United Looking to Turn the Tables on the Bulls

Midfielder Santino Quaranta was quite clear about the team’s desire for revenge when asked if he felt there’s an extra incentive for a victory over their closest rival. “Sure, there’s extra incentive! They embarrassed us up there 4-1. That’s fresh in our minds. They outworked us, outplayed us, were more physical, in every aspect of the game they beat us. We looked at that game, and we know we can’t let that happen again. We need to make sure we come out strong, match their intensity, and do what it takes to win the game.”

Assistant coach Chad Ashton was even blunter in his assessment of what happened and what needs to be done about it. “They physically beat us up at their place, and I think we have to turn that around. We have to turn the tables on them in that respect. I think we can play with anybody [in terms of talent], but we physically got beat up in that match and we plan to change that.”

In that last match, NY overpowered DC players in key areas of the field. Obviously, NY’s Colombian forward, Juan Pablo Angel physically toyed with United defenders in probably his best performance this season, but also new players like Argentine hatchetman Juan Pietrovallo and Venezuelan Gabriel Cichero brutalized United’s skill players most of the night.

So, United is looking to use that same strategy against NY this time around. Clearly the biggest threat for DC is last year’s second highest scorer, Angel, who has struggled with injuries this year, but broke out against United and is starting to look like the fearsome forward he was last year. Obviously, DC will be looking to contain him as their number one priority.

Defender Bryan Namoff explained that DC United needs to “Limit the number of times [Angel is] able to make his mark on the game. Limit the number of touches he gets. Not let him get into the game and get confidence through the game. He’s an experienced player, played at the highest levels and he’s a pure goal scorer. So, we need to make sure we don’t allow it to be an easy day for him to get the ball.”

One of the ways they will seek to strangle Angel of service is to pay special attention to NY’s new Venezuelan playmaker Jorge Rojas, who was also instrumental in beating United last time with his sublime control of the midfield in that match. This time around, DC is expecting to disrupt his affect on the match as often as possible.

Clyde Simms pointed out that “he’s a special player, but we know he doesn’t like the physical aspect of the game. So, if we get into him more, nothing dirty [he emphasized], just put a body on him and make him work, we can get him out of his rhythm and affect his play.” Which will also have the added bonus of helping to keep the ball away from the deadly Angel who can beat even a perfect defense if given the chances.

So, considering the physical game plan and the defense first philosophy, as well as looking at the current crop of healthy players available, it will be interesting to see how Soehn decides to line them up. He could go with the 3-5-2 that was extremely effective against Colorado, or go with four as Burch is back from suspension and is probably the most physical defender DC has right now. Soehn may well slot him into the center next to McTavish and play two center backs to bang bodies with Angel.

There’s positives and negatives with both lineups. Three in the back means Angel is matching up with McTavish a lot and Devon has shown he is prone to technical mistakes lately and is not the greatest matchup to Angel physically. But such a lineup does mean that Rojas is likely to be shut down completely by Vide and Simms, with the added bonus that Craig Thompson can be latched onto Van den Bergh like a limpet mine and make him scrap for every inch of space he can get on that right side.

However, if Soehn goes with four in the back putting Burch on Angel, that means Vide or Thompson has to sit and while McTavish can push up to help contain in midfield, DC will be outnumbered in midfield going forward which severely limits their offense. It’s even a risk sitting McTavish for some much needed rest and playing Burch as the lone center back as he is not a natural central defender and NY is smart enough to punish any naïve mistakes.

So, if I was coach, and let’s face it, I play one every week in my own mind, I’d go with the 3-5-2 since dominating NY’s midfield should be enough to keep NY out of United’s net, as well as swing the advantage DC’s way overall. Having two bodies to contain Rojas and Stammler if he sneaks forward is crucial, but on top of that, having the ability to put Thompson on Van den Bergh like stink on a monkey should be decisive.

Defender Bryan Namoff pointed out that Thompson is rapidly becoming a reliable role player. “I love when he comes into the game. He works so hard and gives it his all. He’s learned a lot in a short period of time. He’s learned to be a great defensive minded outside midfielder.” Which should be plenty to keep the flying Dutchman under control even if Thompson struggles to add to the attack for DC.

So, throttling NY’s midfield should be enough to swing the match DC’s way. If Angel and his trusty side kick Magee are enough to beat you, so be it. It’s a cooler, like kings against aces and you’ve just got to take your medicine, and hope that Emilio, Moreno and Santino have enough freedom to exploit the holes in their defense to hurt them more times than Angel will hurt DC.

Which is a reasonable assumption. The 3-5-2 should also allow DC to mercilessly attack the single biggest weakness NY has right now, which is their appallingly bad defense. Cichero made them a bit better, but with him serving an extra game suspension for clobbering the beast Dichio two weeks ago and Parke hobbling with an ankle as well as Freeman coming back from injury, NY will either be forced to play the banged up Parke and Freeman, or fill in for them with the rookie Sassano or the woefully inadequate Mendes or Boyens. As well as play swiss cheese Leitch and the tarnished Goldthwaite on the corners. None of which are top of Osorio’s wish list I can assure you.

True, Mexican youth international Diego Jimenez had an impressive first match in central defense, but it’s doubtful he has enough fingers to fill the holes in the Red Bull defensive line to keep out the likes of last year’s golden boot, Luciano Emilio and MLS career leading scorer Jaime Moreno who, by the way, has only scored 24 goals in 37 games against the MetroBulls, about a fifth of his MLS record total.

Plus, on the offensive side of the ball, Guerrero should be able to easily win DC’s left side of the field, so even if Santino struggles against Pietrovallo and Stammler, DC should still have an edge to exploit. And counting Santino out is a mistake as he’s getting better and better as the playmaker and might well be the most valuable player on the team this year.

Talking with Quaranta after practice this week, he said he’s feeling a lot more comfortable, especially in terms of getting much more confident, in the center of midfield and he knows that “you’re going to take your licks in there, you just have to do the extra work it takes to get open.” Plus, already with a fantastic connection with Moreno, both Santino and Emilio talked about how he’s getting much better in having a feel for what he needs to do to get Luciano on the scoresheet.

Santino said making that connection with Emilio was a struggle at first, but “I think it’s getting better. It takes a little bit to understand Luci and read him. He’s such a deceptive player, [Which makes him] a great forward. You’ve got to understand what he wants to do and how he plays and I’m really starting to understand that now.”

So, with a decent game plan and obviously plenty of incentive, DC also has pretty much all the intangibles going their way as well. Obviously playing at RFK where United are 9-3 this year is crucial, but so is the fact that NY is pretty abysmal on the road in MLS this year, despite their current three game winning streak all of which were played on their own carpet. On the road however, they are 1-5-5 having only squeaked by LA, and pulled off a mere handful of inauspicious ties mostly against the weak West.

Even better, NY has a hideously poor record at RFK in general of late. United hasn’t lost to NY since 2005 and DC has won the last three straight at RFK. In fact, they have only one loss to NY since Moreno scored against DC in the Cheatin’ Bob match, and is 8-2-2 in MLS regular season play against NY since the end of the DC’s Dark Age. It would be a whopping 10-2-2 if you include a playoff and Open Cup loss both of which came in 2006.

With a win or a tie, United keeps the Atlantic Cup as the season series winner, but more importantly with a win, DC gets some separation from NY in the playoff standings. Currently, United and the Red Bulls are tied in the standings for fourth place in the East and fifth place in the league, as well as tied on the field head to head this season with each administering a 4-1 thrashing on the other, so the winner of this match gets a nice cushion for that all important last playoff spot from the East as the MLS playoffs loom large.

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