DC United coming off a rousing win in Portland to extend their unbeaten streak to four games, heads into the Toolbox to face the Western Conference leading LA Galaxy who have won four in a row on their own current six game unbeaten streak. But the Galaxy will be without some keys players, and DC pulled off a tie last time they faced LA behind a late Charlie Davies (pictured) penalty kick .
No doubt about it. If you’re going to play the Galaxy, better to do it when they are missing Landon Donovan, and DC will have faced their most bitter league rival both times this year without the greatest player in US history being present, as he missed the miraculous 1-1 draw DC pulled off against the Galaxy earlier this year in RFK. This time around Donovan as well as goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts will be missing due to Gold Cup duty.
United is missing their most experienced defender as Dejan Jakovic is with Canada in the Gold Cup (if his injured hamstring suffered last night against Ecuador doesn’t keep him out of that too), and it’s very likely captain Dax McCarty (groin)and team leading scorer Charlie Davies (hamstring) will see limited action if any at all.
Still, those guys were out against the Timbers and that didn’t stop DC from executing a pretty suffocating defense, that was undermined by some sketchy refereeing, but getting some timely scoring in a lively 3-2 win over Portland barely four days ago to extend their unbeaten streak to four games, after tying both Dallas and Colorado and defeating Seattle 2-1 all in RFK. DC is also the first eastern team to win a game in the western time zone so far this season.
LA is another matter; however, as they have a similar invincible streak of their own going at home, but are the far more polished and accomplished team over all to this point in the season, Donovan or no Donovan. LA is leading the league (albeit they have seemingly played half their schedule already!) and is riding a three game shutout streak, all grinding 1-0 victories.
DC coach, Ben Olsen does have some decisions to make in replacing Jakovic on defense and possibly in whether or not he inserts McCarty and/or Wolff or even the recently healthy Charlie Davies back into a winning lineup.
Rookie Perry Kitchen is the most obvious choice to replace Jakovic, but that would leave the right back spot up for grabs. Rookie Chris Korb performed there admirably recently and seems a shoe-in for the job. But interestingly, Uruguyan disappointment, Rodrigo Bresesco was active for the last match in Portland and he did play very well at his natural right back position against Ajax in a friendly a couple weeks ago, and there’s always third year man Brandon Barklage who could find himself in the mix if he’s playing well at the moment in practice.
As for McCarty, I think even he would say he needs to earn his way back into the starting lineup. Not only did Stephen King play very well in place of him in Portland, but Dax himself has been pressing too hard and not playing well himself even when fully healthy so far this season. Wolff is a bit more of a no brainer as he scored the winner in Portland off the bench and clearly earned his way past the enterprising, but limited Joseph Ngwenya. I also think Davies is still not ready for a start, so feisty rookie Blake Brettschneider should stay in the starting lineup.
So, my money is on Wolff and Brettschneider patrolling the forward line, Andy Najar, King, Clyde Simms, and Chris Pontius from right to left in midfield. Then in defense, I think it’s Korb and Daniel Woolard bookending Kitchen and Ethan White in central defense in front Bill Hamid in goal. Quite possibly the youngest defense in MLS history, with Woolard being the only guy over 20 and only field player not a rookie, all up against a Galaxy offense leading the league in scoring (albeit having played more games than anyone else).
LA, on the other hand has to replace Donovan, and his torrid scoring of late. Forward Miguel Lopez scored the winner in their most recent match in New England and Chad Barrett has incredibly found his scoring touch, even the venerable Juan Pablo Angel has recently found himself on the scorer’s sheet recently, so perhaps scorers for LA are set.
But, can they replace Donovan’s engine and determination in midfield? Beckham is Beckham. He will hack, hector, and also hit unbelievable passes that win games, but not perhaps if he is the key player to shut down. Juninho stepped up last time Donovan missed games and allowed Beckham the space to be Beckham. It remains to be seen if he will do so again.
I expect the Bruce to play Lopez and Barrett at forward, Beckham, Juninho, Birchall, and a Mike on the left, either Magee or Stephens, my money is on Stephens. In defense, LA is relatively thin. Former Rookie of the year, Sean Franklin on the right, former rookie of the year, Omar Gonzalez and his UMd running mate AJ DeLaGarza in the center and iron man Todd Dunivant on the left in front of long time backup Josh Saunders for Ricketts in goal.
So, looking at the matchups, it is not really too bad. I suspect DC will play ultra defensively to protect their extremely young backline, but if it keeps LA frustrated enough for Beckham and/or Juninho to be tossed from the game due to petulance, then it will sway to DC’s advantage to win.
The key to me will be Kitchen and White on Barrett and Lopez. If LA can find them with crosses, DC is in real trouble, as indeed they will be if Kitchen and White commit too many fouls in Beckham territory. If Kitchen and White stay clean and tight, and Woolard niggles Beckham into a fury, LA will struggle to score.
Going the other way, DC will struggle to score too. LA has given up a goal a game so far this year, but not at home where they have outscored opponents 10-4, then again Portland outscored their opponents 10-6 and fell to DC. Still, Dunivant is vastly under-rated and will give Najar troubles, especially if he is helping Korb defensively. Same with Pontius against Frankin, not too promising, especially as he almost certainly will have to help contain Beckham.
Even centrally, it’s a bit of a stalemate. King or McCarty and Simms against Juninho and Birchall, is a push at best. The only glimmer DC has is Wiley Wolff and Battering Brettschneider against Gonzalez and DeLaGarza, as they have the experience and the unexpectedness to surprise the former Terps, if they are even the least bit lucky.
Now, as for trends, best not to even discuss those. DC has the worst winning percentage against LA than any team in league history being 13-17-6 against LA all time, outscored by 10 goals 58 to 48. Not only that DC is 5-8-4 in LA outscored 24-17, and hasn’t won there since 2005. But, they have tied in the HDC 3 of the last five years, including Pontius scoring a lovely curler for his first goal in a 2-2 tie in 2009.
Also, LA as mentioned is 4-0-2 at home having beat both Philly and Houston and tied NY, while DC is 2-3 on the road, but outscored 12-9.
So, if you are a betting man, go for LA to win as they are perhaps the better team overall at the moment, even without Donovan and Ricketts. However, a more savvy number cruncher might just fade DC into a somewhat surprising tie. However, there is a real chance DC can pull off an upset in this one. They stay tight and solid and play within themselves, they can frustrate the Galaxy long enough for them to shoot themselves in the foot and allow Wolff and Daivies off the bench to win the game for them.
Smart money is on the tie.