DC United, without Ben Olsen (left) who was ejected in DC”s last match, hosts the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first ever meeting between these two clubs, with DC United desperate to start winning at home as well as remain relevant in the Eastern Conference, and Vancouver hoping to start their first ever win streak and start digging their way out of the Western cellar.
Well, there’s no way around this. Vancouver is a team DC should beat on paper. However, so was New England and Toronto in their last two home matches which resulted in a grand total of one point. In fact United’s dismal home record is the 800 pound gorilla that is brutally pounding their chance for a playoff berth into the sand.
Unfortunately, the ‘Caps also seem to be the perfect type of team that befuddles United and without Bill Hamid in goal and Ben Olsen on the bench (both tossed with red cards in the TFC tie), DC has in some ways already shot themselves in the foot heading into this match. With former DC coach Tom Soehn now coaching Vancouver and no doubt licking his chops for some retribution knowing he’s up against his former assistants now at the helm of United, as well as being able to trot out the wild brilliance of Eric Hassli who is pounding in spectacular goals as long as he’s capable of staying on the field, the Black and Red have their work cut out for them.
While United does appear to be virtually full strength on the injury front apart from Boskovic and Zayner out with long term injuries, the loss of Hamid means the uninspiring Steve Cronin has to reprise his role in Punch Drunk again between the pipes, and perhaps even worse, Olsen has to decide whether or not to keep the suddenly crucial Dwayne De Rosario on the forward line even though United will not be playing one of his former teams.
DeRo has scored United’s last 6 goals leading directly to 7 points in the last four games so it seems a no brainer to keep him as a forward, but then again the goal against Red Bull came as a midfielder and the two in SJ were on the road. In blessed RFK in front of the faithful, he hung three on TFC but it was only good for a point, so the reasoning might not be as clear as all that. Especially since he never played for Vancouver, although he is perhaps used to scoring on Soehn in RFK.
Cronin is the more prickly problem in that fingers being crossed is perhaps the only solution to Hamid being suspended for a brain cramp. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Cronin fan and thought he played brilliantly for DC when he was here back in 2009 and finished the last three games of the season undefeated, including a miracle 1-1 tie in MEXICO against Toluca, but then again he presided over the 2-2 draw in KC that ended DC’s playoff hopes as well. His last actions for DC against TFC where he nearly punched the ball into his own net off his own defender has me more than a bit worried Portlnd knew what it was doing when they gave him back and took Troy Perkins instead. Maybe rookie Joe Willis gets a shot as he did virtually clinch the reserve league with the win over TFC last Sunday.
Anyway, for my money Olsen has to go back to DeRo in midfield. Charlie Davies has had two weeks rest and recuperation for his balky knee and if he can go 90 in a reserve match (scored a PK too), he can play against Vancouver. His partnership with Josh Wolff is the most promising forward pairing, and DeRo can still score from midfield or better yet, set up goals and hold possession for a team that desperately needs a cool midfield leadership presence.
So, I’m thinking it’s Wolff and Davies at forward, Chris Pontius, DeRo, Clyde Simms, and Andy Najar back from suspension across midfield from left to right. Then Perry Kitchen, Dejan Jakovic, Brandon McDonald, and Daniel Woolard in front of Cronin in the defense going right to left. Although I hesitate to mention, Marc Burch did score a FK to win the reserve game against TFC, which could translate into a start, especially if Woolard’s twitchy back flares up. Now, far be it from me to condone this, but I feel I must warn the faithful of the chance that this could happen. Soehn probably has his fingers crossed.
As for Vancouver, I think they go with pretty much the lineup that trounced Chicago at home last week 4-2. Obviously Eric the Red as one forward as he happens to not be suspended just yet, then I think Camilo Da Silva Sanvezzo as the other forward in their 4-4-2. Possibly their new signing African DP, Mustapha Jarjou, plays instead, but I think Binks showed in the LA debacle that he might take a while to adjust to MLS (LA won 4-0 in Vancouver two weeks ago).
In midfield for Vancouver there are a few more questions too. Davide Chumiento has been a hot assist man that has cooled off a bit of late as has winger Nizar Khalfan also gone from an exciting spark to a bit of a flicker lately, then former Fire John Thorrington and former LA-Seattle Peter Vagenas both recently staggered back into the lineup from the trainer’s table, and former SJ-Philly winger Shea Salinas has been in the mix regularly as well, etc. However, I suspect Chumiento, Gerson Koffie, Vagenas, and Salinas start from left to right across Vancoubver’s four man midfield.
