Currently bottom of the table and mired in a five game losing streak with seeming nothing but misery in sight, DC United will have to find something special as they face one of their toughest conference foes in the high flying Houston Dynamo who are off to their best start ever and tied for the top of the East.
OK folks, Chris is out of town this week, so I will be setting up the crime scene in RFK and then conducting the autopsy tomorrow night, so buckle up! If you’re looking for a ray of sunshine or some lipstick on this pig and think I’m the guy that will give it to you, well guess what, you might actually be right about that for once.
No, I have not taken leave of my senses. I am well aware that these two teams have been heading in vastly different directions since meeting in the Eastern Conference Championship last fall. In fact, they have been going in different directions since the end of 2007 when Houston became a perennial threat for the MLS Cup and DC became pretty much an embarrassing afterthought around the league.
To make matters worse, Houston just beat LA in the Toolbox and is unbeaten in their last four games, while DC has been lucky their losing streak isn’t a bit longer than the five it stands at now. However, I have seen signs of life in DC lately and Houston does have a habit of playing down to its opponents on the road, especially in RFK where they haven’t won since 2010 (and let’s just not discuss that season any further).
To start off with DC really didn’t deserve the shellacking they got in Columbus. It was a 3-0 loss, but nowhere near that bad in reality. Arguably DC outplayed the Crew for the majority of the match. DC’s moribund offense so far this season finally created plenty of chances and took six shots on goal as well as two off the woodwork, the problem was none of them went in. The Crew created few chances and just happened to score on all three of their shots on goal. That’s the cruelty of soccer sometimes.
It really is unfortunate that Ben Olsen was absolutely punished for making some changes that actually helped the team pay a much better game overall than they have for most of this season. The defense played a howler for sure, but they play their normal defensive game and DC walks out of there with a point at least.
Yes, and if frogs had wings they wouldn’t bump their tails when they jump I can hear you saying. Look, I’m just saying for one of the rare games in the last calendar year DC got a lot less than it deserved instead of a lot more than it deserved which has happened quite a bit more often, especially towards the end of last year. But this year isn’t much better with that point in NY being an absolute felony and DC has turned one goal into all four of its points this year. Hardly inspiring, I admit.
So try this on for size. Houston beat LA for their first road win of the season, but they have largely been inept on the road and have been for the past couple seasons. The pitiful tie in Toronto and loss in Portland are usually what Houston produces on the road. Even better Houston loses quite regularly in RFK as well going 2-4-1 in the regular season since their creation in 2006.
DC is well rested and getting healthier while Houston had a game Sunday and a cross country flight in the past few days. Heck, the law of averages says DC will get at least three or four more wins this season just by dumb luck if 2010 is any indication and this team is better than that one for sure.
So, let’s break it down. Given the incomprehensible post-game quotes and evidence to date, coach Ben Olsen will continue his man love for Lionard Pajoy and start him alongside Dwayne De Rosario as forwards most likely. I would love to see Rafael Teixiera playing alongside DeRo, or even Carlos Ruiz for that matter, but I doubt Ben sits Pajoy or DeRo to make that happen, and if he moves DeRo to midfield to make it happen, then DC is doomed.
In midfield, Pontius and DeLeon are creeping closer to fitness, but won’t start or play is my guess. So, midfield will likely be Marcos Sanchez, Perry Kitchen and Kyle Porter almost certainly. Kitchen’s partner is a bit of a crapshoot as Ben loves Marcelo Saragosa in there to muddy up the game, but Raphael Augusto actually gives DC a chance to win, so it being a home game, my fingers are crossed Ben plays the talented Brazilian next to Kitchen. If it was me, I’d play their draftee out of UMD, Taylor Kemp instead of Sanchez on that left hand side too. Houston will play Oscar Boniek-Garcia on that side and he’s a handful for anyone, much less the tiny Panamanian, but I don’t see Ben taking the plunge on that one either.
In defense, it’s virtually a lock that Olsen plays Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, and Chris Korb. I personally would go with James Riley on the left and move Korb to the left and Woolard to the bench as DC really needs more out of their outside backs and Riley brings it more than Woolard, but I don’t see that happening either. Hamid will be in goal of course and another game like he had in NY would certainly go a long way to helping DC get some joy against Houston in this one.
