Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
As Andy Najar zipped up and down the right flank in D.C. United’s match with the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, there was a growing feeling that he would either set up a goal or score one himself against the troubled Red Bulls defenders. He didn’t.
Instead, Najar got sent off in the second half for a boneheaded decision, one that now leaves United head coach Ben Olsen with a big problem heading into the decisive leg of the two teams’ Eastern Conference semifinals series on Wednesday.
With Najar suspended for Wednesday’s match, Olsen will need to figure out who he can deploy at right back to help United beat the Red Bulls inside of Red Bull Arena after playing to a 1-1 draw on Saturday. The Red Bulls have only lost twice all year inside of the place they call their fortress, so Olsen’s decision should have big implications against a New York team that is known to perform better at home.
Olsen’s top two options to replace Najar are Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard. Russell is experienced in playoff games after having gone through several postseason runs with Real Salt Lake, but his aging legs will not provide anywhere near the offensive abilities that the dynamic Najar brought. He also hasn’t started a match since July 15th.
Woolard was the team’s regular left back before being sidelined by concussion issues, and hasn’t played since Aug. 4th. If he is able to play, and can start, then Olsen could slide Chris Korb to the right back spot.
United must feel unfortunate to even be in this position after the way they were playing in the first leg prior to Najar’s ejection, one that he earned only seconds after picking up a yellow card.
Najar had stopped a Red Bulls counterattack by clipping Joel Lindpere from behind, and referee Jair Marrufo deemed it a bookable offense. But as Marrufo tried to whistle the frustrated Najar over so as to give him a yellow card, the United right back walked away before turning and throwing the ball at referee Marrufo with accuracy that resembled that of a championship pitcher in MLB.
“Honestly, in neither of the two instances was it my intention,” said Najar after the game. “The foul that I committed [on Lindpere] was not my intention to foul him, and I didn’t even touch him. He fell over on his own.
“[Then] I was just walking away and then I turned without looking and when I threw the ball, it unfortunately hit the ref.”
Najar will learn from his mistake and grow from it, but if United suffers a loss and is eliminated on Wednesday, his ejection will be further magnified and criticized.
United can avoid all that, however, if the beat their northern rivals. But just who fills in for Najar and how well that player does in such a vital match will go a long way in determining that.
Who do you think Olsen should deploy on the right side of the defense? Still can’t believe Najar committed such a bonehead play? Honestly think he did not mean to throw the ball at the ref?
Share your thoughts below.