Ben Olsen

Dallas Looms for Banged Up DC

With an injury list longer than a snake’s tail, DC heads to Pizza Hut Park to take on FC Dallas, hoping to win two games in a row on the road for the first time in the Obama administration, but the high flying Western Conference powerhouse has been almost unbeatable at home this year.

Despite a glorious win in NY, and the immediate impact of Dwayne De Rosario, it seems like United just can’t seem to break out of its heinous injury funk. News broke this week, that rookie Blake Brettschneider is not able to return from a concussion suffered when he was kicked in the head in NY, United’s fourth concussed player this year , all still out at this time, and given their ominous history with concussions, Esky, Gros, and Namoff, etc., the hits just seem to keep coming.

On top of that, Josh Wolff is apparently nursing a yanked hamstring, and likely won’t play in Dallas, either meaning an already thin forward line gets even thinner. And while Dejan Jakovic’s return from his hamstring pull seems imminent, that only replaces Jed Zayner, who is out with a knee problem for the next six weeks.

However, despite all the injuries piling up, DC has not actually lost a game in over a month, and they have the best record on the road of any team in the East at 3-3-2, including being undefeated in their last 4 away matches, dating back to the Portland win sandwiched around the ties in LA and RSL. However, DC has not won two in a row on the road since their last dominant season in 2007, but interestingly it was in Dallas where they notched that second win after beating TFC.

FC Dallas will not fall easily, though. Granted Sporting KC handed them their hat in a relatively miraculous 4-1 drubbing in Pizza Hut Park a few weeks ago, but losses have been rare in The Oven so far this year. In fact Dallas has six shutouts in their last nine matches at home this year, and only LA (1 goal) and SKC have even scored in Dallas since April.

Incredibly, despite the massive injuries, DC’s Ben Olsen has some serious lineup questions to resolve. Now, normally when the roster is decimated, your choices are limited and you pretty much just go with the healthy bodies. But, with DeRo on the roster, Olsen has some intriguing options. Almost without doubt, Charlie Davies will start as the only healthy and effective forward, but who will partner him without Wolff or Brettschneider?

It could be Joseph Ngwenya, who is recently back to health himself, but a much more appealing option might be to play Chris Pontius or even DeRo as that second forward as both seem to be more effective players, and clearly combine with Davies better. Fred could play either role in midfield that they would vacate.

Also, DC has a crucially important match coming up midweek against NE, and considering the likely 100 degree temperatures in Dallas and his very thing roster, how will Olsen juggle his roster to maximize both games. Davies, for example seems unlikely to play 90 minutes in each game, and unless Wolff or Brettschneider make it back to health quickly, that’s a huge hole to fill.

Also, DC’s backline is solid for the moment, but if Daniel Wollard’s back acts up, all of a sudden it is pretty thin too, especially with two games and travel in 4 days. I fully expect Woolard (or Chris Korb), Ethan White, Brnadon McDonald, and Perry Kitchen to start left to right across the backline in front of Bill Hamid, but Jakovic must come on at some point as well as Korb, or dare I say it, Marc Burch, because with NE looming after a sweltering game in Texas, some changes almost certainly will have to be made.

Dallas, on the other hand, is plodding right along even without defending league MVP David Ferreira, having only lost one game since his ankle was horrifically twisted, and since Fabian Castillo left for the U-20 tournament in Colombia, and even without Daniel Hernandez and Milton Rodriguez, who are just returning from knee injuries. Dallas has stayed successful by pushing Brek Shea and Brazilian Jackson Gonsalves into the attack from their defensive roles and both have responded by scoring in 4 of Dallas’ last 5 matches.

So, I expect Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman to play a very similar lineup to the one that lost in RSL last week. Honduran Marvin Chavez and I suspect Rodriguez as forwards, then Shea, Eric Alexander, and Jackson across the midfield from left to right, backed up by either Hernandez or possibly rookie Bobby Warsaw if Hernandez is not quite ready to start. It’s a lock that Zach Loyd, George John, Ugo Ihemelu, and Jair Benitez start in front of Kevin Hartman in goal, though.

So, looking at the matchups, DC has some possibilities, but it will be tough. Going forward, Davies is way faster than John and way trickier than Ihemelu, but it is imperative that he get help or those guys can easily tag team him into impotence, as indeed they have done to most forwards all year in PHP. For me, that’s where DeRo swings the balance into DC’s favor. If he plays up, DC’s attack is all of a sudden something that Dallas cannot disregard. If it’s Ngwenya, they could perhaps be a bit more arrogant.

Also, with DeRo up and Dallas’ defense shifting into support mode, Najar and Pontius will have much more room to cause trouble and they can unbalance Loyd and Benitez for sure. Pontius’ incisive moves can get behind Loyd, while Najar’s tenacity can easily unhinge the emotional Benitez. Plus, Fred and Simms are a fair bet to outplay Alexander and Warsaw or a just barely fit Hernandez.

Now, going the other way, it’s not so bad either if DC has enough of the ball to force Shea and Jackson to be honest on the wings. If they can attack with abandon, DC is in the soup for sure, but if they are slowed by DC’s attack, then DC’s possibilities begin to look right tasty. I think Kitchen has the perfect mentality to slow Billy Idol crashing down that left side. I also like the consistent Woolard, or even rookie Korb against Jackson, although that is less comforting.

But, if those two are negated, DC is in enormously good shape because if White and McDonald can contain Henry and Rodgers, then Rodriguez and Chavez are a piece of cake. Rodriguez is only effective if left alone, and Chavez is fast, but surprisingly ineffective. He’s no stranger to DC either, and if the pitiful defenses DC trotted out in the CONCACAF Champions League a few years ago could throttle Chavez, then DC’s defense today can do it too.

So, on paper, things don’t look too bad for DC, which is good since the trends clearly do not favor United. Obviously, DC’s 6-12-2 record in Dallas, being outscored 37 to 26 isn’t too promising. Nor is the fact DC hasn’t won in Dallas since that glorious 4-0 drubbing in 2007. Then, of course there’s current trends where Dallas is downright stingy at home outside that hiccup against SKC a month ago. Since then, Dallas has won two in a row at home shutting out Columbus and Portland 6-0 combined. Also aside from that SKC debacle, Dallas hasn’t lost at home since March, and only LA has scored a single goal against them since May 1st.

So, if DC wins this one it will be based on their merits because clearly the odds are not stacked in their favor. But, do not be surprised if they pull on right out of their hat. DC has a good lineup on paper that can cause Dallas a lot of problems. You heard it here first.

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