Well, no point in sugarcoating things anymore. With that painful shutout loss against Seattle Thursday, United’s sixth time being shutout at home, eleventh time shutout in sixteen games, there’s absolutely no reason to think DC will score against the Galaxy’s league best defense. Nor is there any reason to think DC’s recently respectable, but still league worst defense will hold the donut when Donovan and Buddle come to visit.
Seriously, the trends heading into this game couldn’t be any uglier for DC. United has the worst offense and worst defense and will be facing the league best offense and defense that has LA at a staggering +18 in goal differential. Smart money says that will be +20 or so come Monday morning after LA has finished pillaging United in RFK. LA has only given up 7 goals in 16 games, DC gives up 7 goals about every four games on average, and they’re due for a clanger having given up only 2 so far this month.
DC is also well on the way to their worst home record ever, standing at 2-5-1 being outscored 11 to 5. Now on the bright side, if DC scores at home, they win. Unfortunately, they’ve only managed to score in two games at home. LA on the other hand has been torching the league home and away. True, their only two losses came on the road recently (in RSL and NE in their last match), and they haven’t scored or won on the road in their last three matches, but that was when Donovan and Buddle were away for the most part. Before the world cup LA was 5-0-1 on the road outscoring teams 10 to ZERO. And not just hammering stiffs either. They had shutout wins in Houston, Colorado, and Columbus among others.
Obviously, the matchups favor LA as well. Donovan alone could decimate DC and he’s well rested and probably itching to get back after being rested when LA lost in NE. The only good thing will be there shouldn’t be any nasty banners egging him on due to his World Cup heroics, but he might torch DC on principle just to get LA back on track.
Buddle and Bowen will also be trouble for Jakovic and James to control as they are so dynamic and confident right now. Donovan attacking down the right will be a total nightmare for Graye, probably taking Pontius out of the attack to help him out. Stephens on their left is quietly having a stunning year too and his back post runs are devastating if McTavish gets pulled inside or out of position. Juninho has been pretty hit or miss, so Simms shouldn’t have too much trouble, unless Juninho is on fire, but that may be immaterial anyway as Donovan and Buddle will likely have put the game away themselves.
On those rare moments when DC manages to attack, it’ll be interesting to see how Onalfo handles his new players. Clearly, Hernandez should start, but will he have a partner up top or will Onalfo go with his 4-5-1 and keep Santino or Moreno out there? I believe you’ve got to go back to a 4-4-2 as it is more likely to fit the new players better in the long run and you have to start thinking long term now that the playoffs are a pipe dream. Hernandez looked scrappy and opportunistic in his first minutes which is promising, but he showed more skills in combination with others and not so much the skills you would expect from a lone striker.
Hernandez and Allsopp should be given the first crack at a partnership in my opinion, especially as Moreno won’t be able to play much so soon after starting Thursday and with Santino in such a horrific slump. With Cristman having hernia surgery and Emilio jettisoned, the forward picture has cleared up considerably, but if either Moreno or Quaranta plays, they must stay high and active or DC’s offense has no chance, and trying to defend for 90 against LA is suicide, anyway.
In midfield, Boskovic almost certainly won’t start as it’s doubtful he can go 90 and you can’t go into this match knowing you have to burn a sub, maybe two if Moreno starts too. So King probably gets the nod with Simms until Boskovic comes in the second half unless there’s an injury. In the long run, Boskovic looks like a classic central player with some nice touch and vision. The idea has to be that he fills the role that King and Santino are combining to fill now. No question Najar and Pontius fill out the rest of the midfield.
That’s about the best Onalfo can do against LA and it won’t be enough. Najar might get around Dunivant and Berhalter here and there, Pontius will get a chance or two against Franklin, but neither of United’s precocious youngsters has been anywhere near precise enough in the box to trouble Ricketts even if they do manage to hit the target for a change. King will not get upfield at all against Birchall as he will be pinned back helping with the heavy digging going on in our end of the field as DC’s defense tries to contain LA’s attack. Hernandez and whoever don’t seem likely to trouble Berhalter and Gonzalez too much either since no one else in the league has cracked their defensive wall, it’s hard to think DC will somehow manage it.
Even the intangibles go against DC too. LA has often treated RFK as their home away from home over the years, so a 4-0 or 5-2 loss is by no means out of the question. Although DC has had some success recently when they come to visit, having not lost to LA here since Beckham played his first MLS minutes here in 2007, but LA had won 7 out of the previous 10 matches played here and are the only team in MLS to have a winning record over DC in RFK.
Bottom line, this match is a loss for DC. Unless the soccer gods get involved and simply swing the match DC’s way, LA is going home three points closer to their inexorable Supporter’s Shield, and DC’s pride will have taken a another bitter shot right on the chin. Stone cold lock DC loses 2-0. Yes, I am absolutely daring the soccer gods to prove me wrong.