Riding a three game MLS unbeaten streak, DC United will be looking to carry their momentum from before this long, unique, World Cup break into this crucial matchup with the Eastern conference leading Crew, who will be hoping for the opposite of their form entering the break as they had gone winless over their last three matches.
Given this is the longest league break ever in the middle of the MLS season, it’s tough to say how any team will react. DC played the very last match prior to this 16 day break, but the Crew have been off fully three weeks since their last MLS action, a 1-0 loss in Colorado. Certainly, the Crew are hoping the break revive their winning ways, but United will be hoping their remarkable run at respectability will carry over the long layoff.
Now, the last time United met Columbus, the Crew were marching inexorably towards their second straight Supporter’s Shield while DC were merely hoping for miracles. But, Emilio and DC outright stole three points late last year in RFK in what turned out to be a futile effort to make the playoffs last year. Then of course, the year before, DC met the Crew in Columbus with their playoffs lives at stake but it was a Crewl loss in the final game of 2008 which eliminated United from the playoffs for the first time in four years and was the start of this current two year run out of the money.
Now, DC is a dreadful 7-12-5 in Columbus which of course isn’t too promising heading into as matchup with the two time defending Supporter’s Shield winners, but that’s deceiving as most of those painful losses came early on at the dreaded horseshoe. In reality, DC has actually only lost once in Ohio since late 2005 going 3-0-2 outside of that lone loss. Of course that loss was the postal 1-0 loss in 2008 that passed the torch from the first repeat Supporter’s Shield winner to the Crew who are the second and not coincidentally started United’s current playoff drought of two, going on three, years.
Now, looking at the matchups, DC does not have a chance…… No kidding. DC does have some reasonable hopes heading into this match even though the Crew are only missing maybe Frankie Hejduk, while DC’s injury list reads like Les Miserables.
However, (arguably) United will only be without two or three actual starters in Namoff and Wallace and maybe Graye, while they have recently welcomed back into the picture of health Pena, Burch, and most importantly, Chris Pontius who had a hat trick in Seattle for almost 24 hours. So, considering no one on either side has any reason to be rested, DC will be facing virtually the best the Crew have, but DC has some pretty decent options as well.
At forward, DC almost certainly will trot out Allsopp and Quaranta, with Najar, King, and Pontius in the attacking positions and Simms defending. In defense, it might be a bit sketchy depending on who Onalfo wants to reward or who is healthy. The one certain starter is Jakovic, but whether the Mummy Pena partners him, or Onalfo rewards James for his stellar performance in Seattle is a mystery. Another mystery is whether Graye is fully fit, or will the recently healthy Burch and McTavish patrol the wings. Or will James play on the right, Pena in the middle, and Burch on the left.
So, looking at the most likely scenarios, DC’s offense will struggle, but so will the Crew’s. Allsopp and Quaranta (and Pontius who will readily and often switch with Santino) have a decent chance against Marshall and Iro (or Brunner or O’Rourke). However, Najar against Padula and Pontius (or Q) are very tantalizing options against Padula and Brunner (or Zayner or whoever in replacement of Hejduk), especially Najar who will make Padula work much more than he’d like, and Pontius who will absolutely torment whoever Warzycha puts out on that right side of defense. Unfortunately, King and Simms in central midfield will not win out against little miss Moffat and former DC midfielder Brian Carroll, so overall, the Crew’s defense has the edge.
Fortunately, the Crew’s offense will struggle too. For one thing, they’ve been struggling all year. They have looked like a World Cup team trying to make it out of the group stage more than a dynamic offense spreading its wings and the results speak for themselves. Schelotto has only one goal from the run of play, Lenhart has missed more shots than an epileptic bartender, and only some pedestrian goals from Gaven, or a defender nodding in a freekick has kept them above water.
Lenhart and a well rested Schelotto are certainly a concern, but Jakovic and James or Pena should be fine. The Mummy wrapping up semi-tough will be especially satisfying as his bull in a china shop style will get snuffed by a defender who has actually ran with the bulls in Spain.
However, looking at the trends, while DC is 2-0-1 heading into this match, actually 4-0-1 in all competitions, however much the 11 goals scored over that span are a welcome sight, the 7 goals given up is a bit worrisome. But, the Crew is doing a damn sight worse as they haven’t won in 3 on the trot on MLS going 0-2-1 since losing for the first time against LA three weeks ago, with a mere two goals scored in a tie with SJ and being shut out in the other two.
So, it’s a crapshoot how this one turns out. DC is on the upswing, playing in a place they’ve found success recently, and they have plenty of positive energy both from recent results as well as the recent signing of a big time midfielder Branko Boskovic, as well as the flurry of possibles who also could be signed very soon. But, the Crew are the two time defending SS winners for a reason and they are well rested and playing at home where they only recently lost for the first time in almost two years, and that was to LA, hardly a slouch in MLS.
Tough to call this one, so I’ll go with a well earned tie 1-1. I would love to call the Crew a stone cold lock as that whammy would surely come back to bite them, but unfortunately, I can’t see any way to really favor either team. The Crew of course have a slight edge being at home and considering their recent accolades, but DC has pulled off some lively results of late and the Crew have not been very convincing thus far, so this is winnable as DC needs it far more than the Crew do.
With 18 games left in United’s season, DC realistically needs at least 30 more points to even hope for a playoff slot with that mythical 40 point threshhold. Leaving aside that 42 will probably be needed this year with the now 16 team league, a simple 40 points would mean a record of 10-8-0 over the final games of this season. At least 9 wins, or at the very least, no more than 5 more losses could be tolerated as no team has ever made the playoffs in recent times with any more than 13 losses and DC already has 8, So DC’s playoff lives are really at stake this early in the season as incredible as that seems.
But, it’s one game at a time and DC is already beating the odds with that win in Seattle. Another win in Columbus, or at the very least not a loss, and DC is looking like a dangerous team heading into the summer where reinforcements are already on the way.
A little United trivia During DC’s worst ever playoff loss, a 5-1 drubbing in 1999, Unitedmania’s own Martin Fernandez threw a red vuvuzuela that actually hit Columbus’ Stern John in the leg as he was gearing up for a throw in perhaps a little too close to the significantly disgruntled United section hunkered into a corner under one of the fly swatter lights of the brand new Crew stadium that year. So, don’t think those annoying South African air horns are only a recently invented torture device. Stern John can tell you different.