League leading scorer Charlie Davies and DC United are licking their chops as they are set to take on the Eastern Conference leaders, the Philadelphia Union tomorrow night at RFK, as it will be the Black and Red debut for two time MLS Cup MVP, Dwayne De Rosario, whom United acquired midweek.
DC United made huge changes this week as they dealt away Dax McCarty in exchange for one of the most prolific and dynamic players in league history, Dwayne De Rosario, a five time MLS All Star and best XI player, winner of four MLS Cup titles. United also acquired Brandon McDonald from San Jose in exchange for some allocation money.
You have to like the moves United made in the sense that the team had two glaring weaknesses, a lack of scoring punch and leadership in the center of the field, and a serious lack of physicality and experience in their defense. Well, United clearly addressed those issues in spades by adding DeRosario, who is flat out a consistent game changer in this league, and by adding McDonald an unabashed teeth rattler in his fourth year in the league.
And both players are likely to start tomorrow night. De Rosario could easily slide into the central playmaking role, while McDonald could allow Perry Kitchen to cover the right back slot left empty by Jed Zayner’s midweek injury.
The Eastern Conference leading Union will be a good test for United’s revamped offense and defense too. Philly has risen to the top due to their unbeaten record at home for the most part, as well as the timely scoring of Carlos Ruiz and Danny Mwanga and a very stingy defense. But, they have also been very beatable on the road, including being shutout in 4 of 7 away matches.
After the deflating tie with Houston and looking ahead at United’s schedule, this match could have huge consequences down the road as United simply cannot keep giving away points at home. DeRo was brought in specifically to get United into the playoffs, and that push really needs to start tomorrow as the going gets pretty tough for DC for the rest of the summer.
United coach Ben Olsen does have one decision to make as it appears Charlie Davies is not likely to start given the knock he took to his ankle against Houston. So, it might be tempting to play DeRo at forward with Josh Wolff, but considering DeRo plays best as a central attacker and likely will fill that role when everyone is healthy, it seems more likely Olsen pays him in midfield and gives surprisingly effective rookie Blake Brettschneider another crack at starting.
In midfield, almost certainly it will be Chris Pontius, DeRo, Clyde Simms, and Andy Najar going left to right. Now, it’s just possible Olsen gives Stephen King the start and eases DeRo in by bringing him off the bench, but I can’t see that. If he’s ready to go 30-45 min, then he should start and don’t waste a sub slot on him.
In defense, Zayner’s injury comes at a inopportune time as that young backline was just getting some solid games back to back, and it means that the possible switch of Kitchen to midfield might be held off for the forseeable future as he is needed to cover for Ballz, who might be out quite a while depending on what’s found during his knee surgery this week. It is also ominous that left back Daniel Woolard hasn’t practiced this week with a back spasms and may not play either.
So, I expect Kitchen plays the right. Then Ethan White, McDonald, and Chris Korb on the left if Woolard’s back is still acting up. Now, I don’t want to worry you prematurely, but the rumor is that Marc Burch has been practicing for the first time since being out long term with a hamstring injury. However, it seems unlikely he gets back onto the field tomorrow after such a long time out. A few weeks from now would be a good time to worry about Burch starting. Now fingers crossed no injuries in the defense tomorrow!
Philly coach Piotr Nowak will almost certainly go with a similar lineup to the team that beat CHivas last weekend. Of course the dratted anchovy, Carlos Ruiz will be out there besmirching all that is good and pure in the game of soccer, and he will be joined by Macedonian Veljko Paunovic who scored his first MLS goals last week against Chivas. Sebastion LeToux and former DC midfielders Justin Mapp and Brian Carroll seemed sure to start in midfield, but that central playmaking role might be up for grabs as Jack McInerney started there the last two matches, but Nowak has used Kyle Nakazawa and Stefani Miglioranzi too, or even inserted Keon Daniel and shuffled the formation a bit. I suspect McInerney gets the nod, though.
Their defense is set in stone however. As long as Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes are not suspended, Nowak has played Sheanon Williams, Califf, Valdes, and Jordan Harvey across the back this season. A defense that has only given up 14 goals in 16 games so far this year, but 8 of those have come on in the 7 away matches for the Union.
So, looking at the matchups. Defensively, White and McDonald battling Ruiz and Paunovic is a crap shoot, especially with crazy Abby Okalaja as the ref. If Ruiz gets away with his usual antics and scores in RFK like a slot machine as he has done most of his career, then DC is in trouble of course. But, McDonald and White both have the physicality to battle the crafty and cruel Ruiz if it is a level playing field. Korb or Woolard will also have their hands full with the tireless Frenchman, LeToux who has been relatively quiet this year after a breakout year last year when he made an improbable run at a golden boot. But, Kitchen should eat up Mapp with no problems unless Mapp is due for one of his blinders. They don’t come that often, but they do come and if that’s the case, it’s just not DC’s night.
However, on offense DC has some huge advantages. Obviously, Wolff and Brettschneider would have trouble with Tats Califf and the beast Valdes, but with DeRo to spring them or burst forward to combine with them, then the edge goes to DC because Carroll will just be a bit of a speed bump for DeRo. Also, Pontius is playing so well right now, it’s hard to see him getting blanked by Williams, and Najar is just the type of scrappy player to unbalance Harvey a bit, especially if DeRo takes a lot of the pressure off them. You see what a key player he will be for DC. Think Christian Gomez circa 2004-7. He can be that much of a game changer.
Even the trends favor DC slightly. DC beat Philly the only time they played here last year in one of the banner wins of that pitiful season, and United also beat the Union on PKs this year in the Open Cup at the Soccerplex. As mentioned, the Union are hardly invulnerable on the road too. They are a mere 2-4-1 with 8 goals for and 8 against, 6 of those coming in Toronto. Their other win was their first game of the year when they surprised Houston 1-0. So, while they did tie Colorado in Dick’s Park, they also have been shutout their other four road matches including their last time out in Vancouver.
So, there you have it. If DeRo has a big first day on the job, DC could easily overwhelm Philly and win by two, assuming Okalaja keeps his paws off the match. A win right now could be huge with trips to NY and Dallas looming on the horizon.