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.

DC Looking to Rebound Against Crew

After their usual dismal defeat down in Houston, DC United and defending League MVP, Dwayne De Rosario will be looking to get back on track in Columbus against a Crew team that is mired in an even worse streak with only one win in their past five games.

DC should just forfeit the points rather than even bother to travel to Houston. Just save themselves the grief by taking those weekends off whenever they come up on the schedule. Unfortunately, that strategy will have to wait for next year as this year DC finished off their series in Houston with the usual shutout loss and the added bonus of their starting keeper tossed.

So, United will once again be turning to Joe Willis in goal while Bill Hamid serves his suspension for that rash challenge that sealed DC’s fate in Houston. While Willis was in goal for all four of Houston’s goals, two of them were penalty kicks and the other two were all but unstoppable. Willis also filled in admirably while Hamid was away with the Olympic team, and would have been playing in this match anyway if the US had made the Olympic Games.

DC will also be without right back Robbie Russell with a sore foot and wing Andy Najar, whose Honduran team did make the Olympics, but none of those missing players should cause United too much trouble if they choose to play as they have done in winning 5 of their last 7. However, if they choose to put on the hideous displays they showed in their last two road matches, they will surely stretch that road losing streak to three.

Given the situation and the opponent, I believe Ben Olsen will start Chris Pontius at forward as he has earned it and give Maicon Santos one more chance to see if he can redeem himself for his somewhat lackluster play of late. Although Ben had some ominous quotes post match in Houston that could have been aimed directly at Santos, so perhaps Hamdi Salihi gets another shot at taking that slot away from Santos. Interestingly, seems like whenever Santos starts to falter while Salihi is scoring off the bench, Salihi gets the starts, but falters and Santos scores off the bench. And round and round it goes.

Newly re-signed Branko Boskovic’ run of bad luck continues as he seemed to have fially broken into the starting lineup only to be the sacrificial lamb in Houston for Hamid’s ejection, and now he won’t get a chance to start tomorrow as a sore calf has scratched him from the lineup. So, unless Olsen pulls a surprise like Lewis Neal as the center midfielder, it seems pretty likely Dwayne De Rosario gets the nod while rookie Nick DeLeon likely plays the left. Almost certainly Danny Cruz continues on the right and team MVP, Perry Kitchen at defensive midfield.

In the back, it will surely be Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic and Chris Korb going left to right across the backline unless by some miracle Emiliano Dudar has worked himself into Olsen’s good graces. That would be nice to see as the Argentine central defender has been a joy to watch on the few occasions he’s managed to take the field.

The Crew are far and away in much worse shape roster wise as they will be without their bruiser, Emilio Renteria due to a suspension for a head butt in their loss to SKC last week, and their injury list reminds one of WWI casualty list. In their attack, starting playmaker, Milovan Mirosevic is out with the dreaded groin problem, forwards Tommy “Bolts” Heinemann is out for the season with a bum knee and Aaron Shoenfeld out with foot problem and wing Dilly Duka struggling back from a hamstring strain. The defense is even more banged up with Will Hesmer already out for the season (hip), former DC defender Julius James (groin), Rich Balchan (groin), Danny O’Rourke (ankle), and promising left back Bernardo Anor blew out his knee last week against SKC.

So, it’s fair to say the Crew will be scrambling around for warm bodies to fill out their starting lineup. Likely Robert Warzycha goes with Costa Rican Jairo Arrieta and Justin Meram at forward unless the so far disappointing Olman Vargas can get back on Warzycha’s good side enough o get a shot at the field.

In midfield, United killer Eddie Gaven will certainly play the left and likely Tony Tchani is slotted in as playmaker with former Galaxian Chris Birchall holding fort behind him, and perhaps Dilly Duka getting the start on the left if he’s ready to start a match. It’ll be a folding chair if he’s not ready. In the back, Likely Sebastion Miranda, Josh Williams, Chad Marshall, and Nemanja Vukovic going left to right in front of the hammer, Andy Gruenebaum in goal.

So, looking at the matchups, DC has the advantage at nearly every position on the field. Defensively, Arrieta is the main threat, but Meram and Tchani hardly strike fear as his main lieutenants, so Kitchen, Jakovic, and McDonald or Dudar will have no trouble snuffing them out. Eddie Gaven is a bit of a United killer, but Woolard is usually United’s steadiest defender, and I would actually give the edge to Duka over Korb if not for his recent return from injury and with Columbus’ dismal situation right now.

In the attack, of course Chad Marshall is quality and Williams quite athletic, but Pontius and Santos have the craft and quality to get around them, especially if the Crew offense sputters so much as to leave the defense under siege for long stretches. DeRo, who leads the league in assists, will be the key, though as I think Deleon might just struggle against Miranda and while Cruz should dust Vukovic easily enough, his decision making seems to keep him from turning much of winning play into actual threats on goal. So DeRo getting the better of Birchall will be critical to an easy match for DC.

That’s the good news. The bad news is DC hasn’t won in Columbus since 2007, and has only won their twice since the turn of the century along with 5 draws for 11 total points there in 15 games over 11 years. Nor has United been exactly stellar on the road lately or this year. DC has lost their last two on the road as well as three of their last four away from RFK. And despite their overall good record, DC is 3-5-1 on the road while the Crew is 4-3-1 at home despite their troubles. And while they lost at home to SKC last week, they have won three of their last four at home including surprising RSL, Chicago, and Dallas.

However, the current overall trends favor DC. United has only three losses in their past ten games, while the Crew have a mere one win in their past five, four points total over that stretch. Also, while the Crew’s defense is one of the best in MLS having given up only 19 goals in 17 matches, their offense is among the league’s worst as well tied with Portland for second worst in the league at 17 goals with only Chivas (12 goals scored) worse, and the Crew have been shutout six times.

United on the other hand, ranks fourth in offense with 34 goals, 9 behind leaders SJ with 43, but only one behind the Galaxy and Red Bull with 35, along with a defense solidly in the middle of the pack in MLS despite some recent shellackings.

