Obviously, the big question is will Beckham play or not? Of course no one, not even Beckham himself knows the answer to that as of today. But, I think he’s in the 18 man roster, and if there’s the slightest chance he feels remotely able, he will take the field in the second half. The crowd and the ESPN audience will no doubt sway him to at least make a few runs to appease the masses.
Now that aside, on to the match itself. United is coming off a startling win in NE without some of it’s key offensive players, but those guys are now back and very nearly ready to start. Given the big stage, they will want to get in there for sure, but will Soehn want to upset the applecart and not reward the big effort put in by reserve players in NE?
On the other side of the field, the Galaxy have injury and lineup concerns their own. Cobi Jones is being honored before the game for some baffling reason, but is just coming back from a hip injury and hasn’t played in weeks. Edson Buddle is just rounding into form after an injury layoff, and Carlos Pavon has looked out of shape and ineffective. Defender Troy Roberts also came out of the last match, a 0-0 tie in Toronto, with an ankle injury, but the Galaxy have precious few defenders.
So, taking a stab at reading Yallop’s mind, I think Kelly Gray drops back to Robert’s right back role alongside King Neptune, Ty Harden and Ante Jazic on the left. Replacing Gray in midfield, I think Yallop brings Martino back to the starting eleven, Klein replacing Cobi, and goes with Gordon as the sole forward in a 4-5-1, who will no doubt have a short hook given his performance in Toronto.
For DC United, I can’t see Soehn taking a chance on starting both Gomez and Moreno as both are just barely back to game readiness. If one or both had to be pulled early, it could be a debacle, so I think Soehn starts one and plays the other in the second half if the opportunity arises. Also, Gros shouldn’t see the bench after his key goal in NE, nor should Kpene or Simms be benched after their lovely performances this past Sunday.
So, with that in mind I think Soehn goes with Kpene and Emilio at forward, Gomez, Fred and Olsen in midfield with Simms backing them up, and Gros back to left back with McTavish, Boswell, and Namoff on the right. That leaves Burch with the short straw for sure, but you gotta give Gros a shot to earn his spot back. However, an interesting idea might be to start Fred for Gomez, or even leave Fred on the bench at first, in order to play Gros in midfield.
Given the way the Galaxy has played this year, it’s clear that no matter who is on the field for DC, they must pressure the ball constantly. If LA is given time and space, they will shred us on counterattacks like they have three of the last four years here winning those games by a combined 13 to 7 in goals scored including a 5-2 thrashing last season. However, more so than any other year, pressure unhinges this far less skillful than normal Galaxy.
Emilio and Kpene should be able to exert a decent amount of pressure and have a bit of a speed and skill advantage over Xavier and Harden in the center, especially if DC can continue to send balls over the top or through the spaces in their flat back four. In midfield, Olsen, Fred (or Gros), and Simms are nothing if not scrappy and determined, so DC should be able to cut off the service to Landon and Gordon, or whoever at forward just like Toronto did this past weekend in limiting the Galaxy to a bare three decent shots.
Donovan is of course the key to everything the Galaxy do, so containing him is of course the priority, which is why I think Gros might be the better choice than Burch in the back. Gros is more athletic and experienced as is McTavish, and Simms is more physical than Carroll. Boswell is good match for Gordon, and with Pavon and Buddle out of form, he should not be troubled too much in this match. So assuming they play like they are capable, DC has the edge nearly everywhere on the field except possibly between the pipes.
In goal for the Galaxy will be the dreaded Joe Cannon, who has been known to single-handedly thwart United into disbelief. He’s seen his team beat DC with one shot on goal, while stopping everything United could throw at him. If he’s on fire, and Landon escapes too many times, it could be another debacle.
But, assuming DC continues to pressure and attack with abandon, they will be able to crack LA’s relatively weak defense. Gomez might see more room to work given they way LA is likely to line up with sort of a box midfield plus Donovan floating around. Plus, Olsen and Fred easily have the edge over Klein and Vagenas, so if they’re forcing mistakes and making runs with impunity, DC should generate plenty of chances.
On top of that, with a huge crowd because of Beckham, the atmosphere at RFK should motivate the team well beyond what they need to pull out a stunning win. DC escaped LA with a point earlier this season like a thief in the night with a 0-0 tie, but these teams are playing far differently than they did that night, so I think this game unfolds much differently. Chris Webb win no doubt shake his head ruefully at this, but I am calling for a rock solid 3-0 win for DC with Jaime coming off the bench to upstage all the Beckham hoopla by scoring his league record 109th goal in the second half.