it over on the offensive end. (it also helps that Moreno is more like a #10 playing in the 9 slot).
     
  12. nancyb

    nancyb Member

    Jun 30, 2000
    Falls Church, VA
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I hear he's got a great ass. :D
     
  13. Marco10

    Marco10 Member+

    Sep 9, 2002
    Interesting thread. I will say from personal experience that I think the change from hoping Bobby was the answer in central midfield to hoping Ben would be the answer happened in the Carolina Cup in preseason.

    In the game against Charleston, Bobby (in his first significant minutes in a real preseason game with DC since he had been in Mexico with the Olympic team) was started in central MF. He played hideously badly (most likely due to lack of playing time with the team BTW), but point is he was sent to the left wing to start the second half, and Ben who was playing the right was moved inside. Bobby was noticeably pissed and proceeded to spend most of the second half running around waving his hands and generally acting like the world was against him. Meanwhile Bennie was dominating the game on the inside and turned the tide in a very close game. Oddly enough, I believe Bobby even scored the winning goal on a freekick late in the game, but clearly Olsen (and Carroll) were the most important players on the pitch.

    After the game, the players came over to salute the fans, not Bobby of course, but I got a chance to talk to Olsen. I asked him about him being the new center midfielder of the future, and he laughed and said "We'll see" as if it was something just thought of and seemingly unrealistic. But turns out he never played outside again, and while Bobby dabbled inside, he never really played there again either.

    I agree with the guy that says Nowak realized early on that Bobby didn't provide the skills Nowak expected of a center midfielder, and Bennie does which is why he chose Bennie to play there. And I think Ursula is right in the sense that the midfield always needed more balance early on and they found it once they signed Gomez. Dema, Bennie, and Carroll was plenty of feistiness, but not enough sustainable offense, Then Adu, Bennie, and Dema was plenty of offense, but not enough defense, but Gomez, Olsen ,and Carroll is the best of both worlds.

    Credit Nowak for figuring that out.
     
  14. Sanguine

    Sanguine Member

    Jul 4, 2003
    Reston, VA

    I appreciate your analysis, and I'm glad we're more or less on the same page. I knew while posting in that other thread that I was being a bit overzealous and hyperbolic, but I find that the extreme tends to make the biggest impression. (One needs to look no further than the presidential election to see this borne out.)
     

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