From MLS’s worst club to clinching a playoff spot: DC UNITED’s tactical profile

DC United

DC UNITED was labeled by The Guardian as MLS’s worst club when Wayne Rooney joined the Blacks and Reds last summer, which, in fact, was partially true considering their position last season (11th in the Eastern Conference). However, a major turn of events took place ever since the arrival of the former England’s skipper, Ben Olson’s men are the 4th in the Eastern Conference and will be playing their first playoff game in two years next Friday.

What really caught the eye of many was Rooney and Acosta’s partnership so let’s see how this duo and the rest of this team might just make this season a memorable one.

Overall style

DC United is a a fairly flexible and solid side. Their shape on the pitch is usually a 4-4-1-1, however, this one could roam into a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1 shape depending on the personnel in midfield. Ben Olson’s team relies on the gifted and rapid Fullbacks and attacking midfielders to threaten their opponents. Moreover, their pace will be very crucial in order to exploit the space created by the likes of Rooney and Acosta, and be lethal in the counter attacks and quick transitioning.

When it comes to their defensive approach, United don’t mind sitting in their own half forming a tight and compact 4-5-1 with the wingers and defensive midfielders supporting the defender to close down spaces. Central defenders like Birnbaum are vital at times (2nd player with most aerial duels won in the league). Their defensive side is a field where their flexibility is well performed with defensive midfielders like Canouse and Moreno filling and covering the space for the flying Fullbacks: Fisher and Mora are the regular starters in the mentioned position.

However, an exceptional case is when they lineup in a 4-1-4-1 shape, this would be chosen to support a high pressure on the opposition and not letting them build from the back with the 4 midfielders line staying relatively high to close down passing options from the opposition’s defense to their midfield which results into imprecise long balls or passes to the wide areas where the touch line is helpful to ease the press for the DC midfielders.

Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta…

Football is a sport played with 11 men on the pitch, however, this side wouldn’t have gotten any close to the playoffs if it wasn’t for this duo.

The chemistry between these two is unreal: 4 of Rooney’s 12 goals were served by the Argentinian and 4 of Rooney’s 6 assists were presented to Acosta. In other terms these two are crucial for each other and for their club.

The Englishman’s roaming and flexibility is very effective, he attracts pressure, creates space, provides assists and scores goals. Wazza drops to receive the ball between the lines which results into the two following scenarios:

When the defensive line is forced to be dragged then becomes higher for attacking midfielders and pacey wingers like Asad and Steiner to get in behind and step in the space created. In fact his 4 assists given to Acosta were manifested in this fashion.

Or Rooney wouldn’t be man marked and would receive the ball in a dangerous area with no marking and this creates a decision crisis for the opposition’s midfielders and defenders. The golden boy could then be a target man that receives the ball in dangerous areas and create space while under pressure and his movement alone could often be enough. Moreover he can play the role of the lethal finisher he’s always been and scoring goals (12 goals so far this season).

The former Boca Juniors attacking midfielder is indispensable as well for the offensive side of this team. In fact, Acosta is gifted with great dribbling skills, awareness, pace and most importantly superb vision, offering 15 assists this season more than any other player in the MLS. This side’s extreme versatility is also thanks to the roaming of this duo, in fact, Acosta’s movement can create as much danger as Rooney’s.

Finally, Acosta’s dribbling and pace could cause a lot of damage to any defense in the league, these two special traits help him to step in to spaces created by his experienced partner or any other teammate and is essential for the team’s counter attacks.

Paul Arriola: An unsung hero

Paul Arriola is most probably the unsung hero of this team, the American midfielder scored 7 goals and provided 6 assists joint with Rooney after Acosta. But his devotion and determination have been shadowed by the rise of the Argentinian and English partnership. The 23 year old proved that he could be a great help to his team, playing in a number of positions and having remarkable performances when unexpected, Arriola played at right back, right wing back, both wings and finally as a central midfielder, yet another example of this team’s particular versatility.

Despite one negative habit: losing the lead which has happened on 4 occasions this seasons, with a great deal of freedom, quality, experience and creativity DC United could be on their way to a historical season.

About the Author

Michel Jreissati
My name is Michel Jreissati, I’m 17 year old, I’m half French half Egyptian I live in Cairo Egypt. My biggest passion is Football and football analysis, there is nothing that matches up with my love to this sport. This game literally changed my life. I consider myself a dreamer but an executor, a hard worker that once puts something in his head nothing can stop him, I wanna live the life of my dreams which is basically doing something related to the beautiful game. Right now I’m aiming a university in the UK to study sports journalism. I’m currently an assistant in a community club in Cairo which is helping me have a better insight of the game and its tactics.