D.C. United’s Marcelo Saragosa makes the most of limited playing time


United’s Marcelo Saragosa, right, played an important role in midfield in a 4-2 win over Chicago. Saragosa played alongside Perry Kitchen even though both are primarily defensive midfielders. (Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
August 24, 2012

Marcelo Saragosa didn’t want to stir up trouble. He didn’t want to continue sitting on the bench, either.

“When you don’t get a chance, it can get frustrating,” D.C. United’s genial midfielder said this week. “The best thing to do is stick with the coach. I like Benny.”

Personal feelings aside, the 30-year-old Brazilian would remind Ben Olsen of his paltry playing time this summer: 61 minutes since May 2.

“He is always telling me: ‘Listen, I’ve got it. You need to put me in the game,’ ” Olsen recounted after Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over the Chicago Fire at RFK Stadium.

In his first league start in 31 / 2 months, Saragosa gave a standout performance in a two-way role. A repeat assignment Saturday afternoon at Montreal seems likely.

“He set a good tone. I am proud of him,” Olsen said. “He has had a tough year. Even though he is frustrated in training, he always does his job.”

Saragosa spent seven seasons with three MLS clubs before playing in Azerbaijan last year.

He returned last winter to sign with United and started two of the first three regular season matches. In April, when his father fell ill and later died, Saragosa was home in Brazil.

Until Wednesday’s starting assignment, he had appeared in only five of the previous 15 regular season matches. Perry Kitchen is United’s first-choice defensive midfielder and has missed only two starts, both because of U.S. under-23 commitments early in the campaign. In Olsen’s system, the second central midfielder is almost always a playmaker — not Saragosa’s forte.

But against Chicago, Branko Boskovic was serving a red card suspension and Dwayne De Rosario played on the front line. So Olsen paired Saragosa and Kitchen.

“We had some talks and meetings about my situation,” Saragosa said. “I work hard and make the commitment. I am here to play. If he wants me to play, I am ready. But if he doesn’t, I understand.”

Without a playmaker in the lineup, Saragosa and Kitchen played side by side and coordinated their movement: When one went forward, the other provided cover.

“It was a good shape for us,” said Kitchen, 20, a second-year pro. “We hadn’t worked on it too much but we knew we had to battle.”

The tandem’s industrious work disrupted Chicago’s tactics. It also allowed De Rosario to remain in a high position in order to rejuvenate an attack that had scored three goals in the previous five league matches.

“Sometimes when you have two like-minded guys in the same spot, you worry about them both doing that holding midfield role and not being able to push out,” Olsen said. “They did it very well, and it’s an option going forward” this season.

Montreal trails United by four points but has played three more matches and will have only six remaining after Saturday, making this a must-win situation.

Defenders Hassoun Camara (14 starts) and Nelson Rivas (nine) are serving suspensions for the Impact, which is 9-3-2 at home. Last weekend, Montreal posted a 3-1 victory over the visiting San Jose Earthquakes, MLS’s points leaders.

While United boasts a 12-game unbeaten streak in Washington, the club has lost four straight and five of six on the road.

Montreal is “confident right now, they’ve been playing well of late, and we’ll be going into a tough environment,” said De Rosario, MLS’s co-leader in assists with 11. “Hopefully we can bring that same mentality that we had against Chicago to Montreal.”

United notes: Boskovic and defender Emiliano Dudar have returned from red card suspensions. Forward Maicon Santos (foot) and defenders Robbie Russell (foot) and Daniel Woolard (concussion) remain out. . . .

De Rosario (Canada), Hamdi Salihi (Albania) and Dejan Jakovic (Canada) have been summoned for World Cup qualifiers Sept. 7 and 11. Canada will play Panama twice; Albania faces Cyprus and Switzerland. The matches fall during United’s 12-day break.

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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