Soccer conforms to the demands of Darwinism. Particular positions demand particular traits.
Goalies need fearlessness. Strikers need pace. Midfielders need pizzazz. And, when it comes to defenders, communication is crucial.
As D.C. United acquired defender Brandon McDonald from the San Jose Earthquakes in a trade two weeks ago, they had this in mind. The team's youthful back line had just conceded late, damaging — and in their eyes, preventable — goals in two games running. The squad, in that sense, was crying out for a fresh dose of determination.
"He's a real take-charge sort of guy," assistant coach Chad Ashton said last week. "We're not the loudest team in terms of communication and organization in the league and ... he's good for the younger guys, not only doing his job but helping the other guys near him put out fires."
With McDonald running the rearguard, the team doused a big one in a 1-0 victory at New York on Saturday. According to players and coaches, the 25-year-old's trademark talk was as important to that process as ever.
"I think without communication, it makes it harder on everyone, especially being in the back," McDonald said. "Everybody in front of you, you're their eyes, so we have to do a good job of communication."
Against the Red Bulls, the defense did. So much so, in fact, that coach Ben Olsen is convinced McDonald's vocals are paying off already.
"I think he's made Ethan [White] better, I think Ethan had a very good game [Saturday], best I've seen him play in a while," said Olsen. "[McDonald] was great; he has a good demeanor on the ball, he's a good passer."
White didn't disagree.
"Me and Perry [Kitchen] are still learning, so him just coming in, telling us what to do, where to go, it's huge," White said."He's very vocal, you know where he's going to be, where he's going to go, where he wants you, so it just makes everyone sharper.
McDonald also has a sharp side. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder is a no-nonsense defender who makes his pay by being tough in the tackle. Defender Dejan Jakovic mused that McDonald was a "tough cookie." Olsen, meanwhile, was a bit more blunt in his assessment.
"He's got a little nasty in him," Olsen said.
And he means that as a good thing.
"It was much-needed back there," Olsen said of McDonald's added intensity. "We need a little bit of personality. We have talent, but we need personality, and I think Dwayne [De Rosario] and Brandon have brought that."
Talking and tackling.
Those are the traits that McDonald is helping bring to a back line that has constantly mixed and matched players this season but nonetheless appears to finally be coalescing. If and when it does, those that pulled the strings on the trade may look back and view McDonald as one of the more prized pieces they placed in the puzzle.
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