When talking about Seattle, discussing their fabulous fan support dominates the conversation and for sure it will be daunting for a hobbled and desperate United side to face, but Seattle is a bit hobbled too and certainly nowhere near the dominant home team they were last year. Unfortunately given DC’s piddling success so far this year, United might need divine intervention to pull off a result against any team in any venue this year, but DC is undefeated with some startling successes in Seattle over the years, pulling off improbable ties with Real Madrid in 2006, and a 3-3 tie after falling behind 3-1 almost exactly a year ago.
Now that said, considering DC’s hideous road performance to date, especially the anemic offense on display most of this season, expecting anything other than a loss in Seattle would really take the promise of gifts by the great and powerful OZ. Still, maybe there’s something in that since DC has pretty much followed the yellow brick road in away matches this year. Meekly losing all four so far this year and being out scored 10 to 2 (both goals coming in Philly and was of those should have been disallowed anyway).
Adding to DC’s woes is the loss of two or arguably three starting defenders now that Pena has been ruled out with a groin strain, Talley with a concussion, and Wallace has come down with a broken leg. Talley got clocked in practice and already missed the RSL match with a concussion, then the Mummy pulled up lame with a groin strain in the RSL tie, while Rockin’ Rodney ill-advisedly stuck a leg in front of Saborio as he was shooting and paid for that with a crack in his fibula that will likely take two months to recover from.
However, Seattle has been nothing to cheer home about either. Until a thumping win over hapless NE this past weekend, the Sounders had gone over two months since a win at home and that was a miracle last second result when an end of the bench rookie improbably pulled Seattle’s ashes out of the fire. True, they are 3-3-1 at home, but they started well and yet were on an 0-2 slide until the big win over NE.
Even their wins are unimpressive (Philly in the league opener, Fucito beating KC at the death, and crushing a decimated NE this past week), and their home losses have been epic. The refund game against LA in addition to SJ and NY shutting them out with 1-0 wins can’t have the Seattle faithful feeling confident. Especially as 3 of the 5 times they have been shutout this season have been at home. Really their only quality home result was the 2-2 tie with RSL in April, but DC just tied the defending champs at home too.
Granted, DC has even less to crow about overall, but they are coming off a banner two weeks that saw them go undefeated in four in a row in all matches starting with the unlikely win over AC Milan and carrying on to last second wins over Chivas and RSL (in the Open Cup) and getting their first shutout of the year in the 0-0 tie with RSL last week. So, while no doubt tired, DC does have a bit of momentum carrying them into the World Cup break.
Interestingly, both teams have just recently solved their lineup problems to jumpstart both of their moribund offenses. In DC’s case the return of Pontius, and the breakout of Najar, allowed United to play a 4-5-1 with Santino as a withdrawn forward which has been the key to unlocking United’s scoring problems. Seattle has had similar problems scoring recently going over a month without a goal, but the emergence of former Rev Noonan alongside Montero has allowed Evans and Ljungberg to return to their more natural midfield positions and now their 4-4-2 is clicking a lot more efficiently.
Which leads us into the matchups for this one. For once, DC seems to be in good shape to weather some key injuries, while Seattle has maybe the more crucial losses. With Hulking Hurtado out with an ACL tear and both Alonso and Vagenas out with Quad injuries, Seattle is down to relying on Mr. Irrelevant, ex-NY defender Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni playing out of position in central midfield. United, on the other hand with the welcome return of Jakovic, can simply slot in James and McTavish, moving Graye to the left, to cover for the loss of Pena, Talley, and Wallace.
So, offensively, DC does have some hope. Allsopp is whole new animal for Marshall and Parke to deal with and Santino could be ready for a big time road performance. Now, Najar and McTavish going against Zakuani and Gonzalez is not so promising but maybe DC’s young phenom will continue to surprise. Maybe Pontius and Graye can edge out the enigmatic Ljungberg and Riley too as neither of those guys relish actual defending and Pontius and Graye can be a handful going forward for DC. King in the middle has been a revelation the last two weeks and he has the revenge factor going against his old club, but even so expecting King and Clyde to overcome Evans and Ianni is probably a stretch, but playing even with them is not.
So, with luck maybe United holds an edge offensively, which would be out of character for a DC road side, but is something which they will desperately need. DC simply must keep Seattle back on their heels because defensively United has some real struggles looking at the matchups on paper. Montero and Noonan are both smooth and tricky as well as deadly when they put their minds to it, so Jakovic and James could easily be in trouble. The speedy Zakuani going against McTavish and especially the rookie Graye hoping to contain the savvy Ljungberg are really a stretch unless Seattle’s funk continues, or Hamid (or Perkins) stands on his head.
Bottom line, DC would be most fortunate to come away with even a point in this one. But, maybe someone behind the curtain bestows the heart and courage it will take to overcome the road woes that have plagued the team for years, or maybe Seattle will overlook lowly United being overconfident from that breakout win over NE, whatever. There’s no real reason to think DC will get points in this one, but DC is virtually playing a playoff match right now, while Seattle isn’t nearly in that much trouble yet and might not match DC’s intensity (presuming they play intense on the road, which I realize is rare, but at some point they have to realize their backs are against the wall, don’t they?).
Given the trends and the motivations and recent history, United will be lucky to pull off another valiant 0-0 point, but smart money says this is a stone cold 2-0 loss. Now, if that happens, DC is all but out of the playoffs as they head to Columbus, San Jose, and Red Bull Arena before returning to RFK to face this same Seattle side in mid-July. Not a pretty picture, but there you go. Realistically, even a win won’t be enough unless it translates into a few more, but that’s the hole they’ve dug. It’ll be interesting to see if they can find their way back out.