Scouting Report: D.C. United
The Crew makes its 28th regular season, and only visit in 2013, to RFK Stadium this weekend. Renewing one of Major League Soccer's original rivalries, the Black & Gold has beaten D.C. United on the road just six times in the clubs' 18 year history.
Coming off its first playoff appearance since 2007, Ben Olsen's side is shouldering lofty expectations this season as it returns 2012 MLS Best XI selection Chris Pontius, 2011 Volkswagen Most Valuable Player Dwayne De Rosario and Bill Hamid, one of the League's top young goalkeepers.
MATCHING THE INTENSITY
D.C. United's on-field identity is a direct reflection of its leader in Head Coach Ben Olsen. Much like his playing days for the Black-and-Red from 1998-2009, the 35-year-old Olsen brings an intensity to the touchline that translates to his players on the field.
"They kind of seem to embody what [Olsen] stood for as a player: hard-working, tenacious, they get after people, go hard into tackles and fight for each other," Crew defender Chad Marshall said.
Matching United's intensity on Saturday will be crucial for a Crew side that is looking to turn heads in the Eastern Conference early on in 2013 with its first national TV broadcast, especially in front of a hostile crowd in Washington.
KEYING ON THE WINGS
Typically playing in a 4-5-1 formation, stopping D.C. United's dynamic wing play from Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius in support of lone striker Lionard Pajoy will be a focus for the Crew backline on Saturday. The two players combined for 18 goals and eight assists in 2012 to lead United to spot in the Eastern Conference Final of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Imposing the Black & Gold's style of play will be the key to containing United's wing play.
"From our side, we have to make sure we take care of the ball and make [United's wing players] defend so they don't have too much juice to go forward," Head Coach Robert Warzycha explained. "That's the best way to limit their impact. We have to be aware of where they are on the field and defend well."
"[Pontius and DeLeon] are two players who are really good at running at guys," Marshall added. "They interchange really well. Pontius can come up top a little bit, as well as DeLeon. We have to be communicating and talking to keep them in front of us."
In-between Pontius and DeLeon, the always-dangerous Dwayne De Rosario will require constant monitoring in the middle of the field.
"[De Rosario] is a special player," Marshall explained. "He's been a top player in this League for a number of years now. You've always got to keep an eye on him. He likes to pop up in different spots and he can score from anywhere inside 30 yards."
GOALS AT A PREMIUM
Coming off MLS Player of the Week honors, goalkeeper Bill Hamid has been United's star through three matches in 2013. The 22-year-old Hamid enters Saturday's clash coming off back-to-back shutouts, including a seven-save performance against the New York Red Bulls last week.
Though he's recently been in Jürgen Klinsmann's United States roster plans, Hamid was not been called-in to National Team camp for upcoming qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. While D.C. United will be without centerback Dejan Jakovic, who was summoned for Canada's friendly against Japan, goals will likely still be at a premium for the Crew facing Hamid's current form in front of net.