I believe this is the earliest in the schedule that any team in MLS history has actually faced a true must win match. At 0-5 and with the expanded league where only half the teams make the playoffs, DC certainly has that playoff sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, so points are imperative immediately. Not only that, but another cruel home loss where the team plays decently and falls apart at the end and DC would almost certainly enter a death spiral that could easily see them surpass the 2001 Revs (0-6) and the 1999 Wizards (0-7 shootout aided) season opening losing streaks.
Everything out of the team this week has been along the lines of “unacceptable” “we’ve got to do better”, “must find a way to win” etc. And really there’s nothing else they can say given the terrible funk this team is in. But, if they ever want those brutal postgame questions to stop, they’ve simply got to put it out there on the field and win. Simple, I know.
Now, on the bright side, they have played decently enough to win (or at least not lose) all of their home matches this year. If NE can play like crap, get two players sent off, and still blatantly steal a point like they did last week against Dallas, then DC deserves more from their home efforts this year. However, the one thing different between DC United and the Revs is that Nicol’s boys play like their lives depend on it, while a lot of United players really just seem to be going through the motions.
Obviously, that apathetic attitude has to end before the wins will come. Now, Onalfo was fired by Vermes pure and simple because he felt Onalfo couldn’t get the team to play with enough intensity often enough. Of course, Vermes did not do any better last year when he took over, and then stacked the team he’s coaching this year with a lot of new talent, but the point remains that if Onalfo ever had a match he wanted his team to play intense, it’s this one. Plus, if the thought of another embarrassing performance in front of their fans as well as another round of microphones in their faces asking why they stink isn’t enough for this team to dig deep and win, then United’s season is well and truly over. But, I think this match is the one where they pull it together and something good goes United’s way early so the tide swings in their favor for once.
For one thing, it seems Onalfo has actually found a formation that will work in that 4-5-1 and a set of players that can play the roles well enough to find success with a bit of focus and attention on the details to become more consistent. With Cristman as the lone forward and Quaranta, Najar, and Castillo taking turns making dagger runs forward to partner with him United did generate some very nice offensive plays and chances. Of course, they missed them, but that can’t continue. Roughly one of every ten shots goes in, this isn’t hockey with tiny openings to shoot for, any shot hit in anger toward a corner will find net soon enough. With Cristman’s aggressive turn and fire attitude, he’ll catch someone off guard and score or lay off for a bomb from Santino.
Plus, the five man midfield allows Simms and the very tidy Barklage to not only clean up trouble in front of the obviously shaky defense, they can each get forward from time to time as well like Clyde the glide did on that early header that really needed to be closer to a corner of the net (and not hit off his shoulder for that matter). Barklage too has a nice sense of when to get forward and both Simms and Barklage have nice shots from distance.
And the offense must click and take the pressure off the defense as they have shown they simply cannot play shutout ball. Granted, they shouldn’t have to, but they also shouldn’t be giving up the dewy soft goals they’ve been giving up either. Pena and Talley were decent in the center if a bit unlucky on both NY’s goals, Graye was much more solid than his Open Cup debacle, so as long as Wallace can find it in himself to actually concentrate and, you know, defend his position, DC should be in good shape.
The defense has to play light’s out too because Perkins is in an unholy bad place and obviously needs to be protected. I usually don’t talk about keepers because they’re usually pretty consistent and the defense in front of them is more important to the result than their efforts (outside of the odd blinder where they stone a team and win the game all by themselves, which is totally a crapshoot to predict). But, Perkins is actively finding ways to lose games for DC and clearly that has to stop or else it is be time to play Hamid.
Interestingly, DC’s formation will give them a tactical advantage over KC too. The Wiz play a similar formation, but they actually play more of a 4-3-3 where Wolff and Ryan Smith don’t really defend much on the outsides, so their three man midfield will have a lot more work to do on a much wider field than what they’re used to at home. Plus, with Arnaud out due to a sketchy red card, their captain and most important two-way player in that midfield is out for this match.
KC only has five goals in five games on the season, and they hung four of them on DC in the opener, and they have been shutout in their last three matches. Houston blanked them last week in a 3-0 loss and Seattle got a last second goal to skunk them in Seattle, with a 0-0 tie with LA at home sandwiched in between. So, they clearly have not got their offense sorted out either and as mentioned, losing Arnaud won’t help that at all, although the likely insertion of that beast Rocastle does give one pause. That is one bad dude and he looks like he’d pull someone’s arms out if he doesn’t get his way. That stare down of Mullan was classic. Mullan is as feisty as they come and he looked like he a kid who yanked the wrong chain desperately looking for an escape hatch once Rocastle turned on him last week.
However, KC’s defense is very good, despite the 3-0 loss last week. They’d only given up 1 goal in their first four matches, that last second winner by Fucito in Seattle, before getting dismantled in Houston. But, the early red card to Arnaud changed that match and then Vermes going for it with three in the back sealed their fate as Oduro flapped all over them and set up all the goals.
KC’s defense consisting of Harrinton, who scored the winner the last time KC won in RFK btw, second year Besler, converted Honduran midfielder Espinoza, and the new Colombian Escobar have been a rock solid back four while Conrad is out and there’s no reason to think they’ll be any different in RFK unless DC gets the benefit of an early red card. In addition, Nielsen has been the most impressive goalie this year and that includes Ricketts. He’s still the only keeper to keep red hot LA off the scoreboard this year. He has regularly come up with huge stops and made everyone forget the name Kevin Hartman a lot quicker than anyone could expect.
The matchups in this one are a bit tricky as the formations don’t really line up too well, but with both teams jamming up the central midfield, the key to the match will likely be who controls the wings. If Quaranta and Castillo keep Espinoza and Harrington pinned back, and even better force Wolff and Smith back farther than they would want to go, the KC’s attack will suffer as Kamara is starved of the ball. Even if KC goes to lumping the ball over the top for Kamara to knock down, there won’t be anyone there to collect his layoffs (hopefully). If DC controls the ball well enough and Cristman continues to fire away like loose cannon, something good has to happen. I’m sure of it.
The intangibles go DC’s way too. KC is playing their second away game in four days, while DC is home for their second straight match over the same span. Plus, KC has never really had much success in RFK, overall DC is 11-4-4 over the Wizards in RFK, and 5-1 since 2005, including that absolute steal of a win late last year when Arnaud missed three sitters allowing Emilio to find the winner in an ugly 1-0 match in one Vermes’ first games in charge after firing Onalfo. KC’s only success here in the last five years was that brutal loss in the home opener in 2007, the only blemish on United’s success over the Wizards in RFK lately. But, then again DC owned the Metros up until a few days ago, so maybe the soccer gods have abandoned DC.
Now, this game has 0-0 written all over it if it were a normal early season matchup of normal teams, but this is not a typical match for DC. They should be beyond desperate and should be peppering KC’s goal, and Onalfo should have United wound up like a bunch of cymbal clapping monkeys. For KC, there’s a lot less at stake, it’s their second straight road match without their best player in the lineup before they head home for two in a row on their baseball field. They can chalk this one up and move on with their lives easily.
Of course, now that I’ve created this whole fantasy world where DC is all but a lock to win and the order of the universe will be restored to its proper order (at least for one week), the team can’t possibly go out and lay another egg in front of their diehard supporters. Surely, they can’t possibly keep losing at home? I mean, DC will win a game, won’t they?