Obviously, with United having just beaten FCD with pretty much a reserve side as well as coming off a rousing last minute victory up in NY and playing at home, DC should clearly be the favorite. However, Dallas has been a tough out in league play lately, and might well be quite a bit more motivated this time around.
Overconfidence is likely to be the biggest worry for DC United, though. Having thumped Dallas so handily in that Open Cup match, as well as given their respective positions in the table, United must feel they have the a huge advantage over the Hoops. But, that’s usually when the parity in MLS comes right up to bite a team right in the seat of their pants.
Dallas clearly didn’t take that Open Cup match very seriously and they will be hopping mad at the way they got embarrassed, plus they have a bit of history on their side having not lost to DC in a league match here since 2004. So, while Dallas is without question the inferior side coming off two bad losses and with their starting keeper suspended, they have some seriously good players who will not want to leave RFK with a bad taste in their mouths for the second time in less than two weeks.
DC, on the other hand has the overconfidence factor to worry about, but also is facing 3 games in 8 days and simply has to work in some reserve players despite being completely healthy for the first time in maybe two years. Since Dallas is out of conference and both KC (Wed) and Toronto (Sat) are conference games, as well as the fact that the molten NY turf probably blistered some United feet, it seems likely this Dallas match will have the biggest influx of reserves.
The good thing is Soehn has plenty of seasoned players to choose from as almost the entire roster either has played decent minutes recently or has experience in MLS. If you think about it, DC has easily 18 players who could be considered starters if you count Avery John and considering the way the rookies have taken to the league so far.
Seriously; Emilio, Moreno, Quaranta, Pontius, Gomez, Fred, Olsen, Simms, Jacobson, Wallace, Namoff, McTavish, Jakovic, Janicki, Burch, John, Crayton, and Wicks (maybe Kocic, too) all could be considered reliable starters. That’s 18 easy and doesn’t even include Khumalo and Barklage who generated goals against NY and Dallas respectively this past week.
So, with Tommy having oodles of choices, and this is pure speculation, but my guess is that Emilio, Moreno, Olsen, Simms, Namoff, Pontius, Burch and quite possibly Wallace get some time off against Dallas this weekend, leaving them with the bulk of the time in KC and against Toronto coming up at the end of next week.
So, I think Quaranta gets the start at forward with Emilio and Moreno splitting the other spot, maybe 45 or so minutes apiece. Khumalo deserves the start on the right after his effort in NY and it gives Pontius some time to cool his blisters. Gomez should also get the start in the center having just finished his two match vacation, but it also would not surprise me at all if Olsen and Simms are given the night off to allow Jacobson and McTavish play behind Gomez. Plus, I think Wallace, despite the goal in NY and his youth, gets some time on the bench in order to let Fred get a full 90 on the left.
All of which are good matchups since Dallas has a pretty weak midfield overall. Khumalo showed he can check Van den Bergh well enough in that first match, as well and get forward plenty. Fred will have no trouble out playing his compatriot the pouty Rocha (while Wallace would likely struggle against the gangly Brazilian). And there’s no question Gomez, Jacobson and McTavish should have the edge over McCarty and Richetti even with the support of Moor or another midfielder.
How United’s defense lines up will be interesting. I think in a perfect world, Jakovic, Janicki, and Namoff play right to left, but I seriously suspect Namoff gets some time off and Avery John gets the start over Burch. For one thing, you’ve got to find out if John can play or not. Also, Burch has just looked a bit sketchy on defense so far this year. You hate to lose his horrifying free kicks, especially as Burse and Co. has seen first hand the damage he wreaks with them, but I just think it’s time for John to get a look.
Janicki too, is just back from his concussion, but he played absolutely lights out against Dallas last week and deserves to see if he earns that central spot back permanently. Janicki absolutely ate up the speedy Cunningham, easily angling him off the ball or sweeping the ball away with impeccable timing. Cooper rarely gave him any trouble either. And no disrespect to Jakovic, he’s been phenomenal in the center too, but he’ll be just as phenomenal on the right and his ball skills should help out going forward too. I believe that was the plan at the start of the season, and this is a good time to see if that’s the wave of the future too.
Now, I realize that seems like a lot of changes to a team playing relatively well. But I think this is the perfect time to see if you have a pretty solid second team quite frankly. And it’s better to do that at home against a weak opponent than on the road in a short week against an important division opponent. Simple as that.