With a win, DC could find themselves back at the top of the table, but it would take some help from SKC finding a way to lose to NE at home and Philly managing to tie or beat NY in Red Bull Arena.

On paper, DC in a walk, but history and United’s recent play on the road indicates DC looks past the Crew at their peril.

DC Looks to Keep Rolling Over Revs

DC United will look to catapult themselves into the Eastern Conference lead as well as keep their four match home winning streak going with the full three points over long time arch enemy, the New England Revolution when they visit RFK tomorrow night.

A win would also cement United at the top of the Eastern Conference well into June which would be the first time United has held the Conference lead this late in the season since 2007 when they won the Supporter’s Shield. Unfortunately, United is still nursing quite a few injuries and hasn’t beaten NE in RFK since the last game of the 2008 season when Francis Doe scored a brace.

With regular starters, Robbie Russell, Nick DeLeon, Chris Pontius, and Danny Cruz all out with hamstring strains or in the case of Pontius, a sore butt, it’s obvious DC coach Ben Olsen will have to juggle his lineup yet again. However, with Canadian central defender Dejan Jakovic back from injury the defense should be in good shape, and the offense has suddenly found some decent depth with the emergence of DC’s designated player duo of Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi. In addition, the surprising wing play of Englishman Lewis Neal as well as the resurrection of Honduran Andy Najar has eased the loss of DeLeon and now Cruz.

The only move of interest will be if Olsen tries another experiment with Boskovic on the wing and starting Josh Wolff again alongside Salihi or if he will finally allow all his highest paid players to play their best positions by giving the keys to the midfield to Boskovic and pushing DeRo up to forward. Olsen has been loathe to do that so far this year, but if he does pull the trigger on that move and it works as it did against Colorado and in the second half against Toronto, DC will become a ridiculously explosive offensive team that should be able to score on anyone.

If he does make that move, DC’s lineup should look like this: DeRo and Salihi at forward; Neal, Bosko, Perry Kitchen, and Najar in midfield from left to right; and Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Jakovic, and Chris Korb along the backline from left to right in front of Bill Hamid.

NE, on the other hand is pretty much healthy with only former DC midfielder Clyde Simms out with tendinitis and attacker Lee Nguyen listed as probable with a sore shoulder. The Revs have been pretty explosive themselves of late with 9 goals in their last 4 games after only 5 goals in their first 7 games now that they’ve worked themselves into Jay Heaps’ refreshingly attacking posture. However, their defense is still their Achilles heel as it was when DC beat them 2-1in NE in April.

I think Nguyen plays and therefore it’s almost certain Heaps will go with the same lineup that tied Houston 2-2 a week ago. Frenchman Saer Sene, who has 3 goals in NE’s last two games, and former DC striker, Blake Brettschneider at forward. In midfield, Heaps will send out Nguyen, Shalrie Joseph, Ryan Guy, Benny Feilhaber from left to right. Across the backline should be Chris Tierney, Stephen McCarthy, A.J. Soares, and Kevin Alston in front of Uncle Fester in the nets.

So, looking at the matchups, DC should be in fine shape. Offensively, DeRo and Salihi will easily befuddle the stork McCarthy and the capable, but unspectacular Soares. Neal against Alston is probably a net loss, but as long as he pins Alston back, DC is in good shape and assuming Najar has gotten it drilled into his brain to stay wide and get deep, the under-rated Tierney will be in deep trouble on the right side, especially as Najar will be itching to show he wants to reclaim his starting spot he lost to Cruz.

The wild card will be Boskovic in the center. Guy was less than convincing playing defensive midfield and arguably cost NE two points against Houston, so if Boskovic outplays him so thoroughly that Joseph is forced to stay back to help, then NE is in very deep trouble. Plus, Boskovic’s free kicks have been the best since Christian Gomez was swinging ball into the area. If NE gives up a lot of fouls deep, Bosko will punish them.

Defensively, things are not quite so rosy, but still well enough in DC’s favor. Obviously, Sene is a handful, but Brettschneider should not be too much trouble for his former team mates. So as long as Woolard plays his usual solid game and keeps Feilhaber under control that might be enough to sway the advantage Nguyen has over Korb. I expect NE to get a goal or two, but DC should get a lot more than that.

All of which is good for DC because the karma has been against United when the Revs come to town lately. DC was shutout the last two years by NE in RFK, and it took a stoppage time goal from Ben Olsen to avoid being shutout and pull off a draw with NE in 2009. DC was even knocked from the Open Cup by the Revs last year at home in the game that cost Boskovic his season with a knee injury. So, while DC holds a comfortable edge over NE overall in RFK at 16-8-4, none of that success has been seen lately.

Current trends are much more promising, though. DC has only lost twice in the past 12 games and has currently won 3 out of the last 4 including the last two in a row. DC is also a very healthy 5-1-2 at home and unbeaten in RFK since the opener when it took a stoppage time goal for KC to squeak past United. Plus, DC has been just crushing teams here with 12 goals in their last 4 homes games, all wins. NE on the other hand, is 1-5 on the road including 0-3 with only one goal in their last three road matches since their shocking (then) win in LA.

So there you have it. The book shows DC a comfortable winner. Fate has been fickle of late, but then again this is the year DC seems to have decided to restore the order of the universe. DC is finding its way back to the top of the East and seems like it might be able to stay there. United has a couple two game win streaks in the past month after not getting back to back wins in almost 3 years. In fact, beating NE would give them their first 3 game winning streak since June 2008 when Gallardo was patrolling DC’s midfield and they won 4 in a row that magical June before the bottom fell out on that poor season.

But more importantly, DC has taken back RFK and is winning in front of their long suffering fans who have witnessed a mere 7 wins combined in RFK the past two seasons. Beating NE would see them almost equal that total in the first half of this season.

