DC United started another one game win streak with a rousing 3-0 victory in LA against Chivas, and now faces a critical run of 5 games in 16 days starting with the match tomorrow night in Seattle against a Sounders team that has only lost once since the end of July and Josh Wolff (pictured) could be the difference.
United, which still hasn’t strung together two straight wins since 2008 and is playing perhaps the hottest team in all of MLS the past 6 weeks without Chris Pontius who broke his leg in the Chivas win, might just be in position to pull off somewhat of an upset given the circumstances surrounding this match.
DC stayed on the West coast and has no appreciable travel to wear them down, while Seattle have had a mid week trip to Costa Rica and back to deal with. Of course the result down there for Seattle was the worst possible for United, an easy Seattle win with no injuries, but a 5,000 mile round trip to play at home is surely more grueling than DC’s short flight to this match.
Also, Seattle is in the middle of the CONCACAF Champions League, made the finals of the US Open Cup for the third year in a row, and has a relatively crowded MLS schedule left as well, so they are currently well into a stretch of 9 games in 32 days. And to top that off, the Sounders are all but assured an MLS playoff berth already, likely only needing 4 points out of their last 6 matches to qualify, so this is a match they don’t really need to focus too much on.
DC, on the other hand is in a far more desperate situation. Although the win against Chivas did secure them the last wild card slot for the moment, and a win in Seattle would likely vault them into third place and a guaranteed playoff slot for a couple weeks with two homes games coming up, but anything less than 3 points in Seattle ratchets up the pressure instead as they will likely fall out of the playoff picture yet again, with the weight of three straight barren years out of the playoffs looming above them and inching downward.
DC also has some injury concerns again after seemingly getting healthy over their recent 20 day idle stretch. Obviously the loss of Pontius for the season is killer given his play of late and especially the way he has torched the Sounders in Seattle in the past, but also the nagging hamstring injuries to Bill Hamid and Dejan Jackovic, as well as the availability of Josh Wolff are all up in the air too. All are listed as probable, and DC has capable replacements if they can’t go, but the situation clearly isn’t ideal.
Thankfully, Seattle will be missing a couple key players as well, although arguably they are pretty much the deepest team in MLS. However, the loss of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado in central defense due to suspension and Erik Friberg in central midfield will hurt. Also, the effectiveness of Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans just becoming available coming off injuries is in question, as will be the effectiveness of anyone who played the full 90 down in Costa Rica midweek, Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez, etc.
So, with all that in mind taking a stab at Sigi’s lineup for the Sounders is a bit of a leap of faith, but here goes. I suspect Montero and Mike Fucito start at forward with Montero on a short leash. Fernandez, Mauro Rosales, Alonso, and Evans across midfield going left to right, and Sigi has plenty of options in the attack off the bench too with Nate Jaqua, Roger Levesque, Pat Noonan, or Neagle to slot in anywhere needed. Then Tyson Wahl, Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni, and James Riley across the backline from left to right and in front of Kasey Keller.
Olsen just has to replace Pontius for certain, and it seems a dead certainty Santino Quaranta moves into the starting lineup. Now where he plays likely depends on Josh Wolff. If Wolff’s balky hip allows him to start, then Q plays left midfield for certain, if not, then Olsen might be tempted to play Tino at forward alongside Davies and slot in Austin Da Luz or maybe even Marc Burch on the left. Perhaps the better option if Wolff can’t go would be to play Blake Brettschneider at forward and leave Q out on the left, though. We’ll see. My money is on Wolff starting though. This match is huge for DC psychologically heading into a tough stretch, so Wolff needs to be out there if he’s even close to being fit.
Which means DC goes with Wolff and Davies at forward. Quaranta, Dwayne DeRosario, Clyde Simms, and Andy Najar from left to right across midfield, and Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Jakovic or former Terp Ethan White, and Perry Kitchen across the backline in front of Hamid or possibly Joe Willis.
