As Ray Hudson would say, this is a classic banana peel match. TFC is 0-8, gave up a heartbreaking tie in Vancouver midweek and is verging on wallowing through the worst season in MLS history. United on the other hand handled TFC easily a few weeks ago, has lost only once since March working its way to a point away from the top of the East and is coming off a resounding win over Colorado. Obviously, United holds the cards and should win easily, but that’s right when a team slips on the proverbial banana peel.
United can’t afford to lose focus for this match either as this match is the second of three very winnable home games that could set United up well heading into the summer. It would be easy to for a team playing as well as United is lately to overlook a TFC team that is almost a shambles at this point in the season. But, TFC will win sometime and in fact are undefeated the last three times they have visited RFK, so United should be wary.
Ironically, United’s injuries might actually help them in the Toronto match as it is almost certain that Olsen will reward the reserve players who beat Colorado with more playing time tomorrow night and those guys can’t afford to take anything lightly if they want to remain in the discussion for starting spots.
With designated player Hamdi Salihi scoring his third goal in four games, there’s no reason for Olsen to rush either Chris Pontius or Maicon Santos back onto the field. Also, with a brilliant game from DC’s other designated player, Branko Boskovic, he surely deserves another start in central midfield which would allow United to keep Dwayne De Rosario at forward alongside Salihi. A move that should have TFC’s league worst defense very concerned, especially given DeRo’s penchant for punishing his former teams.
Left wing Lewis Neal also deserves another start after the very influential game he had against Colorado as well. Olsen will have to decide between Danny Cruz and Andy Najar for the right sided role, but given Najar’s puzzling lack of coordination with the team and his resistance to play wide, I suspect Cruz gets the nod even though Najar is the greater threat offensively and wing play is crucial to breaking down TFC who plays a system designed to be strong down the center. And Perry Kitchen with his indestructible knee is a no brainer to start at defensive midfield.
In defense, it seems likely Olsen keeps the same four that got the shutout against Colorado, Robbie Russell, Brandon McDonald, Daniel Woolard, and Chris Korb, who had a great game in Toronto the last time these two teams met in front of Bill Hamid, who got his first shutout of the year in that TFC match as well. The only possibility is if veteran centerback, Dejan Jakovic, who was in the 18 against Colorado is ready to start, but again why push it when Woolard has been playing exceptionally well in the center and Korb has earned the time on the field as well.
As for TFC, it’s very possible they make some big changes to their starting XI given their schedule congestion due to the Canadian championships and the long travel that entails; however, they are actually getting healthier in a lot of areas even though their field general Torsten Frings remains out with a shoulder injury he got in the DC game a couple weeks ago. So, predicting their lineup is a bit of a crap shoot, but here goes.
I do not believe Dutch forwards Danny Koevermans or Nick Soolsma are ready to start and with Jamaican Ryan Johnson being their most consistent scoring threat there’s no need to rush either player back to the field either. Also the tricky Ecuadoran Joao Plata and speedy Bermudan Reggie Lambe are playing as well as anyone for a team that is 0-8 and shouldn’t need rest either, so I suspect that is the forward line DC will face.
In midfield, it’s almost certain to be Eric Avila who caused DC some problems the first time these teams met, Julian De Guzman and Canadian veteran Terry Dunfield as TFC does not have any other good options in those roles. The same holds for the defense which is finally becoming a consistent four players, Ashtone Morgan, Adrian Cann, Doneil Henry, and Jeremy Hall or maybe Richard Ekersley finds his way out of the doghouse in front of former DC goalkeeper Milos Kocic.
So, looking at the matchups and tactical styles, DC has an enormous edge pretty much all over the field. On offense, Cruz and Neal will stretch their three man midfield and open space in the center for Salihi and DeRo to brutalize TFC’s weak central pairing of Cann and the youngster Henry. After vanquishing Jeff Larentowicz handily midweek, Boskovic should have no trouble with De Guzman who has struggled mightily to earn his money since joining MLS, especially if Cruz or Neal pulls the tough Dunfield wide. If United’s wingers don’t do that, Boskovic will have tough sledding against both Dunfield and De Guzman, but even then if he occupies two players, DC wins somewhere else on the field.
Defensively, the rugged Johnson is always a concern, but he should be concerned about the Chicken Hawk DC has roaming their central defense. Brandon McDonald can mix it up with anyone in MLS and he will almost certainly be inside Johnson’s pocket all night long. Woolard’s intelligence and reasonable speed will help Russell and Korb contain TFC’s extra forward too. Kitchen will have to throttle Avila and keep an eye that DeGuzman or Dunfield don’t pop up unexpectedly in the attack, but Kitchen legend is growing as we watch, so there’s no reason to fear a slip up here, even though tactically he will have a tough job identifying the right threats given the way TFC tries to flood the attack.
Even the trends seem to favor DC. United holds an 8-3-2 record over the Canadians all time, and are 3-1-2 all time against them in RFK although all three wins came in the first three matches played here. United hasn’t beaten TFC in RFK since 2008, and interestingly United’s only loss to them here came in the final game of 2010 which was also the last time Boskovic played a full 90 minutes for DC (In fact, DC has never won a game when Boskovic has played a full 90, but we won’t speak of that!). But all the games have been lively. The teams have combined for 5 or 6 goals in every match played here between them. DeRo had a hat trick against them last year as the teams tied 3-3, Jaime Moreno scored a stoppage time goal to tie in 2009, Gallardo scored a cracker in 2008, odd players like Gonzalo Peralta and Guy Roland Kpene have gotten goals against TFC too.
So expect some goals tomorrow night the teams have never failed to combine for at least 5 here in RFK no matter how abysmal either team is playing, they fill the net. I suspect this time it will be DC hanging a 4-1 win over the Canadians, but stranger things have happened in MLS. Hopefully, United avoids the trap and gets there second win streak going, maybe even stretching it to 3 when NE comes to town next. But, the win over TFC is imperative. Stick a stake in them early and they should be done. Let them hang around and it could be trouble.