D.C. United opens up the home portion of their 2013 MLS regular season with a matchup against Real Salt Lake this Saturday night at 7pm at RFK Stadium.
United is coming off of a disappointing but ultimately predictable 2-0 loss in Houston last weekend to open up the 2013 campaign. Two late goals sunk United in a very credible defensive effort against a team that simply has their number in the state of Texas (United is winless in 11 matches across all competitions lifetime against Houston). While defense did it’s part through the first 80 minutes of the match, it fell apart in the final ten minutes. Offensively United could only muster a few solid chances and ultimately never even registered a shot on goal. Obviously things must change this weekend in order to avoid another 0-2 start to the season.
Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake is coming off a surprising 2-0 road win in San Jose last weekend courtesy of two fine finishes from their Costa Rican sniper Alvaro Saborio. The scoreline may have flattered RSL a bit as San Jose was dominant in the match but simply couldn’t close the deal. Reigning Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski had seven attempts on goal without scoring, a sure sign that things didn’t go well for the Supporters Shield winners from last season. RSL was patient and clinical in their finishing and were deserved winners at the end of the day.
Looking at this matchup in particular, one has to wonder if Ben Olsen is going to take a more offensive approach to this match as opposed to his three defensive midfielder lineup that he brought out against Houston last weekend. With an 18-match unbeaten streak at RFK on the line, you would think that Olsen will indeed release the hounds and go for an emphatic win.
My guess at the lineup will see United employ a few changes to get more offense into the team. I think the substitution at halftime last weekend of James Riley for Daniel Woolard was more than just fear of Woolard picking up a second yellow. Although Riley gave up the game-winning goal via the dreaded own-goal, his ability to get upfield and also to get more speed overall into the oustide channels will be a key in this match. Chris Korb will switch over to the left and the usual combo of BMac and Dejan Jakovic will be in place. Let’s hope BMac gets his poor performance in Houston out of his system as he just didn’t seem to be locked in as well as he should have been.
In midfield I also see some changes which would be bringing in Marcos Sanchez into the team which could possibly move Chris Pontius into the DeRo role (DeRo of course is serving the second game of his two-game suspension for his preseason headbutting of former United midfielder Danny Cruz) in support of lone striker Lionard Pajoy. This move would flip Nick DeLeon over to the left side of midfield with Sanchez on the right. However, Olsen could just as easily inject Sanchez into the withdrawn forward role and keep Pontius and DeLeon in their usual spots. Off the bench United should have plenty of striker firepower should it be needed. Olsen said earlier this week that Carlos Ruiz is getting more and more integrated into the squad during training and we’ve still haven’t seen the debut of Rafael either.
Either way, I think it’s important that Olsen and his squad take the match to RSL. Watching the team capitulate to Houston was tough to watch and you could almost predict that type of effort once you saw John Thorrington pressed into central midfield as the lineups were revealed. While you can’t blame the loss on that one move, Thorrington didn’t exactly cover himself in glory either and honestly he wsa put in a tough position with the suspension to DeRo at end of last week.
Looking at what RSL can offer is pretty simple. The team depth that once enveloped the squad is all but gone. Traded away in the offseason were stalwarts Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. Additionally, usual starters Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers and Javier Morales missed their opener through injury and all are doubts for this match as well.
With that in mind, the lineup that took the field against San Jose will probably be the exact same with maybe the lone exception being Ned Grabavoy slotting into midfield for Khari Stephenson. While the lineup doesn’t exactly wow you with quality, particulary in the inexperienced back four, they did manage to pull off one of the surprising results last weekend so that in itself should not be overlooked. Also of concern for United fans is the return of Robbie Findley alongside United-killer Saborio. While Findley doesn’t have the scoring success against United that Saborio has, his speed threat will be big in a match that I expect United to dominate possession. The counter attack ability of RSL could be deadly in this match.
Now we’ll get to arguably the weakest part of my particular game – the prediction. While I did predict a loss last week in Houston, that wasn’t exactly going out on a limb. For this match, I do see an improved performance by United in terms of dictating the tempo and creating chances and I also predict a good bounce back performance from BMac too.
I think United takes this one in a close 2-1 win with Pontius and Ruiz getting the goals. That’s right, Ruiz getting the game-winner in the second half.