DC looks for reversal of history in San Jose

The top team in the East on a two game road winning streak traveling to the last place team in the West who are on a three game losing streak is usually a sign for optimism, but with DC’s sketchy history in San Jose, United should be wary of any hint of over-confidence.

DC United is fresh of two solid road wins over TFC and Montreal sandwiched around a hard luck home loss to Seattle in RFK. The two game road winning streak is the first such streak since United’s last Supporter’s Shield winning season in 2007, and vaulted the team into a two point lead in the East, but winning in Canada is one thing, winning in San Jose is quite another given DC’s history there. San Jose on the other hand has indeed struggled this year and has lost their last three in a row all by 1-0 score-lines, including their last two at home, but SJ keeper Jon Busch is kryptonite against DC, Chris Wondolowski is back from Brazil and Steven Lenhart is a United killer if there ever was one.

With no news of DC leading scorer Espindola being anywhere near being back from a knee injury or about Jeff Parke’s foot being any better, I expect Ben Olsen to trot out the same starting XI that won in Toronto. That would mean Eddie Johnson at forward with Luis Silva playing underneath him and a midfield of Nick Deleon, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, and Chris Rolfe. In defense, with the recent departure of Spanish left back Christian Fernandez and return of Sean Franklin from injury it is a lock that Chris Korb plays the left side, while rookie Steve Birnbaum starts for Parke for the fifth straight game next to captain Bobby Boswell and Franklin on the right in front of Bill Hamid in goal.

SJ most likely inserts its returning World Cup players to jolt a lethargic and anemic team of late. I have no doubt Wondolowski will start looking to put that agonizing miss against Belgium behind him and SJ Frank Yallop would have to have a brain cramp to not start Lenhart who has something like 6 goals in 6 games against DC in his checkered career.

Bringing back Wondo will put likely Khari Stephenson back in his usual midfield slot and probably send Cordell Cato to the bench since Shea Salinas seems to still be out injured. New signing Yannick Djalo likely patrols the other flank with Corsican midfielder Jean Baptiste Pierazzi and Sam Cronin in the center. Seems likely former DC defender Brandon Barklage plays at right back, but Honduran Victor Bernardez takes over for Ty Harden in central defense next to Jason Hernandez, as Clarence Goodson appears to be out for at least another week, and English veteran Jordan Stewart on the left in front Busch in goal.

Even with SJ playing a pretty traditional 4-4-2 against United’s hybrid 4-5-1, the two teams do actually match up quite well against each other and it’s pretty even all over the field on paper if not in results. Offensively, DC tries to overload the sides by getting wingbacks forward or looking for counter attacks through the middle or over the top. SJ plays similarly but has been missing some style in midfield with Shea Salinas out injured and Djalo still rounding into form since being acquired as well as Wondolowski missing time which hasn’t helped. All of which has led a league low 15 goals in 15 games and barely any scoring lately. DC has been more effective in the attack with a slightly above league average 24 goals, but it has been goals by committee for the most part since Espindola injured his knee. Interestingly, both teams have given up slightly more than a goal a game defensively, but DC’s greater offensive results has pretty much been the difference between leading the East versus last in the West.

With so much parity on paper, the two key matchups for me that may well decide the game will be how well Rolfe can cause problems against Barklage down DC’s left side and how well rookie Birnbaum does against Lenhart. Semi-tough has always used every hook and crook to get over on defenders and while Birnbaum has done very well against slick snipers like Jairo Arrieta, Kenny Cooper, and Jermaine Defoe in recent weeks, the hammerhead Lenhart is a whole different kind of shark. No doubt Boswell will battle him like a couple of junk yard dogs scrapping for a hubcap as the preferred matchup, but there will be times Birnbaum will be the matchup and he has to be impervious to Lenhart’s dark arts if DC is to keep him in check.

Offensively, if Rolfe can shake loose and cause problems on the left, that might well create space for himself as well as perhaps give EJ and Silva some room to get themselves back on the score sheet. Silva hasn’t scored or even been effective outside of the Montreal hat-trick, and EJ has waffled between an out of sync bitter lone wolf and a hard working force opening space for others but not himself and he rarely on target with his shots in either case. Hernandez or Ty Harden for that matter are definitely the weak link in that defense and if either Silva or EJ can shake off the cobwebs, DC has a big advantage there, but that’s a big if considering their play of late.

And no looking for good vibes on the road to help a visiting team out either! DC has only won once in SJ since 1998, a 2011 victory behind Dwayne De Rosario’s brace in his MVP season. United is a putrid 3-8-6 in SJ and considering 2 of those wins came in ’97 and ’98, that means DC has gone 1-8-6 since then. Incredibly, considering United’s four Supporter’s Shields, DC overall record isn’t much better at 12-16-6 against SJ all time. However, United did get one of their three wins in 2013 with a 1-0 victory the last time these two teams faced each other in RFK behind a Chris Pontius penalty kick.

Current form is a lot more promising for the good guys however. After going 0-2 on the road to start the season, DC has rebounded nicely to win 3 of their last 4 including the last two in a row as mentioned. United is also a 3-1-1 in their last five and are only one win away from tripling their dismal win total from last year. SJ on the other hand is spiraling the bowl currently. They have lost three in a row and four of their last six. Their home record is a middling 3-3-3 with only 3 shutouts. Looking at the numbers, DC is 3-3 and scores 1.8 goals a game on the road and hasn’t been shutout on the road since the second game of the season. SJ gives up a goal a game at home on average and barely scores more than that.

So, current form says DC draws or wins a tight one by one goal, but history says DC only wins in SJ once every decade although we do get a draw there every five years or so. DC is riding a wave and even has a lot of room to improve while San Jose is having a painful season and is banged up and bitter, but they do hold some sort of whammy over United in their house. DC should be able to get a win all things considered, but unless the soccer gods sit this one out like they did for DeRo back in 2011, a draw does seem the most likely result.

DC Out of Miracles in Houston Loss

Just when it looked like DC’s run of improbable results was going to continue after snatching the first goal in the first match of the Eastern Conference Finals in Houston, United collapsed in the second half allowing Houston to roar back and win the match by a devastating 3-1 score-line leaving DC with a mountain to climb in the second leg in RFK next Sunday.

DC United was behind the eight ball right from the start of the match as captain Chris Pontius suffered a groin injury and was forced to come out in the 12th minute. Already without defending MVP Dwayne De Rosario, former rookie of the year, Andy Najar as well as starting keeper Bill Hamid both out through suspension, losing Pontius seemed to be the death knell for United.

However, as they have been doing for months, United rose above such adversity again and grabbed what should have been a crucial goal to take the lead in this away leg of the championship series.

In the 27th minute, DC’s rookie winger, Nick DeLeon collected a bad give-away by Houston and quickly released forward Lionard Pajoy deep down the left side behind Houston’s defense. Angling in toward goal, Pajoy cracked a shot past Dynamo keeper Tally Hall that struck the far post and rebounded directly to DeLeon following up the play. The rookie’s first time shot might have been slightly wide of goal, but it deflected off Houston center back Andrew Hainault and into the back of net to give United the lead.

DC continued to dominate the chances created in an exciting match and should have extended the lead just before halftime if not for an incredibly bad call by referee Ricardo Salazar that literally changed the course of the match.

United’s Raphael Augusto in his MLS debut after coming on for the injured Marcelo Saragosa minutes earlier, flipped a clever ball over Hainault and bolted in on goal. Hainault recovered well, but clearly hauled down Augusto to prevent a goal scoring opportunity. Salazar refused to even call a foul, much less make the obvious call to send Hainault to the showers.

If Houston heads into the locker-room at the half down a goal and down a man, it’s extremely unlikely they come back to score three in the second to take control of the series. Especially galling is Hainault scored the tying goal for Houston right after halftime and the writing was on the wall for another collapse in Houston, a place where they have never won since the Dynamo entered the league in 2006.

In the 51st minute, DC’s Brandon McDonald gifted Houston a free kick that they took quickly and caught United’s defense inexcusably unprepared, especially since it was the second time Houston had taken a quick free kick. This time it was a pass down the left side of the box to a wide open Oscar Boniek Garcia and the Honduran winger slid the ball across the face of the goal through traffic for Hainault to stuff into the open net and tie the match at 1 all.

DC had a chance to take the lead again in the 66th when DeLeon picked out Robbie Russell own the right side and he cleverly rounded Houston’s Mac Kandji and set up Pajoy for a clear shot on goal that was headed off the goal line by Bobby Boswell.

With that miss, United’s miracle run of results came to a resounding end as Houston roared back right away with the game winning goal in the 68th minute. Houston sub Giles Barnes rounded Dejan Jackovic along the end-line and whipped a low cross that DC keeper Joe Willis slapped away at the near post, but the ball unfortunately fell right to United killer Will Bruin who scuffed it into the net for a 2-1 lead for Houston.

After Willis had made a brilliant save on Houston right back Koffie Sarkodie in the 77th, Houston continued to pressure and United’s defense cracked again. A ruefully poor clear by United’s Augusto fell to Houston’s Luiz Camargo and he sent Sarkodie through again on goal. This time Willis had no chance as Sarkodie buried it far post to seal United’s fate.

United now needs to overcome a two goal deficit in the second leg at RFK to have a chance to win the Eastern Conference Championship and moving on to the MLS Cup. However, should they win by enough and manage to oust the defending Conference Champion Dynamo they will host the MLS Cup as they are the highest seed left in the playoffs.

An appearance by DeRo in the second leg seems to be a distinct possibility and United has been dynamic at home this season, unbeaten in 16 games since the season opener including 7 two or more goal victories and a 3-2 win over Houston as well.

