D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen surprised opponents and fans alike two weekends ago in Montreal when he decided to start Russell Canouse at right back, a position he last played in 2016 on another continent.
Canouse was there again in the second half of the friendly against Puebla last week at Buzzard Point. And following the team’s weekend off, the tried-and-true defensive midfielder appears to be Olsen’s first choice to start on the back line Sunday at Portland.
“I prefer central midfield, but I’m willing to adjust to help the team any way I can,” Canouse said Tuesday. “I’ll take it and run with it.”
The other primary option is Leonardo Jara, a starter most of the year. But with just a month left in the regular season, Olsen wants to get Canouse back into game rhythm, even if that means playing him out of position.
Leading to the Montreal match, Canouse was returning from a collapsed lung that had cost him five games. In his absence, though, Júnior Moreno and Felipe Martins formed a strong bond in defensive midfield.
So Canouse landed in the back, where he played twice in 2016 for Bochum in Germany’s second division.
“I was just happy to get an opportunity to play a full shift,” he said of rejoining D.C.'s starting lineup. “I understand the tactical awareness that goes with the position. I felt I could go in and do the job and do it well.”
Canouse did perform well against Montreal during the 3-0 victory.
“I have to be a little more patient,” he said of the new position. “In midfield, I am able to control the game more. I can try to push the game the way I want to. At outside back, I have to almost accept what comes to me.”
>> Rooney, Kamara or both? Ola Kamara scored twice against Montreal, but captain Wayne Rooney is back in the mix after a two-game, red-card suspension.
So how will Olsen handle the two proven forwards in what has been a one-striker formation? Furthermore, who will orchestrate the attack, Paul Arriola or Luciano Acosta?
Olsen will not reveal anything until game time in Portland.
“Ola, since he has come, has been sharp,” Olsen said of the Norwegian striker, who signed last month. “Paul has been really sharp in that [playmaking] spot and allows us to do some different things from a [defensive] pressing standpoint. There’s Lucho and Wayne. There’s a lot of tough choices out there.”
It’s hard to imagine Rooney coming off the bench, so in all likelihood, Olsen will start both him and Kamara, perhaps with Rooney as a withdrawn forward. As for Acosta, who slipped out of favor late in the summer, a continuing role as a substitute seems in store.
After United acquired three players late in the summer transfer window, Olsen had warned he would need time to identify his best lineup and formation. With the home stretch arriving, Olsen said he has “a pretty good idea who we are going to be the rest of the year and how we are going to go about being successful.
“It starts with being hard to beat and defensively sound and hard to play against. That has to be the foundation for us to have success the next four games and beyond. We’ve got some talented players, we have some guys who can make plays, but to me it starts with defensive effort.”
>> International duty: Moreno is with the Venezuelan national team for Tuesday’s friendly against Colombia in Tampa. He is scheduled to rejoin United on Wednesday and travel with the team to Portland on Friday.
>> U-23 assignment: Rookie center back Donovan Pines played the last 29 minutes and had a goal disallowed in the U.S. under-23 national team’s 2-0 victory over Japan in a closed-door exhibition in Chula Vista, Calif. The squad is preparing for Olympic qualifying in January. Pines will rejoin United on Wednesday.
>> Asad’s status: Argentine attacker Yamil Asad, whom United reacquired last week for the 2020 season, is awaiting approval of a work visa before being able to play for second-division Loudoun United. He signed a short-term contract with the Leesburg-based USL Championship team, which has nine matches left, starting Friday against visiting Memphis. United has yet to formally announce Asad’s deals.