DC Hopes to Avoid Toronto Trap

As Ray Hudson would say, this is a classic banana peel match. TFC is 0-8, gave up a heartbreaking tie in Vancouver midweek and is verging on wallowing through the worst season in MLS history. United on the other hand handled TFC easily a few weeks ago, has lost only once since March working its way to a point away from the top of the East and is coming off a resounding win over Colorado. Obviously, United holds the cards and should win easily, but that’s right when a team slips on the proverbial banana peel.

United can’t afford to lose focus for this match either as this match is the second of three very winnable home games that could set United up well heading into the summer. It would be easy to for a team playing as well as United is lately to overlook a TFC team that is almost a shambles at this point in the season. But, TFC will win sometime and in fact are undefeated the last three times they have visited RFK, so United should be wary.

Ironically, United’s injuries might actually help them in the Toronto match as it is almost certain that Olsen will reward the reserve players who beat Colorado with more playing time tomorrow night and those guys can’t afford to take anything lightly if they want to remain in the discussion for starting spots.

With designated player Hamdi Salihi scoring his third goal in four games, there’s no reason for Olsen to rush either Chris Pontius or Maicon Santos back onto the field. Also, with a brilliant game from DC’s other designated player, Branko Boskovic, he surely deserves another start in central midfield which would allow United to keep Dwayne De Rosario at forward alongside Salihi. A move that should have TFC’s league worst defense very concerned, especially given DeRo’s penchant for punishing his former teams.

Left wing Lewis Neal also deserves another start after the very influential game he had against Colorado as well. Olsen will have to decide between Danny Cruz and Andy Najar for the right sided role, but given Najar’s puzzling lack of coordination with the team and his resistance to play wide, I suspect Cruz gets the nod even though Najar is the greater threat offensively and wing play is crucial to breaking down TFC who plays a system designed to be strong down the center. And Perry Kitchen with his indestructible knee is a no brainer to start at defensive midfield.

In defense, it seems likely Olsen keeps the same four that got the shutout against Colorado, Robbie Russell, Brandon McDonald, Daniel Woolard, and Chris Korb, who had a great game in Toronto the last time these two teams met in front of Bill Hamid, who got his first shutout of the year in that TFC match as well. The only possibility is if veteran centerback, Dejan Jakovic, who was in the 18 against Colorado is ready to start, but again why push it when Woolard has been playing exceptionally well in the center and Korb has earned the time on the field as well.

As for TFC, it’s very possible they make some big changes to their starting XI given their schedule congestion due to the Canadian championships and the long travel that entails; however, they are actually getting healthier in a lot of areas even though their field general Torsten Frings remains out with a shoulder injury he got in the DC game a couple weeks ago. So, predicting their lineup is a bit of a crap shoot, but here goes.

I do not believe Dutch forwards Danny Koevermans or Nick Soolsma are ready to start and with Jamaican Ryan Johnson being their most consistent scoring threat there’s no need to rush either player back to the field either. Also the tricky Ecuadoran Joao Plata and speedy Bermudan Reggie Lambe are playing as well as anyone for a team that is 0-8 and shouldn’t need rest either, so I suspect that is the forward line DC will face.

In midfield, it’s almost certain to be Eric Avila who caused DC some problems the first time these teams met, Julian De Guzman and Canadian veteran Terry Dunfield as TFC does not have any other good options in those roles. The same holds for the defense which is finally becoming a consistent four players, Ashtone Morgan, Adrian Cann, Doneil Henry, and Jeremy Hall or maybe Richard Ekersley finds his way out of the doghouse in front of former DC goalkeeper Milos Kocic.

So, looking at the matchups and tactical styles, DC has an enormous edge pretty much all over the field. On offense, Cruz and Neal will stretch their three man midfield and open space in the center for Salihi and DeRo to brutalize TFC’s weak central pairing of Cann and the youngster Henry. After vanquishing Jeff Larentowicz handily midweek, Boskovic should have no trouble with De Guzman who has struggled mightily to earn his money since joining MLS, especially if Cruz or Neal pulls the tough Dunfield wide. If United’s wingers don’t do that, Boskovic will have tough sledding against both Dunfield and De Guzman, but even then if he occupies two players, DC wins somewhere else on the field.

Defensively, the rugged Johnson is always a concern, but he should be concerned about the Chicken Hawk DC has roaming their central defense. Brandon McDonald can mix it up with anyone in MLS and he will almost certainly be inside Johnson’s pocket all night long. Woolard’s intelligence and reasonable speed will help Russell and Korb contain TFC’s extra forward too. Kitchen will have to throttle Avila and keep an eye that DeGuzman or Dunfield don’t pop up unexpectedly in the attack, but Kitchen legend is growing as we watch, so there’s no reason to fear a slip up here, even though tactically he will have a tough job identifying the right threats given the way TFC tries to flood the attack.

Even the trends seem to favor DC. United holds an 8-3-2 record over the Canadians all time, and are 3-1-2 all time against them in RFK although all three wins came in the first three matches played here. United hasn’t beaten TFC in RFK since 2008, and interestingly United’s only loss to them here came in the final game of 2010 which was also the last time Boskovic played a full 90 minutes for DC (In fact, DC has never won a game when Boskovic has played a full 90, but we won’t speak of that!). But all the games have been lively. The teams have combined for 5 or 6 goals in every match played here between them. DeRo had a hat trick against them last year as the teams tied 3-3, Jaime Moreno scored a stoppage time goal to tie in 2009, Gallardo scored a cracker in 2008, odd players like Gonzalo Peralta and Guy Roland Kpene have gotten goals against TFC too.

So expect some goals tomorrow night the teams have never failed to combine for at least 5 here in RFK no matter how abysmal either team is playing, they fill the net. I suspect this time it will be DC hanging a 4-1 win over the Canadians, but stranger things have happened in MLS. Hopefully, United avoids the trap and gets there second win streak going, maybe even stretching it to 3 when NE comes to town next. But, the win over TFC is imperative. Stick a stake in them early and they should be done. Let them hang around and it could be trouble.