United’s goalkeeper coach Pat Onstad was ejected at halftime presumably for verbal abuse of Salazar and will miss the second match. United was forced into three injury subs in the match and it is unclear whether Pontius, Marcelo Saragosa, or McDonald will be available for the second leg. Andy Najar will remain out serving the last game of his suspension, but Bill Hamid will be available.

DC Could Use a Draw in Portland

Last year, a late season draw doomed DC from the playoffs, but what a difference a year makes as DC is riding a three game win streak this late in the season for the first time since 2004, so a road point is more than enough for DC.

OK, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I’ve been convinced white is black and black is white. DC is playing uglier than a mud fence, but they are winning and now truly hold their playoff destiny in their hands. I’ve been critical and skeptical waiting for fate to crush our hopes like every year, but there’s no denying United’s success in spite of their deficiencies and their history.

So, for the first time in a long time, DC fans just sit back and enjoy the match on Saturday night. No chewing nails worrying about a win, and frankly even a draw is unnecessary. DC has 50 points and needs essentially 55 points to pretty much assure themselves of a playoff spot barring a staggering win out by two of Columbus, Houston, or Red Bull which is unlikely. Houston maybe, but not either of the other two.

Basically, DC needs two wins, or one win and two draws. Now, of course it would be grand if DC rolled the lowly Portland Timbers as well as dropped TFC like a stone to wrap things up before even facing Columbus or the Fire, but I say that’s the coward’s way out! Win in Toronto for sure, but put some pressure on that Crew home match. What’s the point clinching a playoff berth against skells and heading into the playoffs against, you know, other playoff teams and not having had any real pressure or experience in producing against a playoff team this season.

Now, just for grins, I’ll break down the match for you. Of course DC on paper should win, and of course given their road form should lose, but as the Philly game showed Ben is simply magic lately, so what’s to worry about? If the game is going badly, good old Benny will sub in the the goal they need to win or tie. Even if the breaks finally go against DC, so what? They got the cupcakes in Toronto and need to show their bad intent on the Crew at home after that, so those are the crucial matches.

As usual, Olsen’s lineup decisions are pure speculation.  They are for Portland too I might add, so pretty cagy of Olsen I am coming to realize. For instance, Branko Boskovic, Marcelo Saragosa, Lewis Neal, Mike Chabala, and Long Tan have all started two of DC’s last four road matches, with Andy Najar two starts in midfield and two at right back, so good luck guessing Olsen’s midfield or tactics.

My guess, Olsen goes conservative like he did in Philly and rolls out the 4-5-1 again, both to reward Boskovic and to confound a Portland team that is pretty darn decent at home, as much as possible.

So, with Maicon Santos looking hobbled again limping out of the Chivas game and Hamdi Salihi firmly planted back on the bench, I see Pajoy the magic man lately trotting out again as the lone forward to ensure 87 minutes of crap surrounding one glorious play that decides the game.

In midfield, I see Chris Pontius, Boskovic (for only 60 min of course! He’ll come off so Santos can score the winner off the bench), Lewis Neal, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon stretched out from left to right. Now, Olsen could very easily plant Boskovic right back on the bench, and perhaps justifiably in this particular match as it sets up better for him to come off the bench rather than slog away at their 5 man midfield for the first 60 min. However, Olsen says he rewards production and Boskovic made the play that got DC all the points in a game they did not play particularly well. For Olsen to bench him after that sends an ugly message, especially if he starts the dreadful Pajoy again, but not Boskovic.

Almost certainly, Olsen sends out Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, and Andy Najar from left to right in front of Bill Hamid. Maybe, Olsen gives Robbie Russell the start, allowing Najar a shot in midfield, pushing Neal to the bench so he can come on for Boskovic and score the winner, and giving Pontius a start as the lone forward. Oh be still my beating heart, no chance of that.

As for Portland, with their misfiring big gun, Chris Kris Boyd done for a while with a groin injury, Portland has been rotating former Union forward Danny Mwanga and the lumbering Bright Dike as their lone forward. Currently, Mwanga is the more successful with the two goals that tied the league leading Earthquakes in San Jose and the lone goal in the RSL loss at home recently, so it will likley be him to start, but DC better be ready to get their fingers on the Dike or it could be trouble. He’s a beast with a poor touch, similar to oh say, Lenhart who lit up DC for 3 a while back.

In midfield, it’s been Frank Songo’o, Darlington Nagby, Jack Jewsbury, Rodney Wallace, and Sal Zizzo going left to right in more of a 4-2-3-1 than a true 4-5-1. In the back, it’s been pretty consistently Steve Smith, Hanyer Mosquera, David Horst and Koske Kimura going left to right in front of third string keeper, Joe Bendik. Although Lovel Palmer got a shot at right back recently, it was rather unsuccessful, so I doubt Portland reprises that. Also, both Donovan Ricketts (shoulder) and number two Jake Gleeson (hand bruise) might be coming close to returning to the field, but the youngster has played well so unless those guys are 100%, I doubt either starts.

So, looking at the matchups, it’s another jammed up midfield with 10 players clawing and scratching the ball back and forth hoping for a breakthrough, probably pretty similar to the Philly match. So, barring an early goal to shake things up, it’ll be another 60 minutes of crap TV until the game opens up late and one play decides the match.

Oh, right! The matchups! Let’s see. The aging, but still clever Songo’o will pose problems for DeLeon and Najar, and Nagby is usually good for a silly play or two that might surprise Kitchen who was selected one place behind him in the draft. But, other than that all other matchups sway DC’s way. Just not by very much.

I can see Pajoy slipping around the towering Horst for his usual one good play. Pontius will cause Kimura enormous troubles, but I can see Jewsbury or Wallace sliding out to ease that concern. Which might leave more room for Boskovic or Neal to operate inside, but that’s a stretch really given the way Portland plays at home and DC plays on the road. DeLeon could pull off surprise as he almost did with some cagey shooting against Chivas, etc. But overall, no big advantages for DC.

But none really for Portland either. Mwanga or Dike is a handful and Nagby is tricky, but Jakovic and McDonald should be solid enough to snuff them out for the most part. Songo’o as mentioned could be tough, but Najar is nothing if not combative, Zizzo might get a sniff catching Korb out a couple times, but overall nothing too horrible should happen for DC.

DC even holds the edge in head to head as they tied them here 1-1 and won the match there 3-2 in the only two times they have ever played in Portland’s expansion year. Of course this year, Portland is 7-4-4 at home including wins over San Jose and Seattle earlier this summer and KC earlier this year. They also are currently 2-0-2 at home since losing 1-0 to Chivas back in July including a tie with Seattle in their last home match.

On the other hand, DC is a dreadful 4-9-1 on the road overall and outside of two stolen 1 goal wins in Philly, United is 0-7-0 with 5 of them shutout losses since back to back wins in NE and TFC back in the Spring. Even counting that startling win in Philly ten days ago, DC is 1-6-0 in their last 7 on the road. Although DC is undefeated this year against the Pacific Northwest with two 0-0 draws with Vancouver and Seattle so far, so they got that going for them.

So, nothing to see here folks. The game is shaping up as a 0-0 tie and that would be just fine with DC.

Discordant DC Needs Points in Philly

United got the three points they needed against NE, but far from showing DC is on the way towards a playoff berth for the first time since 2007, that win exposed even more questions than the win answered. Now, the team has to pull together, instead of drift apart, for crucial road points to keep themselves firmly in the playoff hunt.

DC coach Ben Olsen pulled a rabbit out of the hat in finding a way past the Revs, but despite the win, he spent the rest of the week defending his management moves. Olsen was honored with the Hall of Tradition before the match and subbed in the winning goal against an arch rival at home, but spent the week defending his team management skills and parsing his words about a player’s fitness. Obviously, not the type of momentum he wanted to generate at this crucial time of the season.

Former designated player, Branko Boskovic who was expected to shoulder more of the load now that DC talisman Dwayne De Rosario has been lost for the season (essentially), lashed out with disbelief that he was yanked from the NE match clearly indicating he feels he is being treated unfairly. And while Olsen struck lightning in a bottle as Boskovic’ replacement scored the winning goal, Boskovic’ impressions of unfairness are easily backed up by facts and Olsen’s own words.

Without a doubt, Olsen has treated his high paid talent (outside of DeRo) pretty shabbily this season. Designated player Hamdi Salihi is seen as a luxury off the bench, Boskovic has been consistently the first one off the field despite his obvious influence on games, expected defensive leader Emiliano Dudar has barely cracked the starting lineup and been benched almost every time for every little mistake meanwhile other more pedestrian players seem to play with impunity despite mistakes.

Now, whether this schism is actually affecting the team remains to be seen, but it is worth noting that DC has seemed more than a little fractured this summer with notable squabbles and shouting matches amongst team-mates on the field. Ironically, most prevalent in the match against Philly at RFK last month where DC stumbled their way to a underwhelming draw with the lowly Union in a match with 9 cards, 3 of them red, and DC players at each other’s throats by the end.

Interestingly, it is Olsen’s seeming preference for ditch diggers as opposed to architects that has exacerbated this problem. With so many lunch pail carriers on the field, United is almost certain to be in tight games that are decided by the slimmest margins, as indeed most of their games are lately. The slightest errors are magnified exponentially and as points slip away, player’s emotions explode.

On top of that, Olsen’s complete lack of any consistent system leaves the team always grasping and looking lost on the field. By changing tactics and starters pretty much week to week based on the opponent or on the latest player to meet his fancy, team unity and organization disintegrates ingloriously.