So, looking at the matchups, DC is actually in pretty good shape offensively. Wolff and Davies sliced and diced Ianni and Hurtado earlier this year in the win in RFK, and are certainly faster and craftier than Ianni and Parke, especially with Najar having an edge over Wahl down DC’s right side, and with Quaranta beating Riley at least a few times (Tino has had some of his best games on turf, btw). Also, DeRo has as good a chance as anyone at getting around Alonso in central midfield, especially if the Cuban is slowed by his balky adductor, but I wouldn’t count on that.
Still, DC should be able to score, especially on a field where they have never lost (including against Real Madrid) and where they average 3 goals a game in MLS play, although it hurts that Pontius scored 3 of DC’s 6 goals scored there, would have scored 4 if Cristman hadn’t poached one of them, and he even forced a Seattle own goal so arguably he caused 5 of those 6, but it’s a good omen that Tino had a hand in 3 of those goals himself, assisting on the game winner last year, and helped force the Seattle own goal which was DC’s last goal in the 3-3 tie in 2009.
Now, on the other side of the ball, DC still has some decent matchups. Obviously Montero is a United killer and tricky enough to beat anyone any given time, but McDonald and Jakovic or White (both of whom played in the DC win over Seattle earlier, and of course McDonald coming from SJ knows Montero quite well) are savvy and physical enough to keep him and the rugged opportunistic Fucito quiet if they make no serious mistakes.
Where the real problems lie for DC is in midfield. Fernandez is a handful for anyone, much less a rookie right back in Perry Kitchen. Kitchen is smart and more athletic, and he’ll need every bit of that to shut down the cagey Uruguayan World Cup veteran. Evans going up against Woolard isn’t much better. Evans has none of the pedigree of Seattle’s cadre of internationals, yet all he does is win games and score big goals. And Simms might have the toughest assignment of all as Rosales has been the key to Seattle’s recent run up the Western table and I believe Sigi uses him to replace Friberg in the center. Perhaps it’s Evans inside and Rosales outside, but either way it’s tough sledding for DC.
You have to figure Seattle’s midfield wins more battle than they lose, which starts a chain reaction of bad things for DC. It pulls back Santino and Najar to help out, allows Wahl and Riley forward, forces DC’s defenders to step up or out to cover, leaving more space for Montero to exploit, or leads to fouls and free kicks that DC doesn’t particularly defend all that well, etc. On the bright side, it does force DC into being more of a counter-attacking team however, and Davies, if he continues on his roll could net another triple running behind Parke and Ianni.
The current trends don’t really help DC out either despite the fact Seattle is coming off their only loss in the last six weeks last week to RSL at home last weekend. Yes, DC has never lost in Seattle. DC is also one of the best teams in the league on the road with an away record of 5-4-4, and is coming off a big win as well as having scored 3 or more goals in 3 of their last 5 games to boot. DC has also has 5 shutouts in their last 8 on the road, outscoring their opponents 11 to 5 since the bitter loss in Houston.
But, Seattle is slightly better at home with a 7-3-4 record, and even worse the Sounders have thrashed the Eastern Conference with a 6-0-1 record at home this year outscoring the East by 19-7 including hammering the Crew 6-2 three weeks ago. From the East, only Houston has escaped Seattle with a point, and with only DC and Philly left, Seattle will want to complete their roll over the East. Plus, while their playoffs are pretty secure, they have a shot at the Supporter’s Shield if the Galaxy has a late season swoon and will want to snag points every chance they get.
Bottom line given the two teams history in Seattle and the way this match seems likely to play out, expect quite a few goals. Formerly Qwest Field but now Century Link Field, affectionately known as the CLink, DC has outscored Seattle 6-5 in two games there since Seattle entered the league, and I fully expect another ripsnorter tomorrow night.
DC could certainly tie or even win it if their luck in the Clink holds up, and all the travel and games catch up to Seattle in a bad way. But a valiant high scoring loss seems a bit more likely to the odds makers. Unless of course Keller lets a few goals slip through his fingers. Fingers crossed.