DC United Heads into the Monster’s Lair

Estadio Saprissa is easily one of the most difficult places to play in all of CONCACAF. Saprissa regularly beats even Mexican teams on their home turf and hasn’t lost a CONCACAF finals match in at least ten years. (I got discouraged and stopped looking.) US teams have fared no better either as KC, Chicago, and Houston have all been victims down there. KC is the only team to even score a goal.

Sadly, with the pride of MLS on the line, United is pretty much sending in the reserves to be slaughtered. Of course, as distasteful as that seems, it really is the smart thing to do as advancement out of the group stage at this point is all but mathematically impossible. United is last in the group with zero points, while the other three teams all have six points, with three games left to play.

It’s really too bad too as this would have been a good opportunity to maybe catch the Costa Ricans while they are a little off balance. Saprissa will be missing five regulars as they were called in to the Costa Rican national team, most notably absent is the key player in their midfield, Walter Centeno who scored the game-winning goal when Saprissa visited RFK a few weeks ago.

Saprissa has also showed a bit of weakness both in CONCACAF and in their league of late as well. The Purple Monster got squished like a grape in Mexico City two weeks ago when Cruz Azul thumped them 4-0, and they barely got by Marathon at home 2-1 after going down a goal. They’ve also slipped to fifth in the Costa Rican league after a win and a loss since United played them.

Still, maybe this is just the kind of David and Goliath miracle that breaks Saprissa’s streak. United’s reserves played exceptionally well against Cruz Azul in RFK last week and really deserved better than to lose 1-0 on a deflected goal.

In particular, the defense was rock solid with newly signed central defender Greg Janicki playing a lovely match. Along with Marc Burch, Devon McTavish, and Gonzalo Martinez, who are the only regular players on the trip, United may well be expecting to keep the game tight and frustrate Saprissa, while hoping to sneak away with a counter-attack goal.

Considering the rock hard astro turf Saprissa plays on, that might be a very good strategy especially if they can find ways to spring their speedy forwards Boyzz Khumalo and Francis Doe. Unfortunately, Saprissa has a ton of speed as well and that plan could easily backfire if United simply spends the whole day on their heels with Saprissa pounding away at them.

Should United win, they would still need to win their remaining two matches (in Mexico against Cruz Azul and at home against Marathon) and would need some specific help from the other teams. Cruz Azul would need to beat Saprissa in Costa Rica and Marathon at home to take the group. Then Saprissa and Marathon would have to tie their remaining match in order for United to advance. Obviously, not a very likely scenario.

Unfortunately, this season has dropped like a stone since the team won the Open Cup. With United’s injury list reaching disaster proportions, their playoff lives clinging by a thread, as well as their horrible start to this tournament, there really is no other choice but run out the youngsters and pray. Simply putting up a respectable performance under these obviously extreme conditions is about the best anyone could hope for.

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