A case in point will be this game in Philly. Now, I can name the predicted starters for almost any team in the league with startling accuracy simply based upon watching them each weekend. But, predicting DC’s lineup? The team I watch and read everything about each and every week? I barely peg more than 7 starters on a regular basis. Will Boskovic start in Philly? Will Neal get rewarded for his goal? Will Pajoy finally see the bench after his pretty poor game? Pontius at forward? Najar in midfield? Dudar? Saragosa? Who knows? Now, if DC had traded for someone this week, at least I could be assured of one starter, but no such luck this week. No, Olsen does not dictate to other teams, he game plans against them and hopes to win the scraps.

My best guess of Olsen’s inscrutable mind is that he trots out Lionard Pajoy and Maicon Santos again as he seems to value their industry despite their pretty ineffective threats on goal. Olsen also seems to favor Marcelo Saragosa in a central role next to Perry Kitchen against teams that flood the center of the field as Philly tends to do with their hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1. Olsen also seems to be wedded with Pontius and Najar in midfield despite the fact both are liabilities defensively as a pitiful NE team showed clearly. Which leaves Andy Najar cemented into the right back role which he plays decently but his talent is largely wasted there.

Now, possibly with Robbie Russell back, Najar will get another shot at midfield, hopefully pushing Pontius up to forward, but that seems a stretch given Russell’s interminable time off recovering from a foot injury. As for Dudar making an appearance that is of course possible, but only if Olsen sits Brandon McDonald for the first time all year. So not likely, and he’d have to be demented to sit Dejan Jakovic, so almost certainly BMac and canny Canuck start in central defense. Which leaves Chris Korb as a virtual lock at left back, unless of course Mike Chabala had a good couple days of practice.

We’ll see. Maybe we should make it a drinking game. A beer for every starter I predict correctly in the correct position. Mom would like that. I’d finish the game sober which has been an elusive goal since DC started cratering in June.

As for Philly, coach John Hackworth has been pretty consistent, which you would think is an argument against consistency in a team, but the man simply has no talent. He’s playing virtually a youth team in a man’s league. Granted, former DC midfielder Brian Carroll and central defender Carlos Valdes bring up the average, but the rest of the team are closer to puberty than they are to planning for their next career after soccer.

After jettisoning Pajoy (thanks.), Hackworth has thrown teenager Jack McInerney to the wolves as the lone forward with a predictable lack of success. He usually has Michael Farfan as the quasi playmaker, but he’s out with yellow card accumulation, so it’s exceedingly likely mercurial Colombian attacker, Roger Torres gets the nod to show if he can show the consistency Hackworth demands. Maybe there’s a Keon Daniel sighting instead, but he’s a little long in the tooth for a Hackworth attacker, so I doubt it.

Rounding out the midfield should be old DC favorites, Freddy Adu and Danny Cruz as well as Michael LaHoud alongside Brian Carroll. It’s a stone cold lock Hackworth starts Gabriel Farfan, Valdes, Amobi Okugo, and Sheanon Williams across the defense from left to right in front of former Terp, Zac McMath in goal.

So, looking at the matchups, DC obviously has some serious advantages if this match were played at home where they seem to manage to pull out results. Since it’s on the road where they don’t, the game will be a lot closer than the players on paper might suggest.

Pontius might have a chance against the elegant and effective Okugo or the teeth-rattling Valdez, but neither Pajoy or Santos will. Well, unless Santos has one of his rare blinders. That’s sort of like predicting a sunspot. Pontius will also struggle against the under-rated Willliams in addition to the scrappy Cruz helping out on that side too. DeLeon might see some joy against Farfan on the other side, as will Pontius when they inevitably switch sides every 40 minutes like clockwork, but Lahoud will muddy those waters and with everyone else being useless, there’s no one to cross to anyway.

Possibly Boskovic swings this match DC’s way, but I doubt he starts, with Olsen undoubtedly thinking that Carroll and Lahoud will hamper him right from the gun. Better to bring him in later when those guys are tired. Well, unless the game is out of reach by then, or there’s an injury of some sort. Even if he does start, the game will go 0-0 until he’s yanked. That’s Boskovic’ luck with this team so far.

Still, the flip side is promising. As bad as DC’s defense can be, Philly’s offense is even worse (second worst in the league), especially without M. Farfan who leads them in goals, points, shots, you name it. Maybe Freddy or Torres pulls off some magic, but not if DC’s defense plays half way decently. However, Philly doesn’t give up many goals either with the league’s third best defense behind only Kansas City and Seattle, so DC’s struggles on the road might continue despite their vaunted offense (4th best in the league).

So, expect this match to be a slugfest like the first two matches between these clubs earlier this year. One mistake likely decides the match as in when Pontius stole the points in Philly earlier totally against the run of play in a match DC should have shared the points at best. Or when DeRo missed the second PK to leave that match drawn in RFK last month. This match will be that close too, barring a shocking reversal of form from either side.

And don’t think the trends help DC either. Before the unearned win there this year, DC was 0-2 in Philly and ominously it was the 3-2 loss late last year that sparked DC’s 6 game winless streak to end the season and DC’s playoff hopes. DC is still only 2-2-2 against their pesky neighbors to the north overall as well. Of course, Philly is mired in an 8 game winless streak currently while United is coming off the NE win and is 2-1-2 in their last 5.

However, DC is a dreadful 0-6-0, with four of those being shutout losses, on the road since that win in Philly in mid June, and The Union are 2-2-1 in their last 5 at home with the draw being 0-0 with RSL barely three weeks ago.

So, an apparently touchy and bad tempered DC team with a recent run of hideous form on the road and an uninspiring history in Philly specifically; really needs to pull themselves together and find a way to overcome a stingy Union defense with the willingness and knowhow to put DC on monkey tilt in a crucial game. A team that would love nothing more than to spoil DC’s playoff run. Again.

DeRo during the pre-game ceremonies prior to United's 3-2 win over the New England Revolution. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

DC’s Back Against the Wall Again

DC United hosts the New England Revolution in a crucial match that will that may well determine their playoff lives. A win over the lowly Revs for the third time this season and DC is still in the hunt, a tie or a loss and DC might as well kiss their chances for the postseason goodbye.

Fresh off the brutal news that United has lost their captain and defending league MVP, Dwayne De Rosario for the rest of the season due to a knee injury while playing for Canada in World Cup Qualifying, United has to regroup and find a way to force themselves back into the playoff picture with a string of good results that must start with a win over the visiting Revs tomorrow night.

One thing the last four seasons have had in common is a point late in the season where DC were pushed to the brink and needed to go on a serious run simply to reach the MLS playoffs, and then a dagger was slipped in at the last moment and made the job even tougher. Obviously, United wasn’t up to the task in recent years, but hope flames eternal that this will be different.

Interestingly, after largely ignoring or humiliating his designated players for most of the year, DC coach Ben Olsen will likely need them to produce in a big way if the team is to end a brutal four year playoff drought. Of course Olsen may well stick to his guns and play his preferred wheelbarrow load of journeymen, but as mentioned, hope flames eternal.

So, it will be interesting to see how Olsen replaces his irreplaceable talisman. Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi would seem to be obvious solutions, but obvious has rarely been in the offing so far this season. What is obvious is Olsen’s disdain for his high paid talent this season, and the fact they played recently in Europe for their respective National teams, it’s easy to see Benny keeping them under wraps in this match as well.

In a lot of ways, this will be Olsen’s watershed moment. DeRo’s versatility and dynamic play kept opposing teams honest and somewhat allowed Olsen to get away with starting very little talent on the field. Oh, lots of worker bees buzzing around exuding effort and sometimes grit, but no real class outside of Pontius or the occasional flash in the pan from Najar or DeLeon. Now, without DeRo, Pontius will be the focus of any defense DC faces so it is pretty unlikely that hustle and bustle will get the job done the rest of this season.

Seems to me, Olsen has a choice of sticking to his guns and starting Long Tan over Salihi and Marcelo Saragosa over Branko Boskovic, as well as keeping Andy Najar at right back in order to keep Chris Pontius in midfield; or admitting defeat and going with Salihi alongside Lionard Pajoy, Boskovic at playmaker in front of Perry Kitchen, and moving Pontius up to forward allowing Najar back into his midfield role. Quite frankly, my money is on Tan, Saragosa, and another dismal effort trying not to lose a match instead of trying to dictate and win it.

However, the Revs are set up so that a team that pressures them and dictates to them can beat them fairly easily as DC has done so far twice this year. Olsen has had a disturbing tendency to focus on the game in front of the team rather than the long term, and incredibly if Olsen does game pan specifically for this match, it could work in DC’s favor.

NE’s Jay Heaps has his own serious injury concerns and big money players on the bench as he’s lost Frenchman Saer Sene for the season and has stapled former US National teamer, Benny Feilhaber to the bench. But, the Revs have added Honduran marksman, Jerry Bengston, since DC faced them last and he’s coming off a big week scoring both game winners in CONCACAF qualifying for Honduras, as well as finally been able to integrate their German defender Flo Lechner into their shaky defense.

So, with NE pretty much forced into a basic 4-4-2 with a lot of worker bees or fresh young faces themselves, DC would be well served to take the game to them and stake a big lead like they did the last time NE visited when DC held on for a 3-2 win after jumping out to a 2-0 lead.

In a reversal from my usual form, let’s look at what NE will try to do. Almost certainly Heaps will be starting Bengston and youngster Diego Fagundez at forwards, Lee Nguyen, rookie Kelyn Rowe, Ryan Guy and former DC midfielder Clyde Simms in midfield, and Lechner, Steven McCarthy, Darius Barnes, and Kevin Alston along the backline going right to left in front of Uncle Fester, I mean, Matt Reis.

Given that lineup and the way they played against Columbus to win 2-0 and break a 10 game winless streak, NE will try to pressure DC and look for quick plays around the box to free up Fagundez and Bengston for open looks. Neither is particularly a threat in the air much preferring to play with the ball on the ground, as is Nguyen for that matter. All their buzzing pressure is designed to mask their most glaring weakness which is a pretty pitiful central defense, although the return of Darius Barnes has helped there quite a bit.

