Well, for those of us that thought DC’s season was dead and buried, United stunned league leading Columbus Crew for a crucial win. Now, if they can merely become the first MLS team to ever win in Mexico, they would truly have worked a miracle given the way this roller coaster season has gone.
Unfortunately, that’s the Gorilla in the garage that is keeping DC from parking their jalopy out of the rain. Despite the euphoria of winning three straight in the CCL and holding the tie breaker over Marathon, DC is actually not a favorite to go through to the next round as Marathon has the far easier matchup in the last round playing in Trinidad against winless Jabloteh, while DC has to visit Toluca. Where Toluca in Estadio Nemesio Diez Riega is undefeated this season both in league play, and even more ominously in CONCACAF where they haven’t even given up a goal defeating Marathon 7-0 and Jabloteh 3-0.
So, bottom line, this will take an utter fluke. One of those shocking matches that dot world history like the US beating England in 1950, or Steve Sampson winning the double with LA in 2005. Something beyond imagination like DC winning the CONCACAF Cup in 1998 in their third year of existence, over hmmm… ah yes, wasn’t it Toluca? Yes, that’s right, the only MLS team ever to beat a Mexican team in a Cup final was indeed a DC United team led by the Bruce, so it is not without precedent.
Now, call me crazy, but I think this could actually be the right confluence of events for yet another miracle. No, I don’t mean DC will win in Mexico, steady yourselves bwana! Be serious! No, I mean that Marathon will lose in Trinidad. Mark my words, Jabloteh is better than their record to date and Marathon has not traveled well in CONCACAF (0-2 outscored 10-0 while Jabloteh is 0-2 at home, but twice barely losing 1-0 to DC, and more importantly, to Toluca). Plus, Jabloteh just won a huge match in their big six tournament away to Defense Force 5-4 with defender Noel Williams, who scored in Honduras against Marathon, getting a hat-trick.
As for DC, they have no chance in Toluca obviously, even if United were healthy and rested (which they are not) and Toluca’s team bus was gutted by a fire bomb (which of course is cruel to even think about, so I withdraw the analogy, although it does tantalize the mind in reference to Pumas and those cheating hacks from Cruz Azul. But enough of the despicable old testament eye for an eye side of my personality). Still, I almost wonder if this is the exactly the kind of situation that might see the first MLS win in Mexico. A situation where no MLS team has any right to expect to win, but a Mexican team has every expectation to not lose. Those are the banana peel matches as Ramblin’ Ray would say.
No MLS winners in 18 straight matches in Mexico by MLS teams, outscored 60-14, only Houston managing a wacky 4-4 tie at Pumas last year for the only point in Mexico ever. Even the consensus league best Crew got pummeled by Cruz Azul a couple weeks ago 5-0. But that hideous MLS losing streak in Mexico has to end sometime and my suspicion is it will be an MLS team way under the radar that breaks that string against a team that quite rightly should take the competition lightly. All of which sadly points to DC and a dominating Toluca side, but hey, flukes count just as much as deserved wins and DC will take it if Toluca is even close to offering it, and they might be ripe for a slip up.
For one thing, Toluca might well be coming down off their high horse. They are the only Mexican team who has not yet qualified, and they may think it is their due, but if DC beats them and Marathon wins in Trinidad by 4 or 5, Toluca could easily be the only team not to advance, as shocking as that would be. The sausage-makers are indeed nine time Mexican champions and undefeated at home this season, true, but have also tied their last two 1-1 against lowly Tigres and middling San Luis after starting the Mexican Clausura with five straight wins at home, so they are hardly invincible in their house.
They also have shown they will underestimate opponents in CONCACAF. After thumping Marathon in Mexico 7-0, they sent a reserve team, including I believe expecting to play a trainer and a masseuse, to Honduras and lost convincingly giving up an early PK and never coming close to getting back in the match. So after DC gifted them a goal in the first 5 minutes here in RFK, and Mancilla schooled DC’s defense embarrassingly for two late goals in their relatively easy win, it would be hard for them not to underestimate DC.
