It used to be DC United bearing down on the end of the season grinding out trophies and playoff positioning, as well as breaking the hearts of the Crew fans by knocking them out of the playoffs almost like scraping poo off the bottom of your shoe. But now the shoe is on the other foot and the Crew clearly relish the view from the top and scraping United’s hopes into the bin.
Ah, how the mighty have fallen. Now, it’s the Crew collecting the kind of hardware DC United used to be able to expect as Columbus visits RFK angling for their second straight Supporter’s Shield as well as gleefully shoveling dirt on United’s extremely thin playoff hopes with a win over the faltering Black and Red.
Now, as incredible as it sounds, DC could actually still qualify for the playoffs if they lose to the Crew (which, let’s face it, is probably a foregone conclusion), but the incredible complexity of events that would need to take place for DC to back into the playoffs after a loss to the Crew is positively Byzantine in it’s magnitude.
So, for all intents and purposes, this is the crucial match that will not only decide United’s playoff fate, but will probably unleash the wrath of Chang who has to be itching to go after this team with a sickle after the dreadful performances they have produced for most of the season. Certainly high on the grim reaper’s list has to be the head coach Temperamental Tommy. So how the team responds to this ultimate challenge will go a long way towards maybe keeping the Tommy Knockers at bay for at least another week, or towards thumping the final nail in his coaching coffin if DC flails to a team record fourth straight loss at home in this crucial match.
So, that’s it. No pressure. Soehn has had two solid weeks since the Chivas debacle to pull himself and the team together to face the biggest match of the season. Granted, there’s been a bit of bad news on the injury front with probable team MVP Santino Quaranta damaging a foot and being lost for the rest of the year among some other suspensions and absences, but if those things can’t be overcome then Soehn is clearly not the coach of the future anyway.
With Quaranta joining Wicks and Namoff (who is probably out for the year with concussion problems) in the Club level seats, DC is further hampered by the suspensions to Ben Olsen, who got a foolish red card against Chivas, and more importantly, DC’s rookie of the year candidate and second most valuable player on the season, Chris Pontius, for an accumulation of yellows. Obviously, not the best of scenarios, but then again, this DC team is supposed to have been built to weather such storms, so we shall see if that is the case or not.
On a side note, what a testament to how frustrating this season has been that Ben Olsen lost it completely in that Chivas match by kicking the ball off Cuesta in retaliation, especially when you consider its Bennie’s his first red card since his rookie season in 1998. Considering his demeanor, experience, and position on the field, for this to have been his first red card in 11 years is saying something. Plus, given that his future has to be very much in doubt, what a shame if it turns out that his last match for United in RFK will have ended like that.
In fact, tomorrow could easily be the swan song for virtually the entire money end of United’s roster. Emilio, Gomez, and Fred are certainly auditioning for another chance to redeem themselves next year, right along with the captain of this Titanic Soehn. Perhaps even the greatest player in MLS history, Jaime Moreno, could easily be playing his last match for DC United in RFK. Truly, the ramifications from this match will go far beyond a mere playoff appearance for sure.
Ironically, the loss of Quaranta and Pontius actually gives those big money players a golden chance to redeem themselves. It certainly makes it that much easier for Soehn to start them anyway. Now, they have clearly not been playing well and Soehn has done his best to undermine them this year too. Still, they have a vested interest in winning tomorrow for themselves, so maybe that’s enough for them to put the past behind them and find the form that might salvage their MLS careers as well as the team’s playoff hopes.
It’ll be interesting to see how Soehn lines them up, too. Logic says a 4-4-2, but a 4-5-1 or even a 3-5-2 must be tempting as those accentuate the strengths of the big three, Emilio, Gomez and Moreno. Besides, Soehn has been anything but logical this season, so who knows what he will do. Given the pressure on this match and Soehn’s obvious propensity for bad decisions or lucky confluences of circumstances, almost nothing would surprise me.
But, looking at what the Crew are likely to do as well as covering for United’s weaknesses, a 4-4-2 is probably imperative. Yes, that formation will likely hamper Emilio, Gomez and DC’s attack overall, but keeping things tight in the back and hoping for the best has got to be the way to go given the situation.