In defense, the ‘Caps have some more questions too. Alain Rochat appears to be out with a groin strain, and American international Jay Demerit is just recently back to training and is listed as probable. If he can start, he could sorely needed as Vancouver’s defense is their Achilles heel, but if he starts and can’t finish, or worse tweaks his twitchy groin again and is out for weeks more, the ‘Caps thin defense gets anorexic.
I think newly acquired Jordan Harvey plays the left back and an old favorite of DC fans, Greg Janicki plays a central role alongside Michael Boxall, and right back Jonathan Leathers, with Demerit coming off the bench at some point. And Soehn trotted out Jay Nolly in goal last time out too! Just think if goes with Nolly again along with Janicki and sticks it to a DC organization that all but forced him out. And doing it in RFK to boot. That’s too horrible to imagine, but after NY earlier, then NE and TFC recently, we have sunk to depths of pain that such thoughts somehow feel inevitable.
So, looking at the lineups, there is no question the better defense will win this match. Both teams have formidable offenses, and slightly suspect defenses. Vancouver’s the more suspect overall, but then again DC’s home defense has been pretty horrific for the most part, and Soehn knows it will be his old buddy Chad Ashton making the moves for United while Olsen serves his suspension in the pressbox. Talk about a battle of almost something defenders from back in the day. Could be a titanic chess match of defensive finesse out there……….or perhaps not.
Going through the matchups, DeRo, Wolff, and Davies can run rings around any combination of a recently fit Demerit, Janicki, or Boxall even with Vagenas or Thorrington helping out. Najar and Kitchen is a bit of a push against Chumiento and the seemingly under-rated Harvey, but Pontius and Woolard can torch Salinas and Ferriera-bane Leathers. So, 2-3 goals are very possible for DC.
On the flip side, Hassli and Camilo are extremely capable of overwhelming Jakovic and McDonald if DC’s central defenders don’t play as if they are on the road, and worse if Cronin’s hands retain their stone-like quality. However, DC does might just be able to hang their hat on starving Vancouver’s forwards of help from midfield. Kitchen against Chumiento or Khalfan could easily go DC’s way, same with Simms against the slippery Koffie and the steady Woolard against the shifty Salinas. If DC starves the service from midfield, it will take great things from Hassli and Camilo to outscore United. They might, but my money is on frustration sending at least Hassli to the showers early.
Now as to trends, it’s pretty simple. Vancouver has yet to win on the road, but DC has been decidedly unconvincing at home, especially lately. One of those streaks has to end because a tie does no good for either team. Shockingly, RFK is the ‘Caps best chance at a road win the rest of the season, and while Portland is looming on the horizon, DC simply has to get wins at home to be respectable, even if the playoffs seem to be slipping away rapidly.
Obviously, Vancouver is coming off a rousing win last week, 4-2 over the Fire while DC is frustrated with a pitiful 3-3 draw with lowly TFC even though they played 10 on 11 most of the game, but then again whose fault is it that they chose to give Toronto the extra man?
So, crunching the numbers, DC has a slight edge, Vancouver was 0-5-1 being out-scored 12-4 before winning last week, only Soehn’s second win since taking over the team June 1.
On the road, Vancouver is a rousing 0-8-4 overall, outscored 19-8 including 5 shutouts, with Soehn being a sterling 0-4-3, outscored 12-7 but only 2 of the shutouts ( and none since late June), and he did manage a 2-2 tie with SJ last time out, since assuming control; however, one of those shutout losses on the road was in Toronto, one of only three wins total the Reds have managed so far this season and TFC’s only other shutout win was the other expansion team, Portland
Of course, DC is a paltry 2-3-6 at home outscored an appalling 20-16, and have been shutout three times in RFK already themselves, so that inspires about as much confidence as a Cronin punch. Still, DC has won twice at home, and they have scored 9 in their last 5 home matches, so they can score as long as Uncle Fester is not in goal.
Expect a wild one. DC should win this 3-2, but with all the wild cards possible in this match, whoever calls the score of this one is truly a genius.