To counter that and give themselves the best chance to win, DC should turn the tables on them and seek to control the ball with precision passing around their pressure giving DC numbers advantage going forward, and isolating their forwards on McCarthy especially, but their weak center for sure.

So, while Saragosa might pressure more in midfield, his massive amount of turnovers could doom DC. Boskovic is not going to defend, but he has just about the best touch on passes on DC’s roster. Frankly, same with Brandon McDonald’s horrendous turnovers out of the defense, but I’ve given up on him seeing the bench. Also, as spritely as Tan dances behind defenses, his appalling touch rarely allows him to exploit his daring efforts. Pontius, or even god forbid Salihi now that DeRo isn’t on the field to refuse to pass to him, would be the better options.

Bottom line, the matchups favor DC exceedingly if Olsen goes aggressive in his lineup. Something like Pontius (or Salihi), Pajoy, Pontius (or DeLeon), Boskovic, Kitchen, Najar, Chris Korb/Mike Chabala, Emiliano Dudar, Dejan Jakovic, and Robbie Russell/Chris Korb would have far and away more advantageous matchups with NE.

A more pedestrian, and quite frankly more likely lineup given Olsen’s tendencies this season, with Tan, Saragosa, Najar in defense, MoonBall McDonald, etc. still has some advantages because NE is really bad this year, but it plays into NE’s strengths and makes the match a muddy slugfest where likely a couple mistakes decide the match. Given DC’s razor thin margin for error in their next few matches, and their past four years worth of pitiful stretch runs, which do you think is the better way to go?

Even better is the trends. DC is undefeated at home and incredibly, with a draw or win against the lowly Revs, DC would set a record for results in RFK with 14 straight games without a loss. (DC were undefeated at home for 13 games in their Supporter’s Shield winning season of 2007.) NE, on the other hand is a woeful 1-10-2 on the road and literally has nothing to play for being all but eliminated from the playoffs.

The Revs also have not fared well historically in RFK. DC is 17-8-4 against the Revs at home including a win earlier this year. Granted NE has thumped DC a few times recently, as DC’s win this year was the first win over the Revs in RFK since 2008, but those bad old playoff-less days are behind us, right?

There’s no sugar coating this one. DC has to win this match because if they tie or even lose and then play their usual dismal road match up in Philly next Thursday, it’s unlikely they will steal the points like they did there earlier this season and all of a sudden, the playoffs are almost an impossibility.

True, United is only 1 point out of the playoff picture behind the Crew in the final slot, but for all intents and barring a complete collapse by the Fire or NY, DC has to catch either the Crew or Houston (4 points ahead of DC) for a playoff berth. The Crew and Houston both have tough road matches this week in NY and in KC respectively, but after that they both have more home matches and just as many winnable road games as DC if not more.

After NE, DC only has two home games against Chivas and the Crew and faces two playoff teams. The Crew has four home matches and faces only two playoff teams in their last six games (unless you count DC and I wouldn’t unless DC wins outright tomorrow night and at least gets a point in Philly). Houston has three home matches and plays no playoff teams for the rest of the year. So, even if DC plays well, they still aren’t likely to catch Houston or the Crew. Even if they manage to catch the Crew, Columbus visits RFK for a match DC has to win for all the marbles in October.

However, it is meaningless to parse games and schedules unless DC actually takes care of business in the games on their schedule. The past four years have shown a clear tendency to fold like a cheap tent down the stretch. If given any excuse t lose, they lose wholeheartedly.

They have a ready-made excuse in the loss of DeRo and they’ve had their destiny in their hands many times in recent years only to say one thing and do another. Let’s hope they back up all their talk about depth and players stepping up to fill their captain’s shoes, etc. If not, it will be another long bitter winter in DC.

Ben Olsen. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

DC Needs a Spark in Salt Lake

Though Ben Olsen will tell you this current 5 matches in 13 days stretch that ends in Rio Tinto tomorrow night has gone “reasonably” well, truth is DC has stumbled to acquire a mere 5 points in the first 4 matches, so it will take at least a draw at RSL to even make this crucial stretch anything less than a disaster. Trouble is DC hasn’t even played well, much less won in RSL since 2005.

OK, no beating around the bush. This five game stretch was to allow DC to re-establish a rhythm and solidify their playoff position heading into the final games of the season and it has failed miserably at both with two underwhelming draws at home and a crushing loss on the road to Eastern conference opponents fully negating the rousing win they got over Chicago. So, unless they pull off some sort of miracle in RSL, a place that has absolutely haunted them in recent years, the 5 points from these particular 5 matches cannot be considered decent results or much help in their playoff hopes.

In the establishing rhythm department, that’s a tough sell despite some decent play at times during these recent matches. There was no consistency in lineup choices or style of play so saying DC has found their rhythm is clearly a stretch, nor was there any kind of consistency on the field in attaining those results.

The defense played pretty well against Philly despite giving up their goal on pretty much Philly’s only decent chance of the match, but the defense did not play well against Chicago, NY, or obviously Montreal where they lost 3-0. With a hard earned lead over the Fire, DC gave up a killer goal right before halftime another to cut the lead they had regained to make that match a lot closer than it should have been. Another comfortable lead, arguably against the run of play, in the NY match and again the defense fails to close out the match. Obviously in Montreal, the defense was under siege, but still was woefully unequal to the task.

Offensively, the team was dreadful in the Philly match, pretty darn good in the Fire match, hideous in Montreal, and decent in the NY match. Hardly the hallmark of consistency. Oh, but you say some players were not available for certain matches, surely that excuses the inconsistency. No, it does not. Every team in MLS goes through wacky stretches of matches and plans accordingly, the good teams with systems in place to weather these whirlwind stretches. Not so DC. But, the red cards? Surely that’s not DC’s fault? Again, both those cards were pretty well deserved.

Bottom line DC’s offense and defense has shown up together for about 100 minutes total of the past 4 games and that was mainly the last 60 min of the Philly match and the first 44 minutes of the Chicago match. Not a minute since then, and they’ve changed midfield tactics twice and both offensive and defensive personnel more than that. Hardly consistency for a team looking to show they are a playoff caliber team with their system in place.

As for solidifying their playoff position, that still hangs in the balance so no joy there either. Dropping four points to lowly Philly, and a NY side that hadn’t won on the road since May is obviously not good enough despite beating Chicago handily. The ugly loss of composure leading to a draw with Philly is just inexcusable. The fact they held an unlikely lead very late before a gruesome collapse and couldn’t hold off NY in that draw is not the type of performance playoff team’s display.

Bottom line, on one hand 4 of their 5 points came against teams above them in the standings which is decent albeit home matches where you really need all 6 points. But, on the other they dropped 5 points to teams below them in losing to Montreal and allowing Philly to tie them at home.

So now they need a huge performance in RSL to bail themselves out and that seems pretty darn unlikely given DC’s road form lately and their incredible streak of futility in Utah.

Reading my crystal ball, I believe Ben Olsen may just have decided on his forwards. I wish it was Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario, but I think it will be DeRo and Lionard Pajoy again. I also think the bloom is off the rose with starting both Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa in central midfield, so I believe Branko Boskovic gets a rare start to see if he can spark the team from the get go instead of as a sub once the game is essentially over.

I can see it now. Good luck with that Branko! Here’s your last chance, make it a good one at altitude against one of the best midfield’s in MLS. Don’t screw it up or it’s the bench again for you! Now possibly, Olsen goes for Pontius and Pajoy as forwards and DeRo in midfield, but A, DeRo is wasted in midfield and B, it would mean playing Andy Najar in midfield to make up for the loss of Pontius there. We’ve seen where Olsen stands on that issue.

Almost certainly, it will be DeLeon on the other wing, although if the rookie is dragging in these last couple practices, it could be Lewis Neal instead. Almost certainly it will be Kitchen with the thankless job of containing former league MVPRSL playmaker Javier Morales to complete the midfield. Possibly, Olsen rests Kitchen for the only time when he has been available all year and sics Saragosa on Morales, but I’d be surprised if that happens.

I also think Olsen is going to live or die with Brandon McDonald anchoring the defense as Dudar seems to be back in the doghouse permanently unless there’s an injury or something drastic. So, I fully expect to see Chris Korb, Dejan Jakovic, BMac, and Najar going left to right as the defense in front of likely Bill Hamid. Former RSL defender Robbie Russell is listed as possible, so perhaps he would allow Najar to be used in midfield by going up against his old mates in his old stomping grounds, but I doubt he gets the start after such a long layoff if he plays at all.

And I say “likely” Bill Hamid btw, as United has had a habit of throwing backup keepers to the wolves in these virtually automatic loses in RSL, so it is quite possible we could see Joe Willis in this one. Let’s hope he has better luck than Jose Carvallo or Jay Nolly.

RSL coach Jason Kreis likely has a bit of juggling to do with his lineup as well. After dropping Fabian Espindola for the 0-0 draw in Philly, he may well be inserted back in as the rather clunky 4-5-1 they used in Philly was nowhere near as good as their normal clockwork effective 4-4-2. Kreis has also tried Morales as an off forward like DeRo, but that hasn’t worked well either so I think, unless Flip Espindola is cemented into the doghouse for his erratic emotions and more importantly impotent play being without a goal since June, the Predator seems likely to get another chance against a team he has tormented in the past.

So, I fully expect Kreis to trot out Saborio and Espindola at forward, Wil Johnson, Morales, Kyle Beckerman, and Ned Grabavoy across midfield from left to right. I would be shocked if anyone other than Tony Beltran, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Nat Borchers, and Chris WIngert going right to left in front of Nick Rimando. With both Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler just coming back from injuries, I can’t see Kreis risking them in this game. It’s not like he’s facing a juggernaut given the way DC has been playing, so no sense risking big guns in a match he should comfortably expect to win with pea shooters.

