This is my response to Knave's thread on the team and Goff's midseason assessment. This may go a bit but since I have several patients with needles sound asleep I have a little time... One thing I read several times here lately goes something like, "DCU is a .500 team that got lucky (or lightning struck) at the end of last season." That may be true but unfortunately the various writes of sentences like that never explained why that 'ol lightning struck. It seemed like the writers thought it was random chance that somehow gifted United with the MLS Cup last year. I emphatically disagree with that. There were definite reasons why the team won it all last year and why this year the team hasn't been able to sustain that excellence with notable exceptions (as Goff noted) in the wins over Chicago and New England. Generally those reasons have to do with how the offense was (and is) constructed much more than how the defense was (is) doing- though the defense has impacted the team too. To understand how the offense has impacted the team's fortunes one has to at least vaguely understand how a team- any team- scores on a regular basis. Basically a team needs to have multiple avenues towards goal. The fewer ways a team can threaten opposing defenses the easier it is for defenses to shut them down. The various offensive avenues include: 1) dribbling & passing up the middle, 2) moving the ball up the flanks then dribbling or passing the ball on the ground, 3) crossing the ball for an air attack, 4) forward pressure on the other team resulting in quick turnovers, 5) quick transitions from defense to offense before the opposing defense takes over, etc. You get the idea and can probably say this as well as me. Now back to United. Phase 1 Go back to the beginning of last year. The midfield and forwards looked like this: -------Moreno-----Eskandarian/Adu -------------Kovalenko Convey--------Olsen------Stewart --------------Carroll The first thing that should be noted is that this lineup and every lineup since is not good in the air. This is big. It's a handicap. It makes it so that the team must have oither ways to attack defenses and those ways must be better than if they also could use the air. In addition this first offense was hampered by several factors: 1) Esky and particularly Adu were young and not confident they could score against MLS defenses. 2) Neither Dema nor Benny were true a-mids. (Dema did however score all but one assist from this set up.) 3) There was a disconnection between the wingers and the forwards. To sum up, basically the offense had to go through Moreno on the ground to other players who were not primarily scorers, or from those players to Moreno who looks to dish rather than score usually. Most of the goals were scored as a result of forward pressure- which the team did very well. Thus it is not surprising that the team struggled to score usually and a .500 record naturally followed. Phase 2 After a multi game transition the team mutated into this: ---------Eskandarian-----Moreno -----------------Gomez (Adu) Dema/Gros-------Olsen-----------Stewart ----------------Carroll This is when the proverbial lightning struck and it struck because of the changes in the offense, not by some random chance: 1) Gomez was a huge upgrade at a-mid. 2) Eskandarian found his confidence. 3) Stewart developed a rapport with the forwards and Gomez. 4) To a lesser extent, Olsen and Carroll both provided timely forward passes. Of these reasons, #1 and #3 were the two catalysts. Gomez and Moreno developed a quick bond that opposing defenses had a hard time stopping. Both being good at dribbling and passing in tight spaces they were just quicker than opposing d-mids and central defenders. If one of them got stopped, the other sprang free. However the addition of Earnie to the offense was almost as big. This presented a whole new avenue of attack- from the flanks. And Stewart did it both by threatening to score and by feeding the ball into the front three. Between Gomez and Stewart (and Moreno), Eskandarian got his confidence because he was that much more open. Alecko can't really create his own shot by dribbling past more than one defenders so he needs his teamates to distract opposing defenders. Think how well that worked in MLS Cup, able to turn on Garcia 1v1 because Conrad and Guitterez etc had to worry about Moreno and Gomez and Stewart (who caused the 3rd own goal.) Kansas could shut down Moreno and still give up three goals. This was a very finely tuned offense. Note that the wingers didn't contribute much at all. Phase 3 In the offseason, Stewart left to be sort of replaced by Gros and Guppy (and Dema was hurt for a long time): --------------Moreno----Eskandarian Gros/Guppy---------Gomez/Adu----------Gros/Dema/Olsen/other -----------------Olsen/Simms --------------------Carroll/Simms Most of us here (including me) didn't think the offense would stagnate much, but it did: - The loss of Stewart with the possible addition of Guppy being hurt so much resulted in almost no flank play. - As a result of that opposing defense could concentrate on the three forward players, Gomez, Moreno and Esky (and Adu). This most affected Esky who can't take more than one defender at a time. His goal production simply stopped. As stated under Phase 2, Gros and Kovalenko can't supply much in the way of offense from with wings. So with fewer avenues to attack the opposition (much like in phase 1- the beginning of last year) the team has scored less frequently and hel-lo .500! Phase 4 But there is a glimmering of a phase 4 and it happened in the good victories over Chicago and NE: --------------Moreno----Quaranta --------------------Gomez Gros---------------Olsen----------------Dema ------------------Carroll/Simms The simple change from Esky to Tino is huge folks as they are very different players. In essense, Tino brought back flank play, as the froward triangle, all very similar players in passing ability, move across the width of the field in passing the ball to each other. This opens up spaces for them to run onto, spaces that result in 1v1 challenges that they will often win. Goals become possible again. But this lineup is only most of what I exect in a fully realized phase four. I expect two more changes: - Guppy will become the starting left winger over Gros. I was dubious of The Gupster at the beginning of the season but not now: With the front three of Gomez, Moreno , and Quaranta moving so fluidly over the width of the attacking third they will often be in a 1v1 poosition for Guppy to cross to them. That's an entirely different sitiuation of the front three of Moreno, Gomez, and Esky clotting up front for a cross. -Dema moves to a central mid position. I always found it odd that Nowak moved Dema to the wings as he just can't generate offense from there. But he can add bite up the middle. I don't ecxpect to see Nowak always start Dema in the middle but it will happen enough to help. Because of this: -----------Moreno----Quaranta ------------------Gomez(Adu) Guppy----------Kovalenko-----Olsen/Gros ----------------Olsen/Carroll/Simms I'm feeling optimistic. This group minus Guppy already has beaten the best in MLS. If they are able to start together for an extended run- like phase 2 last year- this team will go far.