After their usual dismal defeat down in Houston, DC United and defending League MVP, Dwayne De Rosario will be looking to get back on track in Columbus against a Crew team that is mired in an even worse streak with only one win in their past five games.
DC should just forfeit the points rather than even bother to travel to Houston. Just save themselves the grief by taking those weekends off whenever they come up on the schedule. Unfortunately, that strategy will have to wait for next year as this year DC finished off their series in Houston with the usual shutout loss and the added bonus of their starting keeper tossed.
So, United will once again be turning to Joe Willis in goal while Bill Hamid serves his suspension for that rash challenge that sealed DC’s fate in Houston. While Willis was in goal for all four of Houston’s goals, two of them were penalty kicks and the other two were all but unstoppable. Willis also filled in admirably while Hamid was away with the Olympic team, and would have been playing in this match anyway if the US had made the Olympic Games.
DC will also be without right back Robbie Russell with a sore foot and wing Andy Najar, whose Honduran team did make the Olympics, but none of those missing players should cause United too much trouble if they choose to play as they have done in winning 5 of their last 7. However, if they choose to put on the hideous displays they showed in their last two road matches, they will surely stretch that road losing streak to three.
Given the situation and the opponent, I believe Ben Olsen will start Chris Pontius at forward as he has earned it and give Maicon Santos one more chance to see if he can redeem himself for his somewhat lackluster play of late. Although Ben had some ominous quotes post match in Houston that could have been aimed directly at Santos, so perhaps Hamdi Salihi gets another shot at taking that slot away from Santos. Interestingly, seems like whenever Santos starts to falter while Salihi is scoring off the bench, Salihi gets the starts, but falters and Santos scores off the bench. And round and round it goes.
Newly re-signed Branko Boskovic’ run of bad luck continues as he seemed to have fially broken into the starting lineup only to be the sacrificial lamb in Houston for Hamid’s ejection, and now he won’t get a chance to start tomorrow as a sore calf has scratched him from the lineup. So, unless Olsen pulls a surprise like Lewis Neal as the center midfielder, it seems pretty likely Dwayne De Rosario gets the nod while rookie Nick DeLeon likely plays the left. Almost certainly Danny Cruz continues on the right and team MVP, Perry Kitchen at defensive midfield.
In the back, it will surely be Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic and Chris Korb going left to right across the backline unless by some miracle Emiliano Dudar has worked himself into Olsen’s good graces. That would be nice to see as the Argentine central defender has been a joy to watch on the few occasions he’s managed to take the field.
The Crew are far and away in much worse shape roster wise as they will be without their bruiser, Emilio Renteria due to a suspension for a head butt in their loss to SKC last week, and their injury list reminds one of WWI casualty list. In their attack, starting playmaker, Milovan Mirosevic is out with the dreaded groin problem, forwards Tommy “Bolts” Heinemann is out for the season with a bum knee and Aaron Shoenfeld out with foot problem and wing Dilly Duka struggling back from a hamstring strain. The defense is even more banged up with Will Hesmer already out for the season (hip), former DC defender Julius James (groin), Rich Balchan (groin), Danny O’Rourke (ankle), and promising left back Bernardo Anor blew out his knee last week against SKC.
So, it’s fair to say the Crew will be scrambling around for warm bodies to fill out their starting lineup. Likely Robert Warzycha goes with Costa Rican Jairo Arrieta and Justin Meram at forward unless the so far disappointing Olman Vargas can get back on Warzycha’s good side enough o get a shot at the field.
In midfield, United killer Eddie Gaven will certainly play the left and likely Tony Tchani is slotted in as playmaker with former Galaxian Chris Birchall holding fort behind him, and perhaps Dilly Duka getting the start on the left if he’s ready to start a match. It’ll be a folding chair if he’s not ready. In the back, Likely Sebastion Miranda, Josh Williams, Chad Marshall, and Nemanja Vukovic going left to right in front of the hammer, Andy Gruenebaum in goal.
So, looking at the matchups, DC has the advantage at nearly every position on the field. Defensively, Arrieta is the main threat, but Meram and Tchani hardly strike fear as his main lieutenants, so Kitchen, Jakovic, and McDonald or Dudar will have no trouble snuffing them out. Eddie Gaven is a bit of a United killer, but Woolard is usually United’s steadiest defender, and I would actually give the edge to Duka over Korb if not for his recent return from injury and with Columbus’ dismal situation right now.
In the attack, of course Chad Marshall is quality and Williams quite athletic, but Pontius and Santos have the craft and quality to get around them, especially if the Crew offense sputters so much as to leave the defense under siege for long stretches. DeRo, who leads the league in assists, will be the key, though as I think Deleon might just struggle against Miranda and while Cruz should dust Vukovic easily enough, his decision making seems to keep him from turning much of winning play into actual threats on goal. So DeRo getting the better of Birchall will be critical to an easy match for DC.
That’s the good news. The bad news is DC hasn’t won in Columbus since 2007, and has only won their twice since the turn of the century along with 5 draws for 11 total points there in 15 games over 11 years. Nor has United been exactly stellar on the road lately or this year. DC has lost their last two on the road as well as three of their last four away from RFK. And despite their overall good record, DC is 3-5-1 on the road while the Crew is 4-3-1 at home despite their troubles. And while they lost at home to SKC last week, they have won three of their last four at home including surprising RSL, Chicago, and Dallas.
However, the current overall trends favor DC. United has only three losses in their past ten games, while the Crew have a mere one win in their past five, four points total over that stretch. Also, while the Crew’s defense is one of the best in MLS having given up only 19 goals in 17 matches, their offense is among the league’s worst as well tied with Portland for second worst in the league at 17 goals with only Chivas (12 goals scored) worse, and the Crew have been shutout six times.
United on the other hand, ranks fourth in offense with 34 goals, 9 behind leaders SJ with 43, but only one behind the Galaxy and Red Bull with 35, along with a defense solidly in the middle of the pack in MLS despite some recent shellackings.
With a win, DC could find themselves back at the top of the table, but it would take some help from SKC finding a way to lose to NE at home and Philly managing to tie or beat NY in Red Bull Arena.
On paper, DC in a walk, but history and United’s recent play on the road indicates DC looks past the Crew at their peril.