So, looking at the matchups, DC does have some hope to score at least although St Nick has had a habit of shutting out his old team fairly regularly, but pretty much every other matchup goes the other way.

I think DeRo and Pajoy have a decent shot at getting some joy against Borchers and Watson-Siriboe. DeRo is quicker than Borchers and way smarter than KW-S. Pajoy has shown a good touch in laying off to DeRo and is big enough to draw Borchers most of the time, so they should connect for a goal unless DC is just playing horribly, which is certainly possible given their road form. But, actual playoff teams should not be paying horribly this late in the season. We’ll see how that turns out.

Pontius against Beltran is a reasonable expectation of success too, although I think Beltran is fairly under-rated around the league. He’s their Woolard, doesn’t seem to be athletic enough to succeed, yet he hardly ever gives up a bad goal. However, DeLeon against the rock solid Wingert isn’t too promising at all, nor do I think Boskovic will have much success in the center against Beckerman. Even worse, RSL is too disciplined to give up a ton of free kicks for Boskovic to capitalize on, and he would need a number of chances, since he has to be rusty given his limited game time lately.

But the wheels really come off the wagon defensively for DC. Saborio and Espindola will hector and harry McDonald and Jakovic into mistakes as well as be savvy enough to find the holes they regularly leave in the center of defense. Najar will be hard pressed to negate the Canadian Johnson and Korb will find Grabavoy a tough out as well.

But, the real trouble will come right down the center of the park as Morales and Beckerman are as deadly a combo in central midfield as anywhere in MLS outside Seattle. Kitchen will have his hands full and then some even if DeRo or Boskovic actually helps out which neither seems likely to do. And if those two draw back Pontius and DeLeon to help out defensively, DC won’t score at all. It’s possible seeing this matchup makes Olsen decide to play Saragosa in there to help out Kitchen, but he’ll get beat too, and Saragosa is the death knell of United’s attack especially against a team that has actual experienced organization in their defense.

Maybe Olsen pulls a Nichol and packs ‘em in hoping for the draw, but if DC goes under siege in this game, it could get ugly real quick. Plus, playoff teams don’t just react to what other teams are doing they go out and establish something that the other team has to react to. The longer Olsen refuses to be proactive and think long term, the less likely it is DC ill have a future and the long term will be the planning for next season after missing the playoffs for the fifth year running.

And DC could certainly surprise RSL by taking the game to them. RSL has not really been world beaters lately, even at home. RSL were 0-3 in August until the draw in Philly and have only scored 2 goals in the month. In Rio Tinto, they are 9-4-1 so far this year, but are coming off a loss to FCD at home and 4 losses at home is quite the chinque in the armor for a team used to being unbeaten a t home.

Now, that’s the good news, unfortunately the bad news is most of those painful times have come during the time they were stretched with CONCACAF Champions League travel and matches. They have had a welcome week off and should be raring to get healthy by ripping into somebody to get back on track for their playoff push themselves. That someone could be DC, who are an ugly 0-5 in their last 5 road matches and been outscored a crushing 13-3 in those matches. Plus, this is DC’s 5th game in 13 days, while RSL has had a whole week off for the first time in weeks and knows how to turn it up at crunch time when they are rested. So much for current trends.

As for past trends, despite a miraculous tie their last year due to the famous Charlie Davies Dive that gave DC a late PK for the 1-1 draw, that was the only point in RSL for DC since RSL’s first expansion season in 2005 when Freddy Adu got the winning goal for DC. And DC rarely even scores out there, much less comes close to winning, being outscored 14-4 in their last 6 matches out there, including 3-0 and 4-0 losses in two of the past four years.

So, on paper and given the trends, DC has a monumental task ahead of them in Rio Tinto. A win could absolutely be season altering, a loss could be equaling season altering in the opposite way. A tie would be respectable, but would really ratchet up the pressure on those home matches coming up against NE and Chivas after a week off to stew about the points that slipped away during this stretch.

Results the past few weeks have actually helped DC stay in contact and Chicago hosts Houston so one of them losing all the points will help DC as well. But the Crew and the Fire also have a game in hand on DC, with the Crew and Fire both having 5 home matches, and Houston 4 at home, left to DC’s 3 crucial matches left at RFK. So, even if these teams knock each other off on the road, they will all still finish higher than DC if they hold serve at home.

So, DC simply has to find road points somewhere. RSL would be a glorious place to start. Fingers crossed for a miracle.

Dread for DC Down the Stretch

Given the stretch runs in United’s recent past, DC fans can justifiably be seriously concerned as the Black and Red host Redbull New York tomorrow night in RFK before an ominous game in Salt Lake on the weekend.

The remarkable thing about United missing the playoffs the last four years running is that aside from the abysmal 2010 season where DC was out of the hunt in August, United had very real possibilities to actually get into the playoffs if not for their brutally poor performances down the stretch at crunch time.

Last year, after a rousing late season win over high flying RSL, United needed a mere 5 points out of their last 6 games, the last 3 of which were at home against mostly less than stellar opponents, and DC squeaked out a bare 1 point in losing 5 of the 6.

2010 was an abomination best left unspoken about, but 2009 DC was well into the hunt down the stretch, but CCL commitments as well as lineup troubles sent DC to 3 straight home losses late in the season which meant they absolutely needed to win their last two matches. They got an undeserved win over the Crew in RFK, but after Julius James scored a late goal in KC, United were stunned in stoppage time with a bolt of bad luck and the tie left them down and out of the payoffs again, but truth be told neither performance was good enough to deserve all the points.

Ironically, in 2008 United was in first place in early summer after a string of wins and with their designated player (Marcelo Gallardo) in fine form (Ahem! Like Branko’s burst early this summer before his current invisibility) and yet DC was a shambles by late August. Finishing up September on an 0-4-3 stretch before winning the final meaningless match, and finding out that a mere 3 points more would have seen them make the playoffs.

And truth be told DC down the stretch in the Supporter’s Shield winning sides in 2006 (lost 4 of last 5 matches) and 07 (1 win in last 5 games) weren’t all that impressive down the stretch either, partly due to CCL and other scheduling issues, and were drummed out of the playoffs rather meekly both times. Even further, anyone familiar with the rueful Rongen or hapless Hudson years will know those late season trials and tribulations as well. Fact is DC has finished strong exactly one time since the turn of the century and that time they won it all.

In all of those seasons where United actually failed down the stretch though, the common themes were lack of consistent starting lineup, lack of any decent road form late in the season, a severe slippage of succession the final matches at RFK, and admittedly some ridiculously bad luck and heinous scheduling problems. And another symptom was the plethora of excuses trotted out for poor performances by coaches and the brain staff.

Looking at the way this season has unfolded, well stop me if you’ve heard this before. United lacks a consistent starting XI, road form shows an eerily similar lack of heart and commitment, RFK success is ominously hanging in the balance despite the longest unbeaten streak since 1999, has had a ridiculously uneven schedule to contend with, and luck hasn’t favored DC since Tommy Two Tone Soehn won a couple trophies here. And there’s no question after listening to Olsen and Payne recently that the United excuse train is chugging along with its usual huffing and puffing.

So, forgive me if this sounds like a broken record, but DC seems to falling into a very consistent pattern of late season collapses that has been revolving on replay since 2000, the Cup winning team in 2004 being the exception. And that team peaked late. They were mediocre 6-6-6 (!) until August when Christian Gomez showed up and carried the team down the stretch.

In my mind the importance of this NY match is monumental. Olsen showed he could rally the troops and elate the fans with an improbable win over the high flying Fire, but then the team went right back into the toilet with a pitiful performance in Montreal. United has not lost recently at RFK, but hasn’t really played well here either outside of that Chicago win with the ugly draw to Philly and the lackluster 1-0 win over the Crew preceding it.

NY comes to town second in the East and clearly with an MLS Cup or bust mentality, at least in the front office, but with a scary talented offense and an increasingly efficient if hardly daunting defense. Should DC lose and with the almost certain loss at RSL looming, United will be in dire straits even though they face 4-5 cupcakes in their last 7 matches.

Sure, NE, Philly, Chivas, Portland, and TFC are pretty much already out of the hunt, but NE is always tough in RFK, we’ve never won in Philly, Chivas has a stifling defense (unless you’re Seattle) and TFC rarely loses or scores less than 3 goals when they visit here. So only Portland is perhaps a confident 3 points, except Portland got a crucial 1-1 draw here late last year that pretty much sealed United’s playoff fate in 2011.

And before you discount those rationalizations, think about this. Aside from DC gaining enough points, they need Columbus and/or someone above them to not gain too many more as well. The Crew has a game in hand and plays Montreal, Chivas, Philly, and finishes up with TFC all at home, as well as a road game in NE sandwiched around tough matches in Chicago, KC and possibly in RFK. Hmmmm. Not so promising now that you think about it, especially given the way the Crew and the other Higuain are playing right now. And thinking the Fire or Houston will drop back is wishful thinking at best as they have some cupcakes on their schedule as well as MLS has scheduled mostly division games down the stretch.

With the book on NY being dynamic offense and weak defense being pretty similar to the book on DC, especially as either team can light it up at any time and seemingly pitch improbable defensive gems from time to time too, this match is almost impossible to handicap as form of the day will carry the match for certain.

Still, watching NY Sunday night when they tied in KC 1-1 and had a golden chance to win late, it seems likely NY will go with a similar lineup in DC tomorrow night. The only possible changes would be if former DC midfielder Brandon Barklage (who scored two goals in NY’s win in Red Bull Arena earlier this season) and Thierry Henry (who missed the KC match attending the birth of his first son) enter the lineup. Maybe NY Guru Hans Backe starts Joel Lindpere or rests Cahill in favor of Mehdi Ballouchy, but I doubt it.

