Ben Olsen (pictured, with the soon to be departing Fred; Photo: Tony Quinn.) and DC United ends their fairly successful seven game stretch against the West to begin a crucial three game stretch against the East, and unfortunately starts that run against a Dynamo team used to winning in RFK.
The last time DC played an East team, it was a sound thrashing in Houston of which the less said, the better. However, since that debacle, DC has come back to respectability with a 2-1-4 record against the West that has helped them creep up into 5th in the East. But now DC has to show even better form in taking on 3 of the 4 East teams that are ahead of them in the table the next three weeks.
Not only are Houston, Philly, and NY all ahead of DC in the table on the schedule, but DC has been decidedly unconvincing in their last two games, a miracle tie in Salt Lake that the league pointed out brought the game into disrepute, and a hideous loss to San Jose their last time playing in RFK. So, DC has their work cut out for them even before taking into account Houston will be on the other side of the field. The same Houston that has won 4 out of their last 5 matches here, including a Superliga trouncing in 2008 and an MLS Cup title in 2007.
Fortunately, the Dynamo has their own problems this year as yet another failed DP player has fled Houston, they are winless on the road so far this year, and have been shutout 4 of their last 7 games overall, losing 3 of their last 5, including a punishing clubbing by the Crew 2-0 last week in Robertson Stadium.
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear has some personnel issues to solve as well, since starting defensive midfielder, Lovel Palmer was tossed in the Crew loss after having played virtually every minute this year for the Dynamo in central midfield. No doubt the versatile Geoff Cameron will slide back to defensive midfield, but then who will pick up that attacking role Cameron has been playing most of the season?
Odds are league leading assist man and Dynamo Captain, Brad Davis, slides inside from his home on their left side, but he has never really played the center as well, or more importantly, as effectively as he does attacking from the left. Also, that just shifts the hole to the left side where Corey Ashe has underwhelmed in the past, or perhaps flip right midfielder Colin Clarke over there and play promising youngster Danny Cruz on the right. But, Kinnear could also keep the team intact and simply insert Jamaican attacker Je-von Watson into that central attacking role now that he’s back from the Gold Cup. Unfortunately, Watson has been a bit underwhelming this year himself.
The return of Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor also could disrupt the backline a bit. Canadian Andrew Hainault and former DC defender Bobby Boswell started the last match and have been go to players most of this year, but Taylor is a better player than either if he is ready to integrate back into the starting lineup after a hideous Gold Cup by Canada. Taylor and his team could have used some medicine from Canada pharmacy online.
And finally, all of Houston is stewing about the forward situation. With Brian Ching out with his semi-annual hamstring issues, those two stiffs have been the point of Houston’s fairly awful attack. Granted they did torch DC the last time the two teams met, but haven’t really done much since except collect on Davis’ exquisite touches. Ching came off the bench recently, but seems unlikely to be ready to start, which is good because all he’s done is score like 8 or 9 goals against DC over the years. So, expect the bruise brothers to trot out onto the pitch in RFK for the opening whistle.
Of course, Ben Olsen has some similar problems. The recently fined Charlie Davies is also just coming back from injury and probably shouldn’t start, especially when you consider how devastating he is off the bench, 5 of his 7 goals coming as a sub. So, it’s possible he starts, but I suspect Benny stays with Josh Wolff and the rookie Blake Brettschneider.
Olsen has much bigger problems to solve in midfield. Stephen King and Clyde Simms started the last match and played reasonably well, but it wasn’t until Dax McCarty and Fred came in the second half that DC’s offense began to look a lot more promising and creative in the attack, and of course tied the game with that creative display from Davies for the PK. McCarty and Simms have been the starters most of the year, and Olsen may well go back to that, but playing McCarty and Fred might be particularly effective against the Dynamo. Then again, with Fred scheduled to leave in the transfer window back to Australia, perhaps starting him is not such a good idea.
There’s no doubt who will be playing defense though. Jed Zayner, Ethan White, Perry Kitchen and Daniel Woolard clearly deserve to remain out there until Dejan Jakovic takes back a spot from one of them if he can.
Looking at the matchups, it’s two classic 4-4-2s going up against each other, pretty much man on man all over the field. In the attack for DC, Wolff and Brettschneider have a reasonable chance against Boswell, Hainault, or even Taylor as long as they get some support from the outsides to stretch Houston’s tall trees apart.
So, the key matchups for DC will fall squarely on Chris Pontius and Andy Najar on the outsides. If they can repeatedly get the better of Hunter Freeman and Ashe respectively, then DC will be in very good shape to find a way to score. Especially as that will force the deadly Davis and scrappy Clark back to help defend limiting their killer crosses which are Houston’s main mode of attack. Well, that and freekicks, which DC must avoid as much as possible.
Going the other way, DC’s defense has to be tough and strong up the center to not only keep Weaver and Bruin in check, but also to contain Cameron finding his way forward, especially on set pieces where DC’s severe height deficit will be at a significant disadvantage. It’s really too bad Jakovic isn’t healthy for this one as it would allow Kitchen to push up on Cameron which would really help swing things DC’s way. As it is, DC will probably struggle to contain Houston Big Bodies as they have all year against big strong attackers, and it will really get bad if Ching plays significant minutes.
Another key will be for “Ballz” Zayner to completely blanket Davis. Davis’ 9 assists leads the league and he is the key to any Houston attack. If he is kept quiet, DC’s chances go way up.
Which is good because the intangibles don’t really favor DC. United has lost 4 straight to the Dynamo, and is 3-7-1 all-time against them, being outscored 18-10. United is 3-2 against them in RFK, but as mentioned, those wins haven’t been recent, two of them coming in DC’s last glory years of back to back Supporter’s Shields in ’06 and ’07 coincidentally, the Dynamo’s two MLS Cup years.
As for recent trends, that’s not too promising either. Houston is winless on the road and have been shut out their last 3 road matches, and outscored 8-4 overall on the road. But, DC has hardly been a world beater at home either. United is 2-2-3, but is coming off a hideous loss to SJ their last time in RFK, and has been outscored a monstrous 9-12 at home to boot.
Also, while the Dynamo has lost 3 of their last 5, they have alternated shutout losses with 2 goal games, a win and a tie, so coming off a 2-0 loss, they are due for 2 goals tomorrow which would be tough for DC to overcome. DC is a little better with only 1 loss in their last 5, but 3 ties and only 1 win.
This game is all down to DC, if they play like they did in wins in Portland and ties like LA and RSL, they have a good shot at getting past the Dynamo in the standings this late in the season for the first time since probably 2007. If they play like they did against SJ, or even worse like they did against Houston earlier this year, they are sunk and heading into Philly and NY in deep trouble.
(0-3-4, shutout their last 3 road matches outscored 8-4 overall on the road)