No rest for the wretched as DC United must put the debacle in San Jose behind them and look to get back to their winning ways playing the winless Toronto FC at BMO field tomorrow night.
TFC has tied the league mark for consecutive losses to start the season (7, Kansas City in 1999), but TFC has been playing much better than its results of late. RSL only managed to beat them with a stoppage time goal playing at home, and at Montreal in the Canadian Championships in midweek, they held Montreal to a scoreless draw. TFC is perhaps due for some good fortune, but let’s just hope it comes next week rather than tomorrow night.
There’s no sugar coating it, United’s patchwork defense was shredded by the Earthquakes and will have to play much better to avoid what could be a demoralizing defeat if they allow Toronto their first win of the season.
OK, so plan A for the defense missing 3 of its best 4 central defenders did not work in San Jose largely due to the clever play of Wondolowski and Lenhart, but Perry Kitchen did not look good on the backline, and moving him back into midfield was crucial to United getting back into the match after giving up three straight goals by halftime. To be fair, Robbie Russell, Brandon McDonald, and for the first time in a long while, Daniel Woolard all played terrible, so there’s plenty of blame to go around, but clearly neither Kitchen in the back, nor his midfield replacement, Marcelo Saragosa were an improvement in either area of the field.
Unfortunately, DC has no choice but to stick with Russell, McD, and Woolard on the backline as there isn’t anyone else healthy. Still, plan B has to be keeping Kitchen in midfield and either bringing in Chris Korb or reprise Andy Najar in that right back role as he did in the second half against SJ.
Considering TFC’s system and players, I’d rather see Najar back there as TFC plays a 4-3-3 with plenty of pace in their wingers whether it be Reggie Lambe or Joao Plata. Danny Cruz would do a good job as right back too, and Najar is the better attacker so it would seem to be a better solution for them to switch. But it’s crucial United wings stay wide against TFC’s three man midfield and Najar hasn’t shown the discipline to do that as much as Cruz has.
Olsen also has to sit down his best player, Dwayne De Rosario who kept DC respectable in SJ as he needs some rest, but considering the situation bringing in Branko Boskovic for this match would be a good chance for him to make an impact with his ball control and possession game against a stacked central midfield of Torsten Frings and Julian De Guzman for Toronto. If he can just hold his own in there and keep the ball moving through, United will be in good shape.
Also, either Maicon Santos or Chris Pontius deserves some rest too, but there’s a bright side to that too as DC’s other designated player, Hamdi Salihi, finally got off the schneid with a lovely late goal in San Jose. That goal showed the kind of deft touch in front of goal that DC brought him in for, so he deserves a start to keep that momentum going. I believe he’d play better with Pontius than Santos, plus Santos has taken by far the most beating given the way he plays forward, so I would think Pontius gets the nod to start along with Salihi.
Which just leaves Nick DeLeon holding the short straw and being forced to start on the left side although he deserves some rest too. It’s possible Olsen taps English winger Lewis Neal to get his first start, but I don’ think so. I think Olsen would really rather his team make as few changes as possible to get back some flow after the SJ loss, then adjust on the fly as people tire out. So, I think DeLeon starts and plays the first 60 before Neal comes in relief.
On the other side of the ball, TFC may well have settled on a starting lineup finally after getting some results using some surprise players and sending some bigger names to the bench. Tough to read TFC coach Aron Winter’s mind, but TFC have looked better without Danny Koevermans in the lineup and with Joao Plata coming off the bench, as well as with Academy player Doneil Henry in the back line.
So, my best guess is that Winter stays the current course which means a front three of Lambe, Ryan Johnson, and former Dallas attacker Eric Avila. Then Frings and De Guzman in support of Terry Dunfield in midfield, and a backline of Ashtone Morgan, Miguel Aceval, Adrian Cann, and probably Doneil Henry over Richard Ekersley going left to right across the backline in front of former DC backup keeper Milos Kocic who is starting due to Stefan Frei nurses a lower leg injury.
So, looking at the matchups, TFC’s system may well help DC. Instead of two threats occupying the center backs, TFC really only plays one, Johnson, so the central defense job just got easier and I like either Russell or specially McDonald banging bodies with Johnson. However, Kitchen and probably Russell’s job got a lot harder as they will have more bodies to track and step up to with Avila and Lambe buzzing around as well as Dunfield and De Guzman pushing up. Boskovic will have to help some and so will Woolard and Najar or Korb pinch in or track runners more. Still, TFC has only 6 goals in 7 games, only Chivas and Philly have scored less, so while DC’s defense is banged up, TFC’s offense might not punish enough to win.
Especially as the real problem for TFC is giving up goals, 16 in 7 games to date. They have given up the most goals in MLS, yes even after DC’s recent debacle still has only given up 15, so TFC should be rightly worried about containing United’s potent attack. Salihi and Pontius or Santos will shred Cann and Aceval, DeLeon and Cruz will put Henry and Morgan on their heels, so even if Boskovic or DeRo get slowed by TFC’s stacked central midfield, DC will find width and decimate TFC’s central defense.
So, expect some goals in this one. DC might hang 5 on TFC, but is almost certain to give up a few as well. Could be another barnburner like SJ only in reverse this time. We’ll see. Sometimes when two teams have obvious defensive flaws, they both hunker down and defend with bodies and the game turns into a 0-0 yawn fest, but it would be stupid of TFC to risk this type of game as DC will surely get one, but unless TFC attacks en masse, they will not be able to score and will lose 1-0.
As for the trends, well DC has pretty much owned TFC. United is 7-3-2 all time against the Reds, and 4-2-0 in Toronto including winning the last two on the trot. DeRo, in particular seems to enjoy sticking it to Toronto maybe even more than any of his other former teams. That is ominous for TFC given the way DeRo is playing lately even if he only comes off the bench. Also recent trends favor DC as well, United has only one loss in their last six games, while TFC has lost 7 straight. Also, United is 1-2-1 on the road, but before the SJ debacle they had a quality in NE and a valiant tie in Vancouver. TFC is obviously winless at home so far this year.
So, there you go. DC wins a barnburner or squeezes out a tough one goal grinder. At least as long as the soccer gods keep their meddling paws to themselves.