Still, regardless of who starts, I can’t see Dallas really generating too much offense on a regular basis. Cooper will create a few of his own chances, Ferreira is tricky, and VdB is solid, but Rocha and McCarty are hit and miss. But overall Dallas just seems to have no real plan for how to run their offense. If it isn’t an individual effort or set play, they really struggle offensively. Only Houston, NE, and NY have scored less this season. DC minds their Ps and Qs and they shouldn’t give up more than one. The trick is scoring more than that.
But, United’s offense no matter who plays is easily better than Dallas’ defense. Santino is playing as well as ever. Emilio or Moreno can easily hang a goal on someone in 45 minutes of action; Pontius too seems to have the Midas touch right now. Gomez is maybe due for a dominating match as well. DC has scored as many goals as Seattle so far, and only RSL (with their 6 goal pummeling of NE), Chicago, and Chivas have scored more goals.
So on paper, DC has the edge for sure. Unfortunately, they’ve had the edge on paper for the last four years running and ended up with three straight ties after losing in 2005. Last year being a back and forth match, but the previous two years were frighteningly similar to United this year, as they staked a out big leads, but gave away late goals to barely hang on to ties. That’s not a pleasant thought, so let’s focus on Dallas’ overall record here which is a lot more promising. Since the abolition of the shootout, DC is 4-2-4 against Dallas in RFK, and one of those was an OT loss. So, another way to look at it is that while Dallas hasn’t lost here since 2004, they also have only won in RFK in regulation one time ever.
Bottom line if DC avoids overconfidence, and NY coming back to snatch the lead late in a game they were totally in control of should help keep those thoughts at bay, then the Black and Red chalk up their third victory. Even if Dallas maximizes their opportunities, given the history, a point should be in the offing at least, soccer gods willing.
News Note: United wins the ‘coin toss’ for the Open Cup play-in match with NY. Shocker. Amazing how the team with the most economical stadium arrangement and/or the biggest fan support always seems to win those coin tosses.
As for the rest of MLS, another tough week for Kreskin. The Fire gifted the Crew two goals to screw me in that one. Colorado, who beat LA handily in HDC, but couldn’t solve Ricketts at home, and then KC picked a perfect week to swoon and was shutout twice after beating the best team in the league on the road. Typical. Still, RSL, Chivas, Seattle (with the exact score I expected), and DC all won as I predicted, so I was over .500 on the week at 5-4 (and I predicted 10 goal-scorers correctly!). But I sadly remain dead level overall at 23-23.
Next weeks picks:
TFC finally defeats the Crew 2-1. It’s gotta happen sometime and Toronto’s midfield is too good for the Crew, who still haven’t figured out their new tactics. Hejduk and Hesmer being out doesn’t help either. Guevara and Vitti keep Cummins undefeated and give the Reds the early edge for the Trillium Cup over Schelotto’s consolation goal.
Seattle at Fire is the best match of the weekend and really too close to call, not that that ever stops me. Fire should have the edge at home and their defense will be the best Seattle has faced all year. McBride scores the only goal.
RSL at Colorado battle begin their battle for the Rocky Mountain Cup and while RSL seems to be hot right now, Colorado is tough to beat at home. Tie 1-1 Cummings and Movsisyan.
Chivas at SJ will be interesting. SJ should have the edge at home, but their defense is awful and their offense not much better. However, Chivas is a bit ragged lately and Thornton has eaten their bacon… I mean saved their bacon a lot lately. Tie 2-2 Alvarez and Weaver equal Eskandarian and Marsch.
NY at LA could be a block buster match as they have a history of wild, multigoal matches. Neither defense is remarkably better this year either, so it could be a whopping number, but Ricketts and Berhalter are starting to shine, while Mendes and Goldthwaite are not. Still, Donovan and Angel can score on anyone. I’m betting LA gets a few more though, let’s say 4-2. Donovan with the hat trick plus Buddle over Angel and Kandji.
Houston at NE will be the snore of the week. Might be a goal in this one, but I doubt it. 0-0 written all over it as Nicol will shut it down completely to help erase the stain of the touchdown RSL hung on them last week and Houston’s offense struggles normally.
As for Dallas at DC, fingers crossed for another 2-0 win for DC. Quaranta and Gomez.
Whew, enough rambling! Clearly too much time on my hands this week.