So, given Backe’s preference for a hybrid 4-3-3 and the fact they are much better with Henry on the field, I’d say he goes with Henry, Kenny Cooper, and Sebatien LeToux as the three forwards (frankly, if he was smart, he’d sit the underwhelming Cooper (lately) and play the two Frenchmen up top, thereby being able to add in Lindpere to the midfield, but he has been loath to do that for some reason).

With those three up top, he is almost certain to go with Tim Cahill and former DC midfielder Dax McCarty behind them, as well as either Lindpere or Teemu Tainio. I’d say Tainio as his bite really makes NY’s midfield work whereas McCarty is wasted in that role.

Then in defense, he has pretty much no choice but to go with Wilman Conde at left back as Roy Miller is probably not ready to start yet. Then Markus Holgersson and Heath Pearce have formed a semblance of a decent partnership in central defense despite neither of them being very good, and I think Jan Gunnar Solli returns to right back as that’s his most effective position and since Barklage isn’t likely anywhere near ready for 90 min yet. All in front of Bill Gaudette who has dramatically improved NY’s goalkeeping situation.

Ben Olsen has his usual decisions to make; what to do with Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario and Branko Boskovic and Andy Najar and Dejan Jakovic. Nearing September with 5 of 11 starting positions unsettled seems a bit reckless to me, but Olsen seems to like it so I’ll leave that dead horse unflogged for today.

Given that Olsen has basically said he doesn’t trust Boskovic in a starting role and he seems completely unwilling to sit Brandon McDonald, I think it’s likely he starts Pontius (5 of his 10 goals this year have come against NY in two games) and Lionard Pajoy in the 2 forward slots as DeRo will likely be once again ill used in midfield. I expect Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen to play the left side and defensive midfield roles again. I also would hope its Najar playing right midfield, but Olsen’s eerie quotes about his future being as a right back are a bit unsettling.

(As an aside, for those of you old enough, Hudson experimented extensively with former rookie of the year, Ben Olsen himself, as a hybrid right back and the outcry was cruel despite the fact that it actually worked very well for the brief period it was allowed to happen. Olsen was obviously unenthused at the switch despite the arguable success of the move, yet he is essentially doing the same thing to Andy. More to it than that snippet of course, but eerily similar and interesting when you think about it.)

In the defense, it’s anyone’s guess. Seems likely Mike Chabala, McDonald, Emiliano Dudar, and Chris Korb going from left to right across the backline in front of Bill Hamid, but if Olsen slots Najar back there, then Korb would switch to left, or possibly Jakovic starts on the right or instead of Dudar. Hard to say, but it is unsettling that the Canadian International is not a lock as a starter in this particular team. But there you go.

So, looking at the matchups, DC is in real trouble defensively. Henry and LeToux could shred the ball watching McDonald and the suddenly error prone Dudar. Jakovic would probably be more solid instead, but he’s played sparingly lately and the two Frenchies are a tough welcome back into the starting lineup.

Obviously, Korb and Chabala will have to help inside which means if McCarty or Solli get up field, DeLeon and Najar better be ready to run all day both ways if DC is to find any success at all. Even the normally reliable Kitchen is not a lock for the good as Cahill has been startlingly good lately for NY and he has McCarty with an axe to grind to help him. When NY floods forward or gets LeToux or Henry over the top (which has happened to DC far too often this year), United is in serious trouble.

DC has clear advantages in the center as Pontius and Pajoy, or god willing DeRo, should be able to flummox the glacial Holgersson and the pitiful Pearce. But if NY holds the ball as well as they did against SKC, United’s forwards will get starved of the ball and need to make the absolute most of their chances. That means Pontius has to be on fire as Pajoy isn’t sharp enough nor has DeRo been precise either especially on those days he drains himself running in midfield. Nor will DeLeon or Najar help much as both Solli and Conde are the kind of tough savvy defenders that don’t give up much.

At least the trends favor DC. United got a hat trick from Pontius earlier this year in a 4-1 romp over NY, and United is a stellar 9-0-3 outscoring teams 29-11 at RFK since losing the opener in stoppage time to SKC, while NY hasn’t won on the road since May going 0-4-3 being outscored 4-10 since beating Montreal May19. However it is worth noting, before this year’s romp it was two years of misery as NY trotted in here winning with shutouts 4-0 in 2011 and 2-0 in 2010. Still overall, NY is a paltry 9-18-3 in RFK lifetime and not much better with a 20-31-7 record in one of the longest and most played rivalries in MLS history.

With both NY and United near the top of MLS in offense, NY 1st in the East and 3rd overall with 44 goals and United 3rd and 5th respectively with 41, as well as both teams near the bottom in defense, DC tied for 5th in East and 10th overall with 35 goals against and NY 8th and 14th respectively giving up 37, plus the fact the two teams have combined some of the wildest games and absolute monster goal fests in league history, expect some fireworks in this one as well.

Still, despite past dominance and current trends, DC looks past NY at its own peril. Whether expecting to win like they almost always have here in RFK, or simply not worrying about a loss since some patsies are waiting in the wings, either way of thinking could put United deep into must win twitchy bum territory where they have not fared well in the past down the stretch.

Crucial Match with Fire Looms for DC

After a frustrating draw with Philly Sunday barely edged them back into the last playoff spot, DC United has to find their composure and get back to their winning ways against the visiting Chicago Fire tomorrow night if they are to keep themselves in a playoff position as the season winds down.

The Fire, which has quietly eased themselves past United and well into the playoff picture with a 7-2-2 record this summer after their usual dismal start to the season, brings a three game winning streak into RFK to face a United team arguably in disarray after a squabbling, scruffy failure to beat a truly woeful Philly Union side this past weekend.

From leading the East at the beginning of the summer, inaction and uninspiring play has systematically dropped United from a playoff position until the infuriating tie with Philly Sunday slid them just past Montreal into the last slot. However, the team and Ben Olsen have shown precious little of the form or good management decisions that vaulted the team up the rankings earlier this season.

Venturing into the last week of August and into a crucially important stretch of five games in thirteen days, United has shown little consistency on the field and coach Ben Olsen has shown no signs of encouraging consistency with even something as basic as a defined starting lineup or established player rotation.

And thanks to Mark the Game Changer Geiger, DC will be without two ostensible starters in playmaker Branko Boskovic and central defender Emiliano Dudar. Also it’s likely Olsen will re-establish Hamdi Salihi’s stranglehold on the doghouse after he was the culprit for Geiger nullifying Dwayne De Rosario’s likely game winning penalty kick. But frankly, it’s hard to say any of them would have started anyway given Olsen penchant for playing the flavor of the week as opposed to guys he’s been theoretically integrating into the team all season long.

Not to beat to dead a horse, but what kind of message does it send to your established forward corp when you twice trade for a guy from another team and immediately juggle the lineup to start them over guys who have been here since training camp? How about to your defensive backups, to see a guy here for two days trot right out to start over you? Even worse, all of them were predictably underwhelming and have now started off on the back foot both in the locker room and on the field.

And all this foolishness has once again exacerbated the consistency problems of Boskovic, DeRo, and Chris Pontius who bounce from position to position, or the bench as in the case of Boskovic who did not start against Philly in order to allow DeRo to take the reins in midfield, pretty ineffectively I might add.

So, tomorrow’s game is all on Olsen as far as I’m concerned. If he gets this team refocused and decently organized enough to beat Chicago in a game they absolutely must win considering the standings and the impending visit to Montreal on the weekend, then hopefully he has turned the corner on undermining his own team. If United comes out testy and disorganized again and fumbles the ball and the game over to the red hot Fire for a gut wrenching loss, even an underwhelming tie, then it might be time to put Olsen’s decision making under the microscope.

Look, I get it that Olsen is rewarding practice hustlers and keeps mixing, matching and trading to fit various parts into a whole, but the reality is that at a certain point, he has to simply go with the best XI he can cobble together and give them enough time to develop decent chemistry. I would argue that time is already long past and Geiger’s idiocy has robbed him of the chance now, but regardless, Olsen has to establish a pecking order and stick to it. Stop adding things to the recipe and just stick it in the oven and see what you’ve got once it bakes.

The evidence is in that DeRo needs to play forward, but without Boskovic, that’s a pipe dream so I expect to see him wasted in midfield once again tomorrow night. However, if he at least stops turning the ball over so much and taking ill advised shots, then that will be enough of an improvement to keep DC in the hunt until Boskovic gets back into midfield.

Just as obvious, Pontius has earned and deserves a starting forward slot. Hopefully beside a consistent partner, but again that’s not likely tomorrow either with DeRo in midfield. For tomorrow, I would put my money on Pajoy getting another start as he showed some glimpses of chemistry with Pontius and is the better ball handler than Long Tan, the erratic shooter and turnover machine. Tan’s slashing style is better suited for battling with Salihi for the second half sub slot, and I’d give it to Salihi as he at least generally shoots at the net.

DeRo should be surrounded with Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, and Andy Najar going left to right. DeLeon is a decent spark and despite some defensive flaws id reasonably reliable and definitely has some chemistry with DeRo and Pontius. Najar is simply the only consistent offensive threat coming out of midfield and despite his raw style and lack of chemistry with the rest, he is a player other teams have to respect on both sides of the ball. Besides, he won’t get any better chemistry from the bench.

With Dudar suspended for that idiotic tackle and likely back next to Salihi in the doghouse anyway, It’s virtually a lock that Mike Chabala will man the left side of defense, with Dejan Jakovic, Brandon McDonald, and Chris Korb starting across the rest of the backline in front of Bill Hamid.