Cautious United Shuffles Ahead of Rapids

DC United coach Ben Olsen will have to shuffle his players once again ahead of Wednesday’s night match against the visiting Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium. He’ll also have to rely on the reigning league MVP, Dwayne DeRosario, to regain some of the form that earned him the coveted award if the Black-and-Red is to get the three points. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Mounting injuries, including one to midfielder Perry Kitchen, will force United’s young coach to alter his line-up in the back once again. Luckily for DC, it is unlikely that Colorado will be able to field its two most dangerous attackers, Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, on Wednesday night.

Perry Kitchen will unlikely not see any time on Wednesday after suffering a knee injury in DC’s 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo. The team has been quiet about the midfielder’s prognosis, but I suspect he’ll be back sooner than later. Any serious injury would have already made headlines in the nation’s capital.

It is unclear whether or not Emiliano Dudar (hamstring), Dejan Jakovic (ankle), rookie Nick DeLeon (hamstring) or Marcelo Saragosa will see any time tomorrow night, but  given United’s upcoming schedule of two matches in four days, Olsen is bound to be cautious and not push any of them into a hasty return. I have a strong feeling Dudar will remain off the field for the foreseeable future again, caution being the driving factor on his return.

Still, Olsen does have  a solid set of players who have demonstrated they can be relied upon. Bill Hamid has been solid on goal since his return and left back Daniel Woolard, Chris Korb, Robbie Russel and Brandon McDonald all did satisfactory jobs in the back against the Dynamo. If it was not for a superb strike from veteran Houston midfielder Brad Davis the match may have ended 0-0. United’s back line and Bill Hamid will have to be alert though. Colorado is an explosive team that takes advantage of any opportunity, including set pieces.

With Kitchen possibly out of the line-up for at least this match, Olsen will have to rely on Stephen King or Branko Boskovic in the middle. My guess is that Olsen will call upon the Black-and-Red’s designated player for the effort, especially with back-to-back home games in four days. This is perhaps the best opportunity that Boskovic will have to assert himself back into the line-up and prove his worth.

Undoubtedly, we will see DeRo wreak havoc against Colorado. United’s MVP will be called upon to regain the form that allowed him to become one of the most decorated and successful players in MLS history. With winger Andy Najar returning to form, and Danny Cruz’s solid and consistent play on the opposite side, the trio should be able to manage the middle and flanks effectively.

The front line will likely undergo a shuffle much like the back line. Although Maicon Santos and Chris Pontius have been extremely effective, both players have minor knocks that may force Olsen to be cautious once again. I suspect we’ll see United’s other DP, Hamdi Salihi, in the starting line-up along side Chris Pontius, or DC’s Player/Coach Josh Wolff if Pontius is ruled out as well.

United is not “desperate” for a result, but the Black-and-Red would be well served if they gain the three points, especially since Wednesday’s match is the first of a three-game home-stand. United will then Play Toronto FC, the only winless team in the league obviously desperate for a result on Saturday, and long-time bitter rival, New England a week later.

Maicon Santos. Photo Martin Fernandez

DC Looks to Rebound in Toronto

No rest for the wretched as DC United must put the debacle in San Jose behind them and look to get back to their winning ways playing the winless Toronto FC at BMO field tomorrow night.

TFC has tied the league mark for consecutive losses to start the season (7, Kansas City in 1999), but TFC has been playing much better than its results of late. RSL only managed to beat them with a stoppage time goal playing at home, and at Montreal in the Canadian Championships in midweek, they held Montreal to a scoreless draw. TFC is perhaps due for some good fortune, but let’s just hope it comes next week rather than tomorrow night.

There’s no sugar coating it, United’s patchwork defense was shredded by the Earthquakes and will have to play much better to avoid what could be a demoralizing defeat if they allow Toronto their first win of the season.

OK, so plan A for the defense missing 3 of its best 4 central defenders did not work in San Jose largely due to the clever play of Wondolowski and Lenhart, but Perry Kitchen did not look good on the backline, and moving him back into midfield was crucial to United getting back into the match after giving up three straight goals by halftime. To be fair, Robbie Russell, Brandon McDonald, and for the first time in a long while, Daniel Woolard all played terrible, so there’s plenty of blame to go around, but clearly neither Kitchen in the back, nor his midfield replacement, Marcelo Saragosa were an improvement in either area of the field.

Unfortunately, DC has no choice but to stick with Russell, McD, and Woolard on the backline as there isn’t anyone else healthy. Still, plan B has to be keeping Kitchen in midfield and either bringing in Chris Korb or reprise Andy Najar in that right back role as he did in the second half against SJ.

Considering TFC’s system and players, I’d rather see Najar back there as TFC plays a 4-3-3 with plenty of pace in their wingers whether it be Reggie Lambe or Joao Plata. Danny Cruz would do a good job as right back too, and Najar is the better attacker so it would seem to be a better solution for them to switch. But it’s crucial United wings stay wide against TFC’s three man midfield and Najar hasn’t shown the discipline to do that as much as Cruz has.

Olsen also has to sit down his best player, Dwayne De Rosario who kept DC respectable in SJ as he needs some rest, but considering the situation bringing in Branko Boskovic for this match would be a good chance for him to make an impact with his ball control and possession game against a stacked central midfield of Torsten Frings and Julian De Guzman for Toronto. If he can just hold his own in there and keep the ball moving through, United will be in good shape.

Also, either Maicon Santos or Chris Pontius deserves some rest too, but there’s a bright side to that too as DC’s other designated player, Hamdi Salihi, finally got off the schneid with a lovely late goal in San Jose. That goal showed the kind of deft touch in front of goal that DC brought him in for, so he deserves a start to keep that momentum going. I believe he’d play better with Pontius than Santos, plus Santos has taken by far the most beating given the way he plays forward, so I would think Pontius gets the nod to start along with Salihi.

