Ah, San Jose. How excited DC must be to be flying in there. Even though this is a young team, there is still plenty of traditionalists around who know deep down that United hasn’t won in SJ since Olsen was a rookie, since Yallop was a player, since before Onalfo joined United as a player, since before Andy Najar turned five years old for goodness sake. Still, Moreno has been around long enough to have good memories of SJ near the end of the golden age, assistant coach Kelderman too. They scored goals in the only two wins in SJ in ’97 and ’98. Moreno a PK in ’98 and one of Stumpy’s 3 total MLS goals was scored there in ’97 (Simpson was injured and did not play either match, btw).
But those were the high points for sure as ever since DC lost the inaugural match there, it has pretty much gone downhill since. United has only those two wins there in 14 tries. Two measly wins in 97 and 98. That’s it. United has been outscored there 17 to 22 and 7 of those goals came in the two wins. But scoring really isn’t necessarily the problem. Gomez and DC were gifted two first half goals that were clearly offside, and still ended up tied 2-2 by the end. However, prior to Gomez’ goals, only Quaranta, Dema, and Quintanilla (2) had scored there this century.
So, we’ll go through the motions and analyze the match, but I suspect no matter what the analysis shows, this game is a tie at best, and more likely a loss. Which would be a pretty brutal blow to United’s playoff hopes right when momentum seems to be swinging their way in the good news department with Boskovic and Hernandez signed and ready to go on the 15th, and the rumors of a big time second DP after the World Cup swirling tantalizingly in the air.
But, to the task at hand. DC United flies off to San Jose on a bit of a roll having dispatched the Kickers in the Open Cup easily enough that some key players got plenty of rest. Among the current starters, only Jakovic, McTavish, and Najar played the full 90. King played most of the match, Quaranta played about an hour, Pontius about 20 minutes, and Simms a mere handful at the end, so all of them should be able to go in San Jose. Cristman, who beat the odds amazingly and emerged as the starter in a stable that includes Allsopp, Moreno and Emilio, didn’t play a minute, and perhaps more importantly, the Mummy didn’t play at all either.
So, assuming Onalfo goes with usual his first choices of late, that means a 4-5-1 with Cristman up top and Quaranta, Pontius, and Najar in the attacking roles backed up by King and Simms. Then McTavish, Pena, Jakovic, and Graye in the back with Perkins in goal. Onalfo could even insert James for Jakovic if he’s worried about Dejan’s minutes( and I would do it regardless as James’ athleticism could be paramount in this game. I’d play him instead of Pena, but there you go). Anyway, then he’s still got Boyzzz, Morsink, and maybe Allsopp to come off the bench as necessary. Not bad management considering the alternatives.
San Jose on the other hand is reeling a bit with injuries and has cooled off considerably from their red hot run in May, and actually have not won since beating Seattle six weeks ago. Their scoring has pretty much disappeared too as key injuries pile up, and teams have started to key on Wondolowski. Cornel Glen and Eduardo were supposed to be the new additions that were to help Ryan Johnson continue battering goals into the net, but both are injured more than they are well, recently signed Sealy is little help and hurt too, and Johnson is slumping miserably, so Wondo has been carrying the team and teams have figured this out pretty dramatically of late.
SJ are also having midfield problems as Convey has cooled off, Andre Luiz was nixed for the season having deranged his knee, Gjertsen is hobbled, and Yallop hasn’t figured out the best way to use Robles, so right midfield is a toss up. They just got Cronin from TFC so he will help, and Brandon McDonald has looked very solid at defensive mid, but their midfield is definitely in flux right now. Defense is a bit sketchy too as Corrales is the only player to stay in one position. Opara has finished school and looks to be the first choice center back now, but with Leitch fading down the stretch, and Beitashour being inconsistent, Burling has been playing centrally to allow Hernandez to cover the right back and he’s not really a right back anymore.
So, looking at the matchups, Pontius going against Hernandez stands out as a good one for DC, and maybe Cristman and Quaranta, who is just barely starting to show glimmers of the hell bent aggression toward goal that he feasted on as a 16 year old, might have a chance against Burling and Opara, maybe. But that’s about it as Najar isn’t likely to outduel Corrales, nor will King and Simms find much joy in the middle against Cronin and McDonald.
Defensively for DC is a lot more promising. James has the brawn and athleticism to stay with Johnson, and Pena (or Jakovic maybe) has the savvy to keep Wondolowski in check. Certainly Graye can keep Robles (or Beitashour or whoever) under wraps as SJ has no chemistry on that side with Gjertsen out and Hernandez pitiful in supporting the attack on that side, and while Convey seems likely to cause problems for McTavish, he won’t score (DC fans well know his painful shooting experiments) and if everyone else does their jobs, he won’t get any assists either. A rejuvenated Perkins should be able to clean up anything else.
Looking at the form of late, DC has an edge there too. Aside from the Crew stealing a win last time out in league play, DC has still won six of their last eight games all told, so they are doing better than the Quakes, who have lost two of their last four and only managed ties in the other two, albeit very impressive ties in RSL and with the Crew in SJ. Of course, DC’s road record is pretty unsightly with that lone win in Seattle amid five losses (no ties either), but the win was a biggie just before the World Cup and the Crew win was a bit undeserved. Plus, SJ is no great shakes at home either as 3-2-1 is hardly frightening, especially as anemic TFC hung three on them a few weeks ago.
But, then the intangibles come into play and that’s a huge whammy to overcome. Twelve years of futility in SJ. Cup winning DC teams have not won there (’96 lost twice there, both ’99 and ’04 teams could only manage 1-1 draws), so to think this team will walk away with all the points borders on lunacy. But, that’s why they play the games and all streaks have to end sometime.
Now, would be a very good time for this one to end as DC needs all three points or their delicious crop of reinforcements will be facing a herculean task to make the post-season and more likely will be the first team in MLS history who sacrifices league wins to go after the Open Cup and international competition next year.
Now’s the time to catch SJ at low point and keep United’s miniscule playoffs hopes alive. DC still needs 10 more wins on the season, but now there is only 17 games left. They simply can’t afford any more than 4-5 more losses out of those 17 either, so a loss in this game would be devastating looking at the other road trips they have coming up. A tie would normally be a good thing on the road, but that would merely be a slower death in the end, so it has to full points or bust this weekend. Fingers crossed.