The long time United nemesis Fire, who stole all three points with a brutal two goal stoppage time barrage last time they were in RFK, will be visiting on quite the high after a solid 2-1 win over New England at home the latest of a three game winning streak over Eastern conference opponents. With the return of prodigal son, Chris Rolfe and the introduction of European talents, Arne Friedrich and Sherjill McDonald to the established talents of Pavel Pardo, Sebastien Grazzini, and Marco Pappa, the Fire have become a formidable side the past couple months.

Likely, Fire coach Frank Klopas trots out the same lineup that easily handled NE on the weekend. It should be the dynamic Dutchman McDonald, who scored the game winner against NE for his first MLS goal and Rolfe, who has 5 goals in the 11 games since he came back to the Fire to lead the team in scoring at forward against DC.

In midfield with Pause still out, it will be Daniel Paladini alongside Pardo backing up Patrick Nyarko and Grazzini pulling the strings of the offense. But, the Fire’s real strength has been a rock solid defense anchored by the former German international, Friedrich and the surprisingly good partnership that has grown between him and Austin Berry in central defense. Since those two have gelled, the Fire has only given up two goals in a game once (LA) and has only given up 9 total in the last 10 games going 7-1-2 in those matches. Rounding out that defense is Gonzalo Segares on the left and Jalil Anibaba on the right in front of Sean Johnson.

So, looking at the matchups, DC is not really in good shape even if they were playing at their best which they clearly are not. Pontius and Pajoy or whoever will struggle against Friedrich and Berry, Segares and Najar will flat out be a dogfight likely negating both, and Deleon will have to find something special to get around Anibaba who is easily as quick and athletic as United’s precocious rookie. DeRo is unlikely to help either both because he’s been playing terrible lately but also because he will have Paladini and Pardo draped all over him all game long without any real outlets to help him, so I expect his turnovers to stay at the painfully high level they have been at for months.

Defensively is more trouble too. Rolfe is a United killer and their McDonald is likely a lot better than ours, especially as the amorphous midfield they play will have Kitchen pulling hair out trying to guess which threat to go with, the speedy Nyarko or the crafty Grazzini, either of whom given time and space will pick apart DC’s somewhat slow thinking and ball watching defense.

On the good side, the Fire play sort of a box midfield, so Korb and Chabala should be able to both help out Kitchen and also have space up the line to exploit. The bad side is neither seems likely to be enough of an offensive threat to worry the Fire much. Bottom line, DC has to at their very best to even expect a result in this game and they haven’t been at their best in months.

The intangibles don’t really help much either. The Fire are a respectable 7-10-4 in RFK lifetime and only trail the all time series a mere 15-16-10. As mentioned, the Fire are on a roll lately and United is not even though they have kept their home unbeaten streak alive, albeit just barely. The Fire are 2-1-2 in their last 5 on the road including ties in SJ and Houston, places DC got hammered to the tune of 9-3 goal differential I might add.

DC’s gaudy record at home has been tarnished a bit of late both because they have rarely played at home since May and due to the lackluster wins over NE and Columbus, and of course the debilitating and costly tie against Philly. And of course, DC is 1-3-1 overall since beating Montreal at home in late June.

To date, United have had the better offense and The Fire the better defense, but given the current situation, bookies would be hard pressed to say DC can outscore the Fire, more likely it’ll be the other way around.

So there you have it. About the only positive for DC is that I will miss the game and United is an invincible 6-0-1 lifetime in the 7 league games I’ve missed in 16 years. However that is easily negated by the very thought that after the Geiger debacle, this game will be reffed by a rookie who has issued 4 red cards and 3 PKs in 4 career games. Oof.

An unlikely win would vault DC within a point of Chicago and Houston for third place in the East with a game in hand and with the Fire off until September and Houston hosting TFC after a quick trip El Salvador for CCL play. The far more likely loss or tie would leave DC barely a point or two ahead of the Impact with a showdown in Montreal on the weekend. Grim.

A lot rides on tomorrow night, poor play and some equally bad coaching decisions and abd luck has put United behind the 8 ball. It’ll be interesting to see if the Olsen and the players have the answers to solve their problems.

DC Looking to Succeed in KC

It’s been a long time since DC has had success against Sporting Kansas City, but with KC perhaps tired and a little banged up after their midweek penalty kick win over Seattle for the US Open Cup, DC just might find some very valuable points in the playoff hunt.

SKC had to go the full 120 minutes and PKs to garner their first US Open Cup trophy, and it was quite a physical match to boot, with injuries to left back Seth Sinovic and Paulo Nagamura as well as numerous bumps and bruises. So, while KC welcomes back All Star center back Aurelien Collin and has the home field advantage, how motivated and able they are to cash in on that remains to be seen.

DC, on the other hand has lost their left back too as Daniel Woolard suffered a concussion in the win over the Crew and defending league MVP Dwayne De Rosario has a bit of a banged up shoulder. But, they welcome back former rookie of the year, Andy Najar from his successful and possibly lucrative Olympic sojourn, as well as traded for young veteran left back Mike Chabala from the Portland Timbers.

DC trails SKC by four points in the Eastern Conference but has two games in hand, so a win especially on the road would go a long way toward United’s playoff aspirations. Kansas might have a bit of a Cup hangover heading into this game as this season is already a success with that Open Cup win and subsequent automatic entrance into the CONCACAF Champions League next year.

Tough to tell who Vermes lines up in this match as SKC given the situation above as well as the fact that with their Open Cup run, SKC has had a pretty full schedule of late. Going on the expectation that neither Sinovic, Nagamura (facial laceration), or Roger Espinoza (played 120 min a day after returning from Olympics with a banged up shoulder) play in this one at all, and that it’s doubtful either former DC midfielder Bobby Convey (hamstring), CJ Sapong (groin) or Jacob Peterson (shoulder) start, although they may see minutes, I think Vermes goes with a mixed lineup.

Almost certainly Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury will start as two of the three forwards in their 4-3-3, the other could be Convey, but I don’t think so as he wasn’t even in the 18 for the Open Cup. I think Soony Saad gets the start as he played well coming on for Convey early in the win over NE in their last league match.

In midfield, there’s no question Grahma Zusi will be the playmaker in the center, and if Nagamura and Espinoza are out, I think Brazilian antique Julio Cesar moves up into one of the holding roles alongside young bruiser Michael Thomas, who also played well as a reserve in that NE match.

Without Sinovic, Vermes has a bit of a dilemma as the young American has started 20 of 22 matches and is third on the team in minutes played; however, Michael Harrington could easily replace him and has had success there against DC in his past having scored a goal in his first MLS match against DC in the 2007 opener. Obviously Collin alongside Matt Besler has been as good as any central pairing in MLS this year, and former number one pick Chance Myers on the right completes a pretty solid defense in front of the White Puma, Jimmy Nielsen in the nets.

As for DC, Olsen’s biggest decisions obviously are who plays for the concussed Woolard and who starts at the forward positions now that DC media is reporting that Maicon Santos (toe), Hamdi Salihi (viral infection) are out, and DeRo has only practiced once since injuring his shoulder against the Crew.

Looking at the defense first as is prudent entering a road match in a place you haven’t won since 2007, the obvious choice is Chabala as he’s a natural left back and quite familiar with SKC and MLS, albeit only familiar with DC’s game plans since Thursday. Also considering SKC’s three forward system, I think Olsen goes with a hybrid formation to maximize DC’s strengths and minimize DC’s weaknesses. I think he starts Dejan Jakovic as the left back and pretty much goes man on man along with Brandon McDonald,and Emiliano Dudar against KC’s three forwards.

Further, considering the key to taking KC out of their high pressure game and breaking down their defense is to get your outside players well forward into the attack, I think Andy Najar plays the “right back” position but really is almost a midfielder only concerned with helping McDonald and Perry Kitchen as necessary or when Harrington gets forward, but really is expected to fly forward any chance he gets.

At forward, clearly Long Tan is going to get another chance to keep his surprising starting slot, but with DeRo now doubtful, I think Olsen has to tap Chris Pontius as the other starter up top to give DC a more serious scoring threat to go along with the slasher, Tan.

Taking Pontius out of midfield is no problem as Nick Deleon is back to playing well, and Danny Cruz is easily capable of battling with anyone on his side of the field and covering for Najar when he overlaps. In the center, Boskovic is going to get thrown to the wolves a bit as he faces Cesar and Thomas or Espinoza, so he needs to make sure his contributions on set pieces are a lot better than the dismal efforts that bounced away hideously.

So, looking at them matchups, DC is in dire straits of course, but has a glimmer of hope. Kamara has played the most minutes of any KC player and will flat out be tired, as will Bunbury who has played a ton of minutes lately after not playing very many earlier on. If they are the least bit off and DC’s defense plays as they are capable, that’s a net gain for DC. I also like Kitchen against Zusi as the KC midfielder has been slumping a bit of late and Kitchen is playing light’s out good as the midfield anchor for DC. If KC’s main attackers are contained reasonably well, DC is in good shape for at least a respectable tie.

DC’s attack without DeRo will be hard pressed to manage much against the best defense in the Eastern conference, but DC has actually outscored KC quite considerably this season (35 goals for to 27 in 2 less games) and could shock a tired team with a sparkling FK or a capitalize on a mistake such as say, the over-rated Chance Myers getting over run by Pontius and Deleon.

Plus, if DC keeps the game tight, DeRo off the bench has to be about the scariest player outside of Chris Wondolowski for KC to see coming into a tight match.

However, all of that is pie in the sky unless DC decides to show some gumption on the road this season which they really have not done this year. DC has a mere 3 wins on the road this year, all against the dregs of the East (TFC, Philly, NE) and worse has gone paws up against almost all upper middle class opponents (LA, SJ, Houston twice, NY, and throw the Crew in there too), going a combined 0-6, outscored a whopping 17-5 being shutout 3 times.

