Last year, a late season draw doomed DC from the playoffs, but what a difference a year makes as DC is riding a three game win streak this late in the season for the first time since 2004, so a road point is more than enough for DC.
OK, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I’ve been convinced white is black and black is white. DC is playing uglier than a mud fence, but they are winning and now truly hold their playoff destiny in their hands. I’ve been critical and skeptical waiting for fate to crush our hopes like every year, but there’s no denying United’s success in spite of their deficiencies and their history.
So, for the first time in a long time, DC fans just sit back and enjoy the match on Saturday night. No chewing nails worrying about a win, and frankly even a draw is unnecessary. DC has 50 points and needs essentially 55 points to pretty much assure themselves of a playoff spot barring a staggering win out by two of Columbus, Houston, or Red Bull which is unlikely. Houston maybe, but not either of the other two.
Basically, DC needs two wins, or one win and two draws. Now, of course it would be grand if DC rolled the lowly Portland Timbers as well as dropped TFC like a stone to wrap things up before even facing Columbus or the Fire, but I say that’s the coward’s way out! Win in Toronto for sure, but put some pressure on that Crew home match. What’s the point clinching a playoff berth against skells and heading into the playoffs against, you know, other playoff teams and not having had any real pressure or experience in producing against a playoff team this season.
Now, just for grins, I’ll break down the match for you. Of course DC on paper should win, and of course given their road form should lose, but as the Philly game showed Ben is simply magic lately, so what’s to worry about? If the game is going badly, good old Benny will sub in the the goal they need to win or tie. Even if the breaks finally go against DC, so what? They got the cupcakes in Toronto and need to show their bad intent on the Crew at home after that, so those are the crucial matches.
As usual, Olsen’s lineup decisions are pure speculation. They are for Portland too I might add, so pretty cagy of Olsen I am coming to realize. For instance, Branko Boskovic, Marcelo Saragosa, Lewis Neal, Mike Chabala, and Long Tan have all started two of DC’s last four road matches, with Andy Najar two starts in midfield and two at right back, so good luck guessing Olsen’s midfield or tactics.
My guess, Olsen goes conservative like he did in Philly and rolls out the 4-5-1 again, both to reward Boskovic and to confound a Portland team that is pretty darn decent at home, as much as possible.
So, with Maicon Santos looking hobbled again limping out of the Chivas game and Hamdi Salihi firmly planted back on the bench, I see Pajoy the magic man lately trotting out again as the lone forward to ensure 87 minutes of crap surrounding one glorious play that decides the game.
In midfield, I see Chris Pontius, Boskovic (for only 60 min of course! He’ll come off so Santos can score the winner off the bench), Lewis Neal, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon stretched out from left to right. Now, Olsen could very easily plant Boskovic right back on the bench, and perhaps justifiably in this particular match as it sets up better for him to come off the bench rather than slog away at their 5 man midfield for the first 60 min. However, Olsen says he rewards production and Boskovic made the play that got DC all the points in a game they did not play particularly well. For Olsen to bench him after that sends an ugly message, especially if he starts the dreadful Pajoy again, but not Boskovic.
Almost certainly, Olsen sends out Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, and Andy Najar from left to right in front of Bill Hamid. Maybe, Olsen gives Robbie Russell the start, allowing Najar a shot in midfield, pushing Neal to the bench so he can come on for Boskovic and score the winner, and giving Pontius a start as the lone forward. Oh be still my beating heart, no chance of that.
As for Portland, with their misfiring big gun, Chris Kris Boyd done for a while with a groin injury, Portland has been rotating former Union forward Danny Mwanga and the lumbering Bright Dike as their lone forward. Currently, Mwanga is the more successful with the two goals that tied the league leading Earthquakes in San Jose and the lone goal in the RSL loss at home recently, so it will likley be him to start, but DC better be ready to get their fingers on the Dike or it could be trouble. He’s a beast with a poor touch, similar to oh say, Lenhart who lit up DC for 3 a while back.
In midfield, it’s been Frank Songo’o, Darlington Nagby, Jack Jewsbury, Rodney Wallace, and Sal Zizzo going left to right in more of a 4-2-3-1 than a true 4-5-1. In the back, it’s been pretty consistently Steve Smith, Hanyer Mosquera, David Horst and Koske Kimura going left to right in front of third string keeper, Joe Bendik. Although Lovel Palmer got a shot at right back recently, it was rather unsuccessful, so I doubt Portland reprises that. Also, both Donovan Ricketts (shoulder) and number two Jake Gleeson (hand bruise) might be coming close to returning to the field, but the youngster has played well so unless those guys are 100%, I doubt either starts.
So, looking at the matchups, it’s another jammed up midfield with 10 players clawing and scratching the ball back and forth hoping for a breakthrough, probably pretty similar to the Philly match. So, barring an early goal to shake things up, it’ll be another 60 minutes of crap TV until the game opens up late and one play decides the match.
Oh, right! The matchups! Let’s see. The aging, but still clever Songo’o will pose problems for DeLeon and Najar, and Nagby is usually good for a silly play or two that might surprise Kitchen who was selected one place behind him in the draft. But, other than that all other matchups sway DC’s way. Just not by very much.
I can see Pajoy slipping around the towering Horst for his usual one good play. Pontius will cause Kimura enormous troubles, but I can see Jewsbury or Wallace sliding out to ease that concern. Which might leave more room for Boskovic or Neal to operate inside, but that’s a stretch really given the way Portland plays at home and DC plays on the road. DeLeon could pull off surprise as he almost did with some cagey shooting against Chivas, etc. But overall, no big advantages for DC.
But none really for Portland either. Mwanga or Dike is a handful and Nagby is tricky, but Jakovic and McDonald should be solid enough to snuff them out for the most part. Songo’o as mentioned could be tough, but Najar is nothing if not combative, Zizzo might get a sniff catching Korb out a couple times, but overall nothing too horrible should happen for DC.
DC even holds the edge in head to head as they tied them here 1-1 and won the match there 3-2 in the only two times they have ever played in Portland’s expansion year. Of course this year, Portland is 7-4-4 at home including wins over San Jose and Seattle earlier this summer and KC earlier this year. They also are currently 2-0-2 at home since losing 1-0 to Chivas back in July including a tie with Seattle in their last home match.
On the other hand, DC is a dreadful 4-9-1 on the road overall and outside of two stolen 1 goal wins in Philly, United is 0-7-0 with 5 of them shutout losses since back to back wins in NE and TFC back in the Spring. Even counting that startling win in Philly ten days ago, DC is 1-6-0 in their last 7 on the road. Although DC is undefeated this year against the Pacific Northwest with two 0-0 draws with Vancouver and Seattle so far, so they got that going for them.
So, nothing to see here folks. The game is shaping up as a 0-0 tie and that would be just fine with DC.