So, I would imagine Moreno will get his wish and see if DC can get into a rhythm by starting the big three for only the fifth time all year. By the way, their record in those first four, undefeated, with wins over KC and Firpo in El Salvador, and ties with NE and Chicago earlier in the season. Emilio scored the winner over KC and Gomez the tying goal at Firpo and the winning PK after 120 minutes. Emilio scored in the 1-1 tie with the Fire, while Moreno stroked the tying FK to Olsen in the 90th minute against NE. Not too shabby and maybe shows why Moreno has a point, as well as an argument against United’s geriatric brigade being able to go the full 90.
Anyway, those guys are actually a very good matchup with a Crew defense without Marshall and maybe resting some others for their crucial match in CCL in Puerto Rico in the coming midweek, but more on that later. Suffice it to say Emilio and Moreno can find success against Brunner and Iro in central defense if they are on their game. Plus, while a four man midfield is not the best for Gomez, his biggest concern is a former team-mate Brian Carroll, who is not physical or attack minded, which is usually the best way to put a crimp in Gomez’ game, so there’s good reason to hope for a good game from Gomito.
Defensively, DC might catch a huge break as United killer Alejandro Moreno will most likely not play since he played twice for Venezuela over the past week. Semi-pro Lenhart isn’t much of a consolation as his bull in a china shop game is surprisingly effective, but at least he’s no where near as accomplished a diver as Curious George, nor has Venezuelan jackhammer Emilio Renteria completely assimilated to MLS yet. Plus, Simms and Jakovic is as good as it gets in containing Schelotto without too many fouls so there shouldn’t be too many set plays for the Crew to cash in on.
Granted, Burch has been a nightmare, and there’s no Namoff to contain Rogers, but McTavish is capable of locking down a player and he may well be auditioning for Namoff’s job in the next few years, so there’s reason to hope. Burch on Gaven is more troubling, but Gaven does not like the physical game and Burch will lay the lumber so there’s something to hope for anyway. Plus, Wallace should be playing the left midfield so he can help double down on Gaven in most circumstances.
So, DC has a good shot in terms of matchups if they actually intend to play hard which is always the problem with this mercurial team. Oh, unless of course Soehn throws another shoe into the machine by starting the recently signed Cronin over Kocic in goal. What a disaster that would be, and maybe Soehn’s final act of sabotage if he were to undermine his heir apparent with such a move. No question Cronin is more experienced in general, but cohesiveness with the defense in front of a goalkeeper is the work of months of games and practices. For Cronin to waltz in and start based on reputation would be criminal, not that I would put it past Soehn to pull such a move in the slightest.
As for looking at the intangibles, DC has the slightest bit of an edge there too. Of course, DC used to own the Crew in RFK, but those days are long past. Still, while DC has lost the last two against the Crew in RFK, they are 14-5-3 against the yellow submarine in RFK overall.
Plus, the Crew have a far more important things to worry about than DC. The Supporter’s Shield can still be theirs even with a loss in RFK, but their upcoming match in CCL is critical. The Crew must actually win in Puerto Rico in order to be assured of advancing into the knockout phase because Cruz Azul, with nothing to play for having already advanced, have to play in Saprissa and a win by the Ticos will see them through unless the Crew win. A tie does the Crew no good unless Saprissa loses.
DC, on the other hand has nothing to hope for in the CCL. Their only chance to advance is if they win in Mexico against Toluca, the best team south of the border this season. A win in Mexico is a feat no other MLS team has ever done under any circumstances, so DC is as likely to get a fluke win in that match with Ely Allen as they are to win it with Jaime Moreno, so no reason to save anyone for that one. Might as well leave it up to Marathon because if the Hondurans lose in Trinidad against the winless Jabloteh, a result that would stretch the imagination quite considerably, the DC would be through no matter what.
So there you have it. This one is for all the marbles, and I don’t mean a trophy. This one is one last gasp for respectability for a big chunk of legendary players who have worn the Black and Red with pride over the years. If they pull themselves together for a supreme effort, United will prevail. If not, they will have sealed their own doom.