DC Playing for Pride in Mexico

No MLS team has won a game in Mexico and unless there’s a miracle in store for DC United tomorrow night, that streak is certain to continue until next year. Houston did manage the first ever point for an MLS team two weeks ago tying Pumas, but it would be a truly stunning upset if United’s reserves pulled off three points against Cruz Azul.

But United’s reserves shocked Saprissa for the first ever MLS point in Costa Rica two weeks ago, so anything can happen. Especially as Cruz Azul has had struggles of its own lately and might be ripe for an upset. The five time CONCACAF Champions barely managed to beat DC’s reserves in RFK three weeks ago, then gave up a late goal to allow Marathon of Honduras to tie them in their last CONCACAF match in Mexico City, and have also just lost their last league match five days ago to rival Morelia.

However, that’s about it for the good news for DC. Despite all that, Cruz Azul is still wildly more talented than the group DC United are sending down there. With the match being meaningless as DC can’t advance, and nearly all the key starters being held out for the crucial MLS regular season finale in Columbus, DC will be fielding a team only slightly better than the team that pulled off the miracle draw in Saprissa.

And the only reason the team will even have a few more starters this time is because Vide, Dyachenko, and Wells are all out due to yellow card suspensions, and reserve cum starter Greg Janicki is out with a slight leg strain. Which means Clyde Simms is almost certain to play in the central midfield and Louis Crayton may well start in goal. Possibly Devon McTavish or Bryan Namoff makes an appearance too, depending on how healthy Quavas Kirk is returning from a foot injury he suffered in Costa Rica.

So, given the available players, it seems United will go with the NE hero Francis Doe and probably rookie Ryan Cordiero as forwards. In midfield, it seems likely Ryan Miller and Quavas Kirk play the outsides, with Boyzzz Khumalo and Clyde Simms in the center. In the defense, Mike Zaher, Pat Carroll, Gonzalo Martinez, and Craig Thompson going left to right.

All in all not such a bad lineup for a Sunday morning tussle with the Galaxy’s reserves, but certainly not much to write home about for a match in Mexico City against the team that has won this tournament every time it has entered it. However, at least this is about as fast a group as United can possibly put on the field, and Cruz Azul may well be vulnerable playing against speed. The Cement Mixers looked like they were wearing cement shoes as they failed to beat the ultra speedy Marathon either time they faced them.

Still, that said, United’s speedy reserves will be going against a Mexican side that is absolutely desperate for points if they want to uphold the Mexican superiority in this region. Cruz Azul is tied with Marathon and Saprissa at the top of group A, all at seven points. But as only two of them can advance and the Cement Mixers finish up playing in Saprissa stadium, they’ll be snapping after these points like a tiger tearing into a T-bone.

Assuming they go all out in this match, they can chose from five first class forwards in Nicolas Vigneri, Alejandro Vela, Miguel Sabah, Javier Orozco, and Pablo Zeballos, he of the sublime butt shot that won the game in RFK. Any combination of which has the speed and skill to have the edge over Pat Carroll and Gonzalo Martinez, who’s form has been eroding faster than Filipino mudslide.

In the center of midfield, Mexican international Gerrardo Torrado and Paraguyan international playmaker Cristian Riveros (or even Edgar Andrade) are easily more talented than Simms and Khumalo, although Khumalo’s speed might really cause Torrado some trouble. Unfortunately, with the 3-5-2 Cruz Azul will almost certainly play, Torrado will get some help from Gabino Velasco (or Jaime Lozano), so that edge is likely to be negated.

However, the best way to beat a 3-5-2 is to get wide and deep, so if Miller and Kirk can get the edge on Cesar Villaluz and Edgar Lugo a few times with the help of Zaher and Thompson, then DC might just find a way to spread the back three of Juarez, Castro and Viades for a goal or two, soccer gods willing.

If that happens early on like it did in Saprissa, DC has a shot at frustrating the Mexicans like they did the Costa Ricans. Especially as Cruz Azul’s poor results of late will maybe begin to weigh on their minds and cause them to tighten up even further. For sure, that would border on the miraculous, but hey, it can happen.

Now far more likely, DC will get shredded like a paper bag and is lucky to hang on for a respectable 2 or 3 goal loss, but United has been nothing if not unpredictable of late and they literally have nothing to lose. United is already out of this tournament as the maximum points they can finish with are 7 if they win against Cruz Azul and Marathon. Unfortunately, every body else already has 7 and DC can’t win any of the tie- breaking scenarios. The first tie breaker is points in games among the tied teams, and all the other teams in the group already have an unbeatable number points in games involving United no matter how the rest of the matches play out.

So, Cruz Azul is the team that has to win out to control their own destiny, and just might be thinking these points are already in the bag. So, if they caught looking past DC and worrying more about their poor league form, or their upcoming match in the Monster’s Cave in Saprissa, then a few lucky bounces for DC and just maybe United takes them down with us in this inaugural CONCACAF Champions League.

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