Which just leaves Nick DeLeon holding the short straw and being forced to start on the left side although he deserves some rest too. It’s possible Olsen taps English winger Lewis Neal to get his first start, but I don’ think so. I think Olsen would really rather his team make as few changes as possible to get back some flow after the SJ loss, then adjust on the fly as people tire out. So, I think DeLeon starts and plays the first 60 before Neal comes in relief.

On the other side of the ball, TFC may well have settled on a starting lineup finally after getting some results using some surprise players and sending some bigger names to the bench. Tough to read TFC coach Aron Winter’s mind, but TFC have looked better without Danny Koevermans in the lineup and with Joao Plata coming off the bench, as well as with Academy player Doneil Henry in the back line.

So, my best guess is that Winter stays the current course which means a front three of Lambe, Ryan Johnson, and former Dallas attacker Eric Avila. Then Frings and De Guzman in support of Terry Dunfield in midfield, and a backline of Ashtone Morgan, Miguel Aceval, Adrian Cann, and probably Doneil Henry over Richard Ekersley going left to right across the backline in front of former DC backup keeper Milos Kocic who is starting due to Stefan Frei nurses a lower leg injury.

So, looking at the matchups, TFC’s system may well help DC. Instead of two threats occupying the center backs, TFC really only plays one, Johnson, so the central defense job just got easier and I like either Russell or specially McDonald banging bodies with Johnson. However, Kitchen and probably Russell’s job got a lot harder as they will have more bodies to track and step up to with Avila and Lambe buzzing around as well as Dunfield and De Guzman pushing up. Boskovic will have to help some and so will Woolard and Najar or Korb pinch in or track runners more. Still, TFC has only 6 goals in 7 games, only Chivas and Philly have scored less, so while DC’s defense is banged up, TFC’s offense might not punish enough to win.

Especially as the real problem for TFC is giving up goals, 16 in 7 games to date. They have given up the most goals in MLS, yes even after DC’s recent debacle still has only given up 15, so TFC should be rightly worried about containing United’s potent attack. Salihi and Pontius or Santos will shred Cann and Aceval, DeLeon and Cruz will put Henry and Morgan on their heels, so even if Boskovic or DeRo get slowed by TFC’s stacked central midfield, DC will find width and decimate TFC’s central defense.

So, expect some goals in this one. DC might hang 5 on TFC, but is almost certain to give up a few as well. Could be another barnburner like SJ only in reverse this time. We’ll see. Sometimes when two teams have obvious defensive flaws, they both hunker down and defend with bodies and the game turns into a 0-0 yawn fest, but it would be stupid of TFC to risk this type of game as DC will surely get one, but unless TFC attacks en masse, they will not be able to score and will lose 1-0.

As for the trends, well DC has pretty much owned TFC. United is 7-3-2 all time against the Reds, and 4-2-0 in Toronto including winning the last two on the trot. DeRo, in particular seems to enjoy sticking it to Toronto maybe even more than any of his other former teams. That is ominous for TFC given the way DeRo is playing lately even if he only comes off the bench. Also recent trends favor DC as well, United has only one loss in their last six games, while TFC has lost 7 straight. Also, United is 1-2-1 on the road, but before the SJ debacle they had a quality in NE and a valiant tie in Vancouver. TFC is obviously winless at home so far this year.

So, there you go. DC wins a barnburner or squeezes out a tough one goal grinder. At least as long as the soccer gods keep their meddling paws to themselves.

DC Hopes for Third Time Lucky in SJ

DC United, riding their first winning streak since 2009 thanks to Maicon Santos, will likely need some luck to stretch that streak into a third win in a row against the Earthquakes Tomorrow night in San Jose. SJ has always been barren in terms of points for DC, and this year’s Earthquakes are riding a five game unbeaten streak of their own having won four of their last five matches.

To make matters worse, DC will be without three of their top four central defenders as Emiliano Dudar became the latest casualty being forced out of the Houston win with a hamstring injury to join Dejan Jakovic (ankle) and Ethan White (knee surgery) on the trainer’s table. Which is bad in its own right, but facing SJ’s Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart, who battered DC with a hat trick against them last year, will really have United’s backs against the wall.

It will also be interesting to see how DC coach Ben Olsen handles his starters considering this match will be the second of three in seven days. The first time he faced a similar stretch, Olsen made six changes to the starting lineup and nearly fumbled away all the points to Montreal. This time Olsen has to be thinking the team needs to keep the continuity going but the long flight to San Jose followed by a long flight back to their next match in Toronto followed by another long flight to Houston to be the sacrificial lamb in the Dynamo’s stadium opening game seems to indicate to need for managing minutes.

There’s no question Olsen will be juggling his defense, though. Almost certainly Olsen will be moving veteran right back, Robbie Russell into the center to replace Dudar alongside former San Jose defender, Brandon McDonald and left back Daniel Woolard, but how Olsen handles the vacant right back slot could be interesting. Second year player Chris Korb seems the natural replacement, but has been pretty woeful in his outings this season to date. So, another option might be to play Perry Kitchen in that right back slot and bring in Marcelo Saragosa to play Kitchen’s midfield slot. Unfortunately, Kitchen hasn’t been too convincing as a right back and Saragosa is nowhere near as good as Kitchen in cleaning up things in front of what will be a patchwork central defense for this match.

However, if Olsen seeks to avoid either of those two evils, an interesting option might be to play Danny Cruz or even Andy Najar at right back for this match. Cruz has played right back before and certainly has the tenacity for the position. Andy Najar is no slouch as a defender either, but the beauty of this idea is that it could turn a potential weakening of one or two positions on the field into an attacking strength that would force San Jose to deal with a lot more attacking play out United’s right side.

Olsen also has to decide which game to rest his attackers, Dwayne De Rosario, Maicon Santos, Chris Pontius, and rookie Nick DeLeon. He could easily drop them all from this match and replace them with his tarnished designated players, Hamdi Salihi and Branko Boskovic as well as Najar and Josh Wolff. But given the disaster large scale changes wrought in the Montreal match, that idea seems a bit suspect.