As for Houston, given the travel and spate of games they’ve had, coach Dominic Kinnear could certainly make some changes, but he usually keeps a pretty rock solid starting XI together pretty consistently all through the first part of the season, something I wish Olsen would learn to do btw, so other than inserting Brad back into the lineup coming back from suspension, I expect him to start a pretty similar team to the one that beat LA, and it really doesn’t matter too much anyway as whoever he puts in there fits into his system and plays pretty similar to the guy he’s replacing, another thing Olsen should be taking notes on.
So, my money is on Giles Barnes and it’s a stone cold lock he’s partnering United Killer Will Bruin, whose goal scoring prowess against us is just too depressing to elaborate on, at forward. Midfield will be the Scotsman Andrew Driver, whose goal beat LA, Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis, and Boniek-Garcia. Maybe Kinnear keeps Moffat in there, sits Barnes, and plays Davis as the other forward, but I don’t think so as he likes to keep his guys in spots where they will play regularly rather than move them all over the field (ahem, another lesson Olsen could take note of). Defense will be Kofi Sarkodie, former DC defender Bobby Boswell, Jamaican Jermaine Taylor, and Corey Ashe from right to left in front of Talley Hall.
So, looking at the matchups, DC is obviously in some trouble if Houston plays their A game and DC bunkers into their turtle shell defense. If that happens, it’s a brutal 3-0 loss, so not even worth mentioning things like matchups. No, DC has to play like they did against Columbus, but without the howling mistakes in defense and Houston has to be a little off, which they have shown in playing down to their opponents on the road.
Normally, I like to think about the matchups going forward first, but since this is a Ben Olsen team, let’s start with the defensive side. In the run of play, it will be the wings where DC is in the biggest trouble. Boniek-Garcia will be a handful for Woolard or Korb, which is why I would rather see Kemp on that side, but maybe Sanchez will get in the way enough to be helpful. Driver is a solid unflashy type that will trouble Korb or James too, but I like Porter’s ability to help out so I think he’s the lesser problem. However, either of them peppering balls into the area to Bruin or over the top to Barnes could be disaster.
Kitchen and Saragosa or Augusto will also have their hands full against Davis in the run of play, and if DC gives up too many fouls, Davis will crucify them with freekicks. Rico making late runs will be troubling too, but he does much less of that on the road than usual, although he will have fond memories of his last visit to RFK.
However, I think it likely BMac comes back with a wicked strong game to make up for his Columbus debacle and shuts down Bruin. Barnes is a bit flighty and might just take himself out of the game as he’s a wanderer who hurts Bruin’s game as well with his disappearing act. Now, his speed alone is trouble, but Jakovic impressed me in Columbus running down Dominic Oduro from behind, so he’s the lesser concern for me as well.
Houston will win midfield almost certainly, but if DC stays compact and keeps Bruin locked up tight, they can keep Houston in check for the most part. Houston has scored in every match here since 2009, so I expect them to score again, but if the defense keeps it close, DC has a chance.
So, where will the goals come from? Obviously, I think they will come from Gladiator or Ruiz who have shown a propensity to actually shoot at the goal when they get the ball, but Olsen still has hope that Pajoy will set up DeRo and company storming out of the midfield on late runs and that actually happened a few times in Columbus. DeRo had a point blank shot foot saved after a set up by Pajoy late in that one. The Colombian also sent Sanchez in on goal late too. Pajoy himself actually cracked a first time shot ON GOAL and at the death smacked the crossbar as I sat in disbelief. I figured he must have been aiming at the corner flag and missed, but hey if that’s what Olsen is seeing in practice, then maybe he sets something up in this one.
More likely I see Pajoy battering and being battered by Boswell and Taylor, hopefully getting one or both of them sent off with his antics. It’s not pretty, but it would be helpful. With luck maybe he’s sent off too and Ben would be forced to play someone else, and bonus, start someone else against Dallas. Oh, be still my beating heart!
Obviously, on paper this is a bloodbath but as mentioned, historically DC has found a way past Houston in RFK in the regular season and soccer gods willing, will catch Houston looking past the league’s cellar dwellers or surprise a tired team coming off a rousing win in LA. DC deserved a lot better in their last outing, another solid performance and surely the gods right the scales in their favor.
DC will win again in RFK. Tomorrow in front of those few hundreds, who will brave the weather and the early kickoff on a weeknight and not be watching the Caps or going to the Nats game across the river, in order to see the worst team in MLS, who has lost their last three on the trot in what was known of formerly as fortress RFK, play against one of the best teams in the league is as good a time as any.
Those valiant hundreds deserve to see DC pull off the improbable.