Obviously, DC can’t go into KC with all guns blazing or they will likely lose 5-2 like they did in SJ, but they can’t go in twitchy and tentative like they did in LA (3-1 loss)or the second trip to Houston (4-0), but a solid performance like the first trip into Houston (1-0 loss in Houston’s stadium opener) would give DC a chance to get out of KC with some huge points both in the standings and in the old confidence department which will be crucial heading down the stretch.

Of course, DC has some wicked Karma to overcome too. KC has never been a kind place for DC. Plenty of ugly ghosts for DC to remember from the past. As mentioned Dc hasn’t won there since 2007, but further than that, DC has only 4 wins there in their last 17 matches since the turn of the century. But, United does have a handful of draws out there, 5 in the last matches there. True, some were wrenching draws like the season ender in 2009, but draws nonetheless and a point in this match would be just fine.

And KC hasn’t been lighting it up at home this summer, either. Sporting has been hardly inspiring lately with a 0-2-2 record since mid June, including two 0-0 draws sandwiched between a 1-0 loss to the Fire and a 2-1 loss to the Crew in their last hoe match. That’s a whole lot of not scoring at home to go with that dismal record as well. Of course, DC has been even worse than that on the road lately, so perhaps recent trends are not the right comparison to make.

Obviously, DC should not be favored in this match, but given KC’s banged up and tired team, recent form at home, and perhaps overconfidence given their recent record against DC, maybe DC could sneak away with a point or more. Without their biggest guns might be a good thing for DC to rally behind, forcing an emphasis on tight defense and grinding a result on the road would be a good step in the right direction for a team with playoff aspirations. Winning at home is mandatory for a contender, but having a winning attitude on the road, even if you don’t actually win, is crucial to any kind of decent playoff success.

DC needs to take the next step.

DC Looks for Revenge on Crew

Two weeks ago, DC rolled into Columbus looking to get themselves back on track in the East, but failed miserably losing 1-0 in a game where the Crew were the ones to come out of the match with renewed momentum. However since then, DC has notched a 1-1 tie over visiting Paris St. German despite giving up an early goal to one of the world’s best strikers and will be looking to reverse the results from their last league match.

DC United is entering a crucial stretch for their season, an early surge put the team solidly near the top of the table and well into the playoff picture, but poor play and long stretches of time without any games has derailed that early enthusiasm. Now United enters a stretch of weekly games and really needs to get themselves back to playing consistently well on the field as opposed to fairly consistently bad as the playoffs could easily slip away if the team is not careful.

As is my mantra, I for one think some consistency would be the natural result of Coach Ben Olsen actually employing a consistent lineup and having a solid rotation of guys playing a single role coming off the bench. Encouragingly, Olsen has made similar comments of late as well and does have an almost complete roster available with just Robbie Russell (foot) and Andy Najar (Olympics) out, so I expect United to settle on their starting XI for the playoff push starting with this match against the Crew.

Evidence piled up to date has made it pretty plain that DC United plays its best soccer with its most talented players on the field and that they hoof it up field and hope when they play with their talent riding the pine or wasted in midfield.

Offensively, DeRo needs to be playing as a second forward. In midfield he has to work too hard, gives the ball away too cheaply and dangerously, and it takes his usually deadly finishing too far away from the opponent’s goal. Chris Pontius has clearly earned the other starting forward spot with his dynamic play and his elegant confidence in front of the net. Salihi deserves to only come off the bench as long as DeRo refuses to pass to him, and as long Santos continues his rapid reversion to form as his effectiveness has dropped off the table recently and his play has become too erratic making him another second half option at best.

In midfield, Pontius is actually the best option for the left midfield position, but until Salihi is allowed to integrate into the team or Santos rides his roller coaster back toward the top, Pontius needs and deserves to play forward. Second best on the left is Najar, but until he returns, rookie Nick DeLeon is showing sparks of the extremely promising play that had him an early rookie of the year candidate. On the right, Danny Cruz is not nearly the offensive threat he should be, but he’s consistent and reliable. Maybe DC’s newly signed Brazilian, Raphael Augusto, forces Cruz, Najar, or DeLeon off the field in the coming months, but until then, those guys stay at the top of the heap.

Which leaves the center of the park where Perry Kitchen has been playing far above his years and simply has no challengers for his starting spot. In front of him in the playmaking role should be Branko Boskovic as the evidence is clear that DC is a markedly better passing team, and is far more deadly off set pieces when he is on the field. Granted he’s not the hardest worker out there, and never seems to go seek out the ball enough, but his contributions offensively are clearly needed and he rarely has unforced errors that put the team in trouble. Far more often than not, he retains the possession needed to give DC’s beleaguered defense the break they deserve.

In the defense, I think the jury has weighed in with its consternation about how it is possible Emiliano Dudar simply cannot make the starting XI. All the guy does is display elegance on the ball in retaining possession and starting plays, he rarely gets beat individually, rarely makes mistakes, organizes others around him very well, is extremely unlikely to ever get beat in the air, etc. How Brandon “Hoof it and Hope” McDonald stays ahead of him on the depth chart is mind boggling, especially as his defensive mistakes have been chilling and his excessive use of force maddening. So, I’m making a stand right here that Dudar should be given the starting slot as his to lose for the next month.

Just as obviously, Dejan Jakovic needs to be Dudar’s central defense partner, which Olsen has been loathe to do, perhaps because neither is all that physical, but MLS has advanced beyond the need for a rock and a hard head in central defense. United could ascend to much higher plane if this change works and there is evidence that it should.

On the outsides, obviously Robbie Russell is out, but I would argue Chris Korb would be a better option even if Russell was healthy. Russell has been far from the calming veteran presence United was hoping for when they traded for him and his mistakes and ball watching have been shocking for a player of his pedigree and familiarity with the league. No doubt, Korb has had his share of gaffs too, but he is younger and might as well get his experience now as he’s clearly no worse than Russell.

Daniel Woolard on the other side is the only other starter outside Kitchen that simply has no one even close to challenging for his slot. And just to complete the team, Hamid still deserves to start, but after Willis’ heroics this year including massive saves late to keep PSG from sneaking out of RFK with a win, make him a very pleasant alternative should Hamid falter.

As for the Crew, they haven’t gotten much healthier since we last played them when their injury report looked like casualty list from Antietam, but they did manage a surprising win in Kansas City last week with essentially the same starting lineup that beat DC the week before. Of course, tomorrow the Crew will be without Cole Grossman who lost his mind in the waning minutes of the KC win and got tossed, and thankfully won’t have their newly signed designated player, Argentine forward Federico Higuain either as he awaits paperwork.

So, in all likelihood, Crew coach Robert Warzycha will go with Costa Rican sniper Jairo Arrieta the hero against SKC and Justin Meram at forward. Maybe Warzycha lets Emilio Renteria or Olman Vargas out of the doghouse, but he has never been one to free undesirables from his gulag once he incarcerates them.

The Crew midfield almost certainly will be Eddie Gaven, Dilly Duka, and Chris Birchall, so the only question is who replaces the suspended Grossman and I think it extremely likely Tony Tchani gets the nod. The defense in front of Andy Gruenebaum in goal should be Sebastion Miranda, Carlos Mendes, Chad Marshall, and Josh Williams although Williams took a knock on the ankle and Julius James appears ready to return from injury.

So, looking at the matchups, DC continues to have the advantage as they did when they went paws up in Columbus two weeks ago. If they play to their potential, they beat the Crew easily as their central defense does not have the skill or athleticism to stop DeRo and Pontius. If Chelsea couldn’t stop the pair, journeyman Mendes and a fading Marshall are not going to either. True, on the outsides DC will struggle as Williams athleticism is easily enough to frustrate Cruz, and Carmen Miranda might be their best defender of late, so unless DeLeon finds that earlier gear he had, he will struggle too.

But Boskovic and Kitchen should be smart enough to pass their way around Birchall and Tchani easily enough, plus Boskovic’ set plays keep united dangerous even and able to grind out points even when the team is not firing on all cylinders.

Defensively, Arrieta is wily and opportunistic, but Dudar or Jackovic should be able to handle him easily enough if he is left on an island as he has been with the energetic, but somewhat ineffective Meram up there as his partner. Eddie Gaven against Woolard is a good matchup of solid veteran pros which hopefully cancels each other out although Gaven might have an edge if we’re being honest. Dilly Duka also had quite a bit of success last time out against DC, especially when Williams overlapped on that side as well, so Cruz simply has to help out Korb in keeping Duka quiet, but that is the only real concern DC should face defensively assuming they play like they actually play like they normally do at home.

As for the trends, they favor DC a bit as well. Historically, the Crew have struggled in RFK with DC holding the edge 16-6-3 lifetime outscoring the Crew 52-34. Although ominously, the Crew have won 3 of their last 5 visits to RFK handily defeating DC during the past four lean years. However, this season, DC is 6-1-2 at home not having lost since the opener, while the Crew is an unsightly 3-4-3 away from Columbus, although with a quality win in Seattle and are coming off that shocking win in KC. As for current form, DC has clearly been reeling with 3 losses in their past 4 games, but all those losses were on the road obviously, and the win was against the lowly Impact. While the Crew is on a two game win streak courtesy of DC and KC, two of the top teams in the East.

So, here you have it. DC has the slight edge as it seems likely they settle on a starting XI and hopefully begin a nice run of points with 7 games in the next 5 weeks to build some consistency. How well they establish themselves some consistency and develop some attacking and defending chemistry likely decides their playoff future. After four years on the outside looking in, the playoffs really are a must for a team steeped in good news lately on the business side.

Now for some good news on the field.