A better idea would be to rest two at a time. Give Santos and DeRo the night off in San Jose unless they are needed off the bench. That way DeLeon who seems to have a decent connection with Salihi gives him a familiar person to run off of while he gets to partner with Pontius who is equally as good at setting his partners up for shots as he is at creating his own. Boskovic too gets the benefit of a largely intact midfield to fit himself and he’s not going against a particularly stiff central midfield defense, especially if Sam Cronin as rested by SJ coach Frank Yallop.

Interestingly, San Jose will have similar fatigue issues to deal with as they are coming off a flight from Philly to get ready for this match and will be heading out to Vancouver right afterwards for a Saturday match against the ‘Caps. So while they will be sleeping in their own beds before this game, former DC assistant, Frank Yallop, might have to manage minutes with San Jose’s starters as well.

Obviously this is speculation, but I suspect Yallop will make some changes for this match as well, in order to be fresher for the more important match with Vancouver. With that in mind, I do not believe he will run 33 year old Colombian playmaker, Tressor Moreno, into the ground, especially as there’s no way he’s used to the long travel in this country, so I’d bet he sits this one out. Same with Simon Dawkins, who is younger, but ran like a dog all day in Philly. Yallop also likes to give guys like Brad Ring the odd start to keep them in tune, so I suspect Cronin gets rested too.

Unfortunately for United, there’s no chance Yallop rests either of his main scorers. Chris Wondolowski almost never sits out a game and Lenhart has only recently got back into the lineup, so he doesn’t need rest, not to mention sending him up against a makeshift central defense is like launching a rhino through a cornfield. Also, aside from captain Ramiro Corrales returning to the lineup from injury, the defense is likely to remain fairly intact as well. Corrales, Justin Morrow, Ike Opara, and Steven Beitashour going left to right in front of Jon Busch.

So looking at the matchups is a bit of a crapshoot, but let’s give it a go. Obviously the big concern is Lenhart and Wondolowski, and interestingly enough DC does have some good reasons for hope there if Benny leaves Kitchen in the middle. Lenhart is a handful for sure, but so is Brandon McDonald. The Chicken Hawk is well aware of what Lenhart tries to do and is easily just as physical, so if McDonald plays smart, Lenhart could largely be neutralized and maybe even frustrated into making mistakes the way he frustrates others. Wondo is a lot more tricky as he is sneakier and loves to find seams to take open shots from. Well, Russell is nearly as mobile and has good experience to not let Wondo wander too far, but also Kitchen is very smart and can help out at the top of the D as well.

In the midfield, Khari Stephenson is a load to control and has a bomb of a shot, but I like Kitchen on him a lot better than Saragosa. Assuming Marvin Chavez plays the right side with Beitashour behind him, I have no problem with DeLeon and Woolard keeping that side in check, and quite possibly getting the better of them in the attack. Same with Najar and Cruz keeping Rafael Baca and Ramiro Corrales contained fairly well, while almost certainly causing them huge problems when United is attacking.

Which leaves Boskovic, Salihi and Pontius going at Cronin (or Ring), Morrow and Opara and that is frankly a tossup. I’m a big fan of Salihi and think he will break his duck sooner rather than later. Pontius too is playing with so much confidence right now, that he could catch Opara too far upfield and punish that mistake. Even better if the game stays tight as I suspect, you’ve got Santos or DeRo coming off the bench for some late minutes to go for the win.

Also, while SJ is leading the West, their record is a bit suspect. Their only quality win was in catching Seattle on a down swing and stealing a 1-0 win there. Other than that, they’ve beaten poor teams like Philly, NE, TFC, and Vancouver, needed stoppage time heroics to not drop two points versus 9 man RSL, tied a dreadful defensive team in NY, and lost to Houston at home early on. So, they haven’t really hit the hard part of their schedule to say the least.

Of course, the soccer gods have never been kind to DC in San Jose, starting right from that loss in the Inaugural MLS match back in 1996. Since then United has a grand total of 3 wins in SJ, but they have tied 6 more to go with their 7 losses. Of course two of those wins in SJ came in ’97 and ’98, so that means United has only one win there since the Golden Age of DC soccer, but that lone win in the past 13 years was last season, a 2-0 victory courtesy of DeRo, so maybe the worm has turned.

It’s a case of the two longest unbeaten streaks in MLS meeting in a midweek matchup that likely will see a good sprinkling of bench players starting on both sides, so who knows how it will turn out, but DC does have some reason for hope that they come out of this with a tie at least.

However, a few good bounces and a little luck and maybe United has a three game win streak for the first time since that glorious June in 2008 when another disappointing DC DP, Marcelo Gallardo was at the height of his success with DC, leading United up from the bottom of the table with four wins in a row. Interestingly, United’s second win in that streak was a 4-1 drubbing of NY and the third win was a comfortable 3-1 cruise over SJ. Perhaps this is a time for Boskovic and Salihi to shine like Gallardo and Emilio did during that run.

DC Wary of Dangerous Dynamo

Riding a six game unbeaten streak, second in the East DC United (and leading scorer, Chris Pontius, left) hosts the fifth place Houston Dynamo who are winless in their last three, but the disciplined Dynamo have had DC’s number for years, so United should not take the Dynamo lightly if they are to have any chance of breaking their incredible string of league matches where they have failed to win two games in a row.

Incredibly, it’s been almost 3 years and exactly 88 games since United had a winning streak, and coming off a rousing win over NY last week, United has to feel the time is right against a Dynamo team reeling from its fifth straight away match to start the season while they wait to open their new stadium in Houston (a match where they will host DC, btw). So, a win breaks that hideous string at 89 games, unfortunately DC has rarely racked up all the points when facing the Dynamo, with only one win in the past 8 games over the last 4 years, and DC would be wise to be wary of one of the biggest and toughest teams in MLS.

Especially as Houston’s record is nowhere near as bad as their ranking in the East suggests. While United is second in East at 12 points (3-2-3), Houston is fifth at 8 points (2-1-2), but with three games in hand, as well as a winning record after their fifth of seven straight road matches to start the season. The Dynamo’s only loss on the season so far was a respectable defeat in Seattle, after having beaten SJ and Chivas to start the season, and subsequently have tied Chicago and Columbus respectively in the past two weeks.

