DC United, clinging tenuously to the top of the East, finally returns home after a month away to host the resilient Colorado Rapids in a crucial MLS Match, considering they won’t play another home league match for another month. Revenge for getting drubbed in the Dick will certainly be on United’s mind, but more importantly will be the desperate need to collect points at home before it’s too late.
Perhaps the biggest mirage in MLS this year has been the teams who have claimed relative greatness primarily to their ability to not lose. Ties are rampant in MLS which makes some teams think they are better than they really are. Unfortunately, United is one of those teams and they need to start winning if they expect to seriously challenge for hardware at the end of the season.
DC is undefeated at home, but a more jaded eye would point out they have also failed to win half of their matches at home as well, so you can see my point. But with 5 of the next 6 on the road, DC simply has to collect points against a Colorado team that hasn’t even managed a tie in RFK since 2006, and hasn’t won here since Jorge Dely Valdez phoned home in 1999.
But, it won’t be that easy this time around. Colorado is actually much better than their typical middle of the pack selves. They have only lost two of their last 13 games and will have Omar Cummings back alongside Conor Casey for the best combination of speed and power since Usain Bolt looked in the mirror in Beijing last year.
United, on the other hand will be missing the best central defender they have had since the Admiral Nelsen patrolled the backline for DC in 2004. Dejan Jakovic has been nothing short of a revelation this year in central defense, but unfortunately he is still with Canada for the knockout rounds of the Gold Cup, as is Santino Quaranta, who is playing for the US National team. At least his loss is negated by the Rapids missing Colin Clark who is with the US Nats as well.
United is about as healthy as they have ever been however, with Moreno, Emilio, Fred, and Olsen fully fit after various leg ailments and considering the overall depth of the team, they should be in good shape especially if Gomez is ramped up for some revenge against the coach and team that refused to play him a year ago.
Offensively especially at home, DC United is as potent as anyone in MLS and only Houston has a better goals against average at home than DC so far this year. However, DC has only translated that dominance into 4 wins in 8 contests at home which is troubling. Obviously, that cannot continue if DC expects to turn the corner into becoming one of the elite teams in MLS.
Colorado will be without defender Ugo Ihemelu due to yellow card accumulation, but he is easily replaced by Palguta who played for the suspended Cory Gibbs last game. DC should be well familiar with him as he played last time these two teams met as well as for the Rochester Rhinos last year, who United defeated in the Open Cup on the way to their championship last season, much as they hope to do the same against the Rhinos in a few days.
Given the importance of this league match, it would be shocking if Soehn didn’t call on his absolute best to ensure the 3 points. Assuming Emilio and Moreno are truly fit and have been practicing well in the 11 days since United last kicked a ball in anger, they should start at forward over the lively but disconcertingly ineffective Khumalo and N’Silu.
In midfield, rookie of the year Chris Pontius should play the right as that is weakest side offensively for the Rapids with LaBrocca (or maybe Peterson) out there, so Pontius should have free reign to attack and worry less about defensive responsibilities, although Labrocca is a much more difficult defender to break down. Then obviously Gomez, Olsen, and Simms start in the middle to overwhelm Mastroeni and Ballouchy if DC is to follow their normal script.
But the left side for United will be interesting to see who Soehn starts out there. Fred is the better overall player, but Wallace has been much more effective offensively, if less spectacular defensively. Given that Colorado will play Cooke out there and he’s their biggest outside threat, Fred would be better in negating him. But also given that Ihemelu is suspended meaning Kimura will play right back means he is their weakest defender by far, so maybe Wallace is a better choice to exploit that hole. My money is on Fred of course, but I can see Wallace getting the nod too.
Anyway, given the two team’s relative form to date, no question DC will score two assuming the soccer gods keep their noses out of the proceedings, but United absolutely must keep Colorado to one or less if they expect to win, and that’s the rub. Casey and Cummings have been light’s out fantastic for weeks despite Confederations and Gold Cup absences.
Casey has the physical tools and deft touch to humiliate anyone in MLS and Cummings can flat out leave defenders rooted to the ground if given the chance. DC has never been that good against speed, and truth be told has stumbled a bit against power too. Without Jakovic, Janicki will have to channel his CONCACAF form of last season when he burst onto the scene negating Mexican and Costa Rican talent straight up like he was born to the task.
Unfortunately, he has been less spectacular this season and Namoff and Burch have both shown some weaknesses to speed as well, so there’s definitely a worry against Colorado’s ungodly combination at forward. However, hopefully United’s midfield dominates and cuts out chances before they even get to the backline, but you’ve got to figure Colorado gets one at least, so scoring two is imperative.
As mentioned, the intangibles definitely go DC’s way. Colorado has suffocated in the DC humidity as much as United has asphyxiated in their Mile High atmosphere. Colorado is running a bit better in MLS overall at the moment, coming off a win, but they have lost two of their last three, albeit after not losing in eleven games heading into the last month, but they are not particularly scary away from altitude at 2-3-4 with only SJ having given up more goals on the road in the West than Colorado’s 14.
DC on the other hand is pretty decent defensively at home, but Colorado is among the three teams who have given up less at home than DC. Plus, DC hasn’t actually won a game since they were at home almost a month ago and beat the Fire to briefly take the Eastern Conference lead, so this game is crucial considering the schedule ahead.
No chance I say this match is a lock as there is too much bad juju out there in such a declaration. But, DC should win this one if typical MLS patterns hold true. DC is good at home, Colorado is less good away from home. DC has the offensive tools to humble a weakened Colorado defense especially if Gomez takes it upon himself to show Smith what he missed out on.
But, then again, DC’s defense hasn’t shown the same resilience without Jakovic and Cummings and Casey can easily expose mistakes mercilessly. So, DC simply has to find a way to collect all the points or it could be trouble in MLS this year, which would be disaster after last year. As relatively good as DC has done this year, incredibly, their season really does ramble along a knife edge the next few weeks.
As odd as this sounds after so decent an early run so far this season, this game and the road match in SJ could actually could make or break DC’s season. Imagine DC collecting no points in those two matches. They would be at best mid-table in the league, if not drastically worse, and then be facing road matches in Houston, Toronto, Chicago, and Dallas sandwiched around a tough home match against LA. Not a lot of points staring out of that crystal ball.
No other way to slice it, DC has to shoot down the Rapids again or it could be trouble.