However, DC will be a far different team than the one that faced them earlier. For one thing, Namoff will not play and he had a howler in that first match coming in as a sub and opening a highway for Toluca down that right side. Plus, Burch, if he plays will not be a central defender so Mancilla can’t count on faking him out of his shorts either. No Ely Allen, Habarugira, etc. This DC will be light-years different even if Soehn rests some big guns.
Considering Pontius was suspended for the Crew, he should start alongside Emilio, who did not play in the first match with Toluca. Gomez, too should be able to play and he never kicked a ball against the Mexicans either and he is DC ‘s best ever player against international competition. Plus, while Fred and Wallace, who came in as a sub in central midfield, played against Toluca the first time, they will be supported by a much better team this time around.
Even better, defensively, Jakovic and James are creating a very tidy central partnership, and McTavish and Burch or John have been more than adequate lately. Now, DC played a 3-5-2 against the Crew, with McTavish in midfield, and god knows Soehn can be counted on to repeat a formation no matter how asinine, but you’d have to think he will know that a 3-5-2 with this current group of players against a wickedly dynamic Mexican team will fail unless he swaps out almost the entire midfield, but there you go. If he does that stop reading this article and move on towards the heavy drinking part of your evening and you might as well keep it going well into Wednesday.
As for said midfield, it might actually be a huge bonus that Olsen got that dastardly red card against Chivas because while that might have scuttled his DC United career at home, it leaves him well available for selection against a silly Mexican team where his experience could be invaluable. His ability to negate a very un-athletic, but incredibly deadly Sinha for example could be crucial to the match.
Bottom line is DC needs some divine intervention to win this one, but there is some reason to hope the soccer gods will be on their side. Now, far more likely is that the soccer gods will goose Jabloteh, but whatever, it all counts.
So, if DC wins, they are through to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League next spring. Even if DC ties or loses, they could go through if Marathon mirrors their tie or loss in Trinidad against Jabloteh, and I’m telling you that is not out of he question.
So cross your fingers tomorrow for DC if you must, but get down on your knees to pray for Jabloteh to win Thursday night.
As for some history about DC playing in Toluca, there’s some very interesting historical mojo for United if the soccer gods are willing to admit it. Estadio Nemesio Diez Riega, one of the oldest stadiums currently used in Mexico and nicknamed “La Bombonera”, is where Mexico was knocked out of the 1970 World Cup (at home!) in the quarterfinals by Italy 4-1, and its no coincidence that was the last time the Mexican National team played a world Cup match anywhere except the Azteca in Mexico City.
Estadio Nemesio Diez Riega is also named after the Toluca club president in 1953, the year the team won the second division and was promoted to the first division, and he remained in charge until 1972 overseeing the team’s first two Mexican league titles (1966-68), as well as their first Mexican Cup (1955) and CONCACAF (1968) titles.
He is also quite possibly the same man who was Vice chairman of Modelo Beer Inc. and the brainchild behind the Corona Beer that you and I guzzle by the truckload with our limes and our faint hopes about being cool. He also might be father of current club owner, Valetin Diez Morodo, too. All of which is not specifically verified, but quite possibility backed up by the name of current president Fernando Corona. I think so. Just too many coincidences in that for me to think otherwise.
As for nicknames, the “Red Devils” suit their red uniforms, but Choriceros truly suits their roots. That section of Mexico gained prominence very early in their history due to their incomparable meat products, especially chorizo which they invented and introduced back to Spain, so much so that Chorizo is almost synonymous with Toluca in Mexico, hence their nickname Choriceros, the sausage-makers.
One final thought is that Toluca was actually founded by Cortez in 1530 with a land grant from Charles V, the holy Roman Emperor, and named for the Aztec god “Tolo”. Tollocan literally means place of Tolo who was supposed to have occupied a nearby volcano. But that volcano has been considered extinct over the past few years, coincidentally the last time Toluca won a significant national trophy.