As always, Houston relies on set plays to score, stout defense to grind their few goals into wins, and utter discipline to keep games close so that either side of the ball has a chance to garner at least a point making them very tough to beat in general.

Still, on the bright side, Houston’s Brad Davis, who should have been league MVP last year (no disrespect to Dwayne De Rosario, but Davis got his pedestrian side into the MLS Cup final, DeRo was merely a spectacular scorer for a pitiful team that couldn’t figure out how to win any game of consequence), has been out for weeks with an calf problem and while rumors have him as available, he should be a second half sub at best.

DC, on the other hand has the actual defending MVP in fine fettle and he seems to rounding into his game after a slow start, with 4 assists in United’s last 5 games. DeRo still hasn’t scored yet, but it should be ominous for Houston that DeRo torched his former teams last season with 6 goals in 3 games against NY, SJ, and Toronto.

It’s especially lucky considering DeRo was traded to DC literally days after United had completed their season series with the Dynamo, and one game before he went on his tear. So, this will be the first time he has faced the team where he won two of his four MLS Cups as a member of the Black and Red. In fact, the rest of his former teams should be wary as DeRo is in the 2nd of 6 matches against his former clubs of this 7 game stretch for DC.

United also appears to have settled upon a lineup of choice at least for the time being. Sadly, for United’s designated players, that lineup doesn’t appear to include them, but at least it is successful and the hope being that when or if Hamdi Salihi, or less likely Branko Boskovic, do break into the lineup, they will make the team that much stronger, but that is an article for another day.

Considering Pontius is coming off a hat trick and a game winner two weeks ago, he’s a lock to stay in the lineup at forward. Obviously, Maicon Santos who has four goals and an assist in the last four games, and who salvaged the tie with Montreal 10 days ago, will be his partner. De Ro is surely set for attacking midfield as is rookie left wing Nick DeLeon (3 goals 3 assists), and midfield defensive anchor Perry Kitchen. The only question is whether Danny Cruz’s ankle is healthy enough for him to start against his former team. If so, he starts, if not former rookie of the year, Andy Najar gets another shot to see if he can play within the team concept.

In the defense, considering Dejan Jakovic is still hobbling, it will surely be Emiliano Dudar and Brandon McDonald in central defense with Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard on the right and left respectively in front of Joe Willis, who has done nothing to see any bench time any time soon.

Houston will just as surely start Brian Ching and Will Bruin at forward as both scored in the 2-2 tie with the Crew last week, as well as the fact that both had a hand in keeping United from any wins against Houston last season. Bruin had a hat trick in the 4-1 battering DC took in Houston, and Ching scored a late goal to tie DC 2-2 in RFK. Their midfield and defense is also set unless Davis makes a surprise start. It should be Corey Ashe, Luiz Camargo, Adam Moffat, and Je-Vaughn Watson going left to right across midfield, and Jermaine Taylor, Geoff Cameron, former DC defender Bobby Boswell, and Canadian Andrew Hainault going left to right across the defense in front of Talley Hall in goal.

So, looking at the matchups, United has a huge advantage in speed and talent, Houston a huge advantage in discipline, size, and experience so it’s probably a matter of who makes a mistake and given their history against each other and United’s now historic lack of consistency overall, that probably means a draw. But, on paper DC has some serious advantages that could translate to a win, if you know, they actually wanted to win two in a row. That remains to be seen.

Offensively, I especially like the matchup of the sleek DeLeon against the more clunky Watson on DC’s left, especially as Hainault is a good defender, but prone to dive in and the tricky DeLeon, who seriously could be on the way to a rookie of the year himself, could blow right by those types of challenges. Also, Pontius could be another key to the match if he carries on with his confident form. Santos’ more physical style will go nowhere against Houston’s central defense, but if Pontius can be a dynamic wild card to score himself or open room for Santos to unleash his cannon left foot, Houston could be in trouble, even if DeRo is somewhat negated as I expect Houston coach Dominic Kinnear to be able to do.

Defensively for DC, it’s even better. Dudar wasn’t the slightest ruffled by Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, Blas Perez, Eric Hassli, or Sebastien LeToux, so I don’t see an aging Ching or a bum rush by Bruin bothering him in the slightest, and Brandon McDonald can mix it up physically with anyone in the league. Davis will be a huge problem should he come in late, but hopefully he is only entering the game because DC is up by then so all they need to do is not foul and hang on for the win.

Bottom line, DC has the tools to win, unfortunately trends and history go solidly against them. As mentioned Houston is every bit as good as DC so far this year considering they haven’t yet had the chance for any 4-1 wins at home yet. Also, DC has a paltry 3-7-2 record against the Dynamo, and while all 3 wins did come in RFK, there’s only been one since 2007 and that was in 2009. DC did manage the draw here last year for their first point in 2 years against the Dynamo , but a draw will not be what they are looking for this year.

Smart money says 2-2 draw, but just maybe the monkey comes off DC’s back tomorrow night and the record goes in the books as 89 games without a winning streak. A win would cement DC firmly into second in the East, while a loss would not necessarily affect Houston at all considering their situation waiting for their stadium to open, with an almost certain win over DC then, and also considering their games in hand.

Fingers crossed DC fans.

DC Seeking to Overtake the Revolution

DC United, unbeaten in three matches look to vault past The New England Revolution into 5th place in the Eastern Conference standings if DC coach Ben Olsen wins his duel with NE’s Jay Heaps as the youngest two coaches to face each other in an MLS match when United visits Gillette Stadium tomorrow afternoon.

Heaps became the latest MLS player to matriculate into coaching when he was surprisingly named head coach of the Revs, the team he retired from two years before. However, at 35 he is slightly older than Ben Olsen who took over DC United last year and won’t be 35 until next month. Surely the youngest two head coaches to ever face each other in MLS history.

