Obviously, United has the edge in current form after a satisfying 4-1 thumping of Colorado at RFK last Saturday, while the Wizards have staggered a bit lately in allowing Toronto to come back and tie them 1-1 in Arrowhead Sunday. Beyond that, DC has lost only once in their last nine games, while KC hasn’t won at all in just over a month.
The Wizards have clearly suffered from the loss of league leading scorer Eddie Johnson, having gone without a win since he left for the Gold Cup and he is still away now in Venezuela for Copa America. Since his back to back hat-tricks in beating Eastern rivals NE and NY, the Wizard’s offense has struggled to score consistently. KC managed three goals to tie the Red Bulls in the first match EJ missed, but have a mere two goals in their last three games since then.
Without their main scoring threat, KC has just not been able to find any decent forward pairing. Scott Sealy has struggled to do anything threatening with either Arnaud or Movsisyan along side him. And while Movsisyan scored two of the three goals against NY, he has peppered shots into the stands since that outburst. Davy Arnaud has looked disgusted with the whole situation, and has had to drop back in midfield where he is even less effective whenever someone is subbed in along the frontline.
On defense, Kansas City will be without former defender of the year, Jimmy Conrad who is also with the US National team. However; on top of that, KC coach Curt Onalfo likely will have to contend with the loss of his first choice to replace Conrad. Aaron Holbein had to come out KC’s last match at halftime after pulling a hamstring, along with left back Jose Burciaga who left at the same time with an undisclosed injury. KC was forced to drop rookie of the year candidate Michael Harrington from midfield into the left back slot to finish the match as they simply had no other decent options.
United on the other hand, has clearly missed Jaime Moreno in spirit, but not on the field. Emilio has easily picked up the scoring slack, while reserves Kpene and last week’s hero Addlery have helped United’s offense barely miss a beat. In midfield, Justin Moose has held his own in replacing Olsen, but it is really the emergence of Fred that has kept United from feeling the effects of losing the heart and soul of their midfield.
Ironically on defense, United will be without their own former defender of the year, and have a nagging hamstring problem creating some havoc as well. Bryan Namoff is a slow healer and will vacate his right back slot due to his balky hamstring. With Boswell away and Erpen being traded over the weekend to Colorado, it falls to newly acquired Greg Vanney and second year player Devon McTavish to hold down the center, while likely Clyde Simms will replace Namoff on the right.
Looking at how the match is likely to break down, it seems that DC’s offense should have more of an edge over KC’s makeshift defense than KC’s offense will have over DC patchwork defense. Obviously, it’s troubling to think that Vanney will play such a key role after a mere one day of practice with the team, but then again DC got him specifically for his leadership and organizational skills, so this is the perfect audition for him.
Defensively, United does have some things to worry about as KC has their own Argentine playmaker in Carlos Marinelli, who’s rapidly rising to the top of MLS, and he will certainly test Brian Carroll to the limit. Also, Victorine and Davy Arnaud have been troublesome to DC in the past and will give Gros and Simms everything they can handle too.
But midfield support is meaningless if KC’s forwards don’t find a way to become threatening. Sealy and Movsisyan or Pore, or whoever they toss out there shouldn’t trouble Vanney and McTavish at all if they keep playing the way they have been and there’s no reason to think they will improve. Without the dynamic play of EJ to stretch the defense for them to operate, neither of them has shown much in the way of making room for themselves. True, KC will have a bit of a speed edge, but proper positioning eliminates a speed advantage and Vanney is nothing if not picture perfect in his positioning. Further, while McTavish has been sound in defense so far, Vanney will no doubt make sure he never has a doubt creep into his mind.
For United going forward, DC should hold the advantage at every offensive position except possibly Moose going against Harrington. Moose has a bit more experience of course, but Harrington has been simply a revelation this season. He scored his first career goal in his first game against DC in their season opener and his third goal last week in the tie with Toronto. However, all that was playing as a midfielder, when forced to play defense he gave up the tying goal as Ronnie O’Brien danced around him easily to get in that cross to Dichio.
Still, even ceding that relatively even matchup to KC, United won’t have too much trouble anywhere else in the offensive third. Emilio and Addlery have the speed and power to humiliate Tyson Wahl if Holbein is still out, and will still have the edge even if he plays. That pesky Garcia will hack and slash his way into holding his own more likely than not, but I’m looking forward to his steel cage matchups with Addlery. United’s Jamaican forward showed quite a nasty edge to his game against the Rapids and is bigger, heavier, and at least five steps faster than Garcia will ever be.
Fred and Gomez each have the edge in skill and savvy so while Jewsbury and Zavagnin are decent players, neither should be able to contain United’s dynamic duo in midfield the whole game. Assuming DC has learned their lesson to play wide and make the deep runs consistently, DC’s offense should be able to create plenty of opportunities.
Now after all that rosy talk of matchups and form, a glance at the history between these two when they play in Arrowhead sobers you up a bit. United has had some success there recently and actually hasn’t lost in Missouri since July 2004, but prior to that there have been some hellacious losses in Arrowhead. United is 2-0-2 in the last four games played there, but 3-8 prior to that with one of those being a shootout win.
However, despite the recent success, the old ghosts of Arrowhead just never leave the back of your mind. DC didn’t get their first win in that god forsaken tomb until 1998. DC had actually won in expansion cities Chicago and Miami before ever winning at KC. And they were some of the worst losses ever, 5-1 and 6-1 thumpings in ’96 and ’97 when we were the toast of the league. We’ve lost there on Independence Day as well, in 2002 on one of our eternal away games for the Fourth.
There’s been storm ravaged games and 30 hour plane flight fiascos. MLS rules governing storm delays and less than 90 minute wins have been created due to DC-KC matchups. You name it and it has happened in a game in Arrowhead. Given a 1PM start with the weather slated for 90 degrees and a thousand percent humidity, don’t think for a second that one clap of lightning won’t unleash the fury of the heavens right after KC has scored against the run of play and the game is called due to weather.
OK, I got a bit carried away there. Seriously, DC has the edge in this game and should win by all that is holy, but should some gremlin decide to gum up the works, or United backslide into their Real Salt Lake form, then all bets are off.