Unfortunately, both of their respective teams did not get off the mark very well so far in this MLS season, each team with resounding losses in their first two matches before inching back into respectability recently. United is unbeaten in their last three having given up a mere one goal in that span, a goal that should have been disallowed as FCD’s Blas Perez was clearly offside. The Revs on the other hand were on a two game winning streak until giving up a stoppage time goal in Dallas last weekend for a 1-0 loss.

And, like United the weekend before who lost Brandon McDonald to a league mandated suspension, NE will be without the services of star midfielder, Shalrie Joseph as he was suspended midweek by the MLS disciplinary committee for a serious foul on FCD’s Ricardo Villar.

Undoubtedly, the loss of their best and most experienced player is boon for United, especially as former United midfielder, Clyde Simms, who NE picked up from DC in the offseason is ailing with a calf strain and designated playmaker, Benny Feilhaber, likely still out with a heel strain, NE’s midfield could be gutted for this match.

My money is on Simms making the starting XI, but not Feilhaber. Last week Heaps used rookie Kelyn Rowe as the playmaker to mixed results, but he scored against LA in that upset win, and along with the strong play of French forward Saer Sene, NE has boasted a surprisingly agile attack for a team from NE schooled in Nicolball.

So, I expect Heaps to continue to play attacking ball surrounding Sene as the lone forward with Rowe, Irishman Ryan Guy, and Lee Nguyen in attacking roles backed up by Simms to complete the midfield. Across their backline which has only given up two goals in their last three matches, since giving up four in their first two, should be Chris Tierney on the left, Stephen McCarthy and AJ Soares in the center, and the newly signed Germna defender, Flo Lechner in place of the injured Kevin Alston at right back in front of longtime United nemesis Matt Reis.

DC, on the other hand has a full roster to choose from, but that could mean some very tough choices for Ben Olsen. With rookie Nick Deleon and Danny Cruz playing so well for Chris Pontius and Andy Najar, it will be tough to sit either one of them in favor of the incumbent starter recently back to health or from Honduran National team duty respectively. Even tougher will be pulling Joe Willis from goal for Bill Hamid after what should have been three straight shutouts in the last three games had that Dallas goal been disallowed as it should have. Then there’s what to do with Brandon McDonald, who was very capably replaced by Dejan Jakovic in central defense against Seattle.

Another head scratcher will be what to do with Hamdi Salihi and Branko Boskovic. Olsen has persisted in starting Salihi, but although very hard working, he has produced no goals although by all that is holy his shot off the crossbar against Seattle deserved to be the game winner. Still, considering Boskovic is clearly making a huge contribution in the limited minutes he has been seeing, and Maicon Santos scored two of United’s last four goals, so the temptation to sit Salihi, move MVP Dwayne De Rosario to forward and insert Boskovic into the lineup has to be banging away insistently in Olsen’s brain.

However, I predict Olsen stays the course and starts the exact lineup that faced Seattle and will pick his spots to insert players as it becomes necessary. Which means I think Salihi and Santos start at forward, DeLeon, DeRo, Perry Kitchen, and Danny Cruz start left to right across the midfield, and the defense will be Daniel Woolard, Emiliano Dudar, Dejan Jakovic, and Robbie Russell at right back assuming his ankle knock has receded, Chris Korb if he’s still hobbled in front of Willis.

Looking at the matchups and the style of play, DC has clear advantages, since both Seattle, Vancouver, and Dallas to some extent all play a similar style as NE’s attacking system and DC only gave up a goal over that whole stretch. NE lives or dies on service to their big man Sene, and while it might be tempting to start McDonald to bang with him, Dudar is plenty capable of hanging with him and together with Jakovic is the among the best ball handling central defensemen in all of MLS, so if the midfield do their job and Billy Joe Willis keeps pitching shutouts, NE will struggle to score.

And the matchups in midfield favor DC. Cruz can pester anyone into an aneurism, Nguyen will be hard pressed to have an impact on the match. DeLeon against Rowe is a rookie of the year matchup and could go either way, but Ryan Guy has shown nothing so far that should trouble Perry Kitchen.

If so, that frees up DeRo to seriously help the attack, and the defending league MVP has been strangely silent so far this year. This could be a breakout game for him, especially with no Joseph to worry about and with a former teammate in Simms hoping to contain him. Also, NE’s central defense has not been impressive at all despite the recent string of decency. McCarthy is a converted midfielder, who has been caught out repeatedly and ejected once already for a hack after being caught out. Soares is decent, but hardly imposing. Salihi and Santos should be able to find holes in and around those two, especially with DeRo’s help, and even assuming the German stuffs DeLeon, and Cruz struggles against the under-rated Tierney.

Clearly on paper, DC has the edge. However, it must be said, DC often has the edge on paper, but that has rarely translated to wins in NE, which is among DC’s most unlucky venues in all of MLS. Incredibly unlucky things seem to regularly happen to United there leading to stinging losses, like the one last year where a clear hand ball was not called and a phantom PK doomed DC in the first 20 minutes. Or two years ago when United peppered the NE goal all game only to see former NE hardman Pat Phelan score his improbable only MLS goal to decide the match. The list goes on and on.

So, it’s one of the most heated rivalries in MLS history as these two original eastern conference foes face each other for the 57th time in league play, and while United holds a slim edge over the Revs all time with a 25-23-8 record, DC is a mere 9-15-4 at NE. Even worse, DC hasn’t beaten NE anywhere since 2008 and hasn’t won in NE in almost 5 years since Josh Gros scored the game winner early in a 3-0 win in 2007. In fact the Revs are currently on a 5 game winning streak over their long time rival.

So there you have it. On paper, odds makers should be backing DC. History and the soccer gods are just as clearly behind the Revs at home. I expect a 2-2 tie, which actually would be enough to tie DC with NE in points in the East, but DC does not have to win to sneak by the Revs in the standings. A draw would give them the lead on goal differential and the edge in head to head meetings.