For two proud and arrogant franchises this season has been a nightmare with both teams wallowing in seventh place in their respective conferences at the moment. But, changes are in the wind and both teams will be looking to jump start the second half of their seasons with some new faces to get themselves back to respectability at least.
DC United returns to RFK for the first time in almost two months and after collecting a promising 5 points in their four game road swing starting with that win in Seattle just before the World Cup break, so they can claim at least a modest amount of momentum. Even more promising is the game being played on the first day of the transfer should allow the Black and Red to unveil their shiny new attackers, Argentine forward Pablo Hernandez and midfielder Branko Boskovic, as long as their paperwork comes through on time.
Seattle has a shiny new attacker too, Blaise Nkufo, fresh off playing for Switzerland in the World Cup. But having just joined the team here in DC, it’s unlikely he plays more than some sub minutes if at all. For United, Hernandez has been practicing for weeks and surely could start if he’s earned it, but Boskovic has only recently been introduced to the legendary suffocating Washington heat waves, and almost certainly will come on as a sub at best.
For once, DC will be facing a team with worse injury concerns than their own too. Seattle will be missing winger Freddy Ljungberg ostensibly for an ankle injury, both central midfielders as Brad Evans is out with a knee and Alonso has been slow to come back from hamstring injury although he did play some minutes in their last match. Rookie Mike Seamon replacing Evans rolled an ankle too in that last match too, but is expected to play. The loss of Hurtado to a season ending knee injury has severely weakened their central defense as well.
So, with Sigi shuffling his lineups fairly regularly due to injuries and trying to break out of four match winless streak dating to United’s shocking win in Seattle, it’s tough to say exactly how Seattle will line up. For sure, it will be a 4-4-2 because with Jaqua finally back, they now have a partner for sophomore slumping Freddy Montero. It’s a lock last year’s number one draft pick and current Seattle leading scorer, Steve Zakuani, will start on the left.
For the rest of the midfield it seems likely Sigi goes with the same team that tied Dallas last week to break their three game losing streak. Which means Seattle will go with a complete second string midfield with Seamon and Nathan Sturgis in central midfield, Sanna Nyassi starting on the right for the suspended Miguel Montano, their newly signed young Colombian who was introduced to the league and sent to the showers in the same match for a wild tackle on Brek Shea.
In defense, Sigi still has some concerns though. Gonzalez has been solid, but Ianni and Parke have been sketchy at best, with Tyrone Marshall strangely absent of late. Then Riley is attacking well but defending abysmally as usual. That group held on gamely for 88 minutes, but also gave up the late goal snatching a draw from almost a certain win. It’ll be interesting to see if Sigi controls his natural instinct to strangle them for that lapse and gives them the benefit of the doubt, or brings back Marshall and maybe some other faces like Tyson Wahl or Taylor Graham. Keller in goal will be a lock though, and he won’t be likely to give up any soft goals like he did last time the two teams met either.
Going against that DC is far more settled and has had plenty of time to adjust to their myriad of injuries, so they are virtually full strength. The only question will be the starting forward, whether it is Hernandez or Cristman or Allsopp, and how many minutes Boskovic gets if any. The rest of the team is almost set in stone at this point.
So, looking at the matchups, Cristman (or Allsopp) and Quaranta have been anemic to say the least, but maybe Hernandez breathing down their necks as well as the complete lack of fear in facing Ianni and Parke will spark some efficiency from them in front of the net. Pontius and Najar have been pretty lively in the attack as well, and Pontius should have an edge in confidence based on his two goals against them last time out as well as facing their weakest defender in Riley. But Najar doesn’t seem likely to find much joy going against Gonzalez. Nor does it seem likely King will get upfield too much against his recent former teammate, Sturgis.
Defensively, Jaqua and Montero will be a handful, but James and Jakovic have been very solid of late. As long as James keeps his cool and doesn’t give up too many free kicks or catch a probably well deserved red card, they should be fine handling the rugged but rusty Jaqua and the lone surviving frustrated Freddy. Zakuni is a serious concern for McTavish, but Graye will have no problem with the speedy, but woefully inadequate Nyassi. Simms too shouldn’t have too much trouble with the hobbled Seamon, maybe enough that he can help out McTavish.
Seems likely whoever scores first will be the winner though as both teams have serious offensive problems of late. DC has only a pitiful one goal in their past three matches since hanging 3 on Seattle, while the Sounders come into this match with a mere goal a game over the past three matches. However defensively, DC has been much better only giving up 3 goals, with one shutout last time out in NY, in the three matches since the world cup break, while Seattle has given up 7 in the same span. So, the trends favor DC somewhat and become a huge advantage if they score first. But, having been shut out 10 times already this year, that first goal has obviously been elusive.
Which leads us into the intangibles. DC has been horrible at home until recently, but they have won 2 and tied 1 of their last 4 at RFK outscoring opponents 5-4, so that’s trending up. Seattle is trending the other way as they started the season 1-0-2 on the road, but have lost 4 straight on the road since May 15 being outscored 9-2 in the process.
Interestingly in their short history, DC has met Seattle only four times and neither team has won at home yet, with bunches of goals scored at Qwest in the 3-3 tie last year and the 3-2 win this year, while two very tight losses here in RFK as DC dropped a couple 2-1 losses to Seattle within a four days last August including the snarling Open Cup final. So, a United win would break tradition but might well be in the cards if they can find that pesky first goal. Perhaps Hernandez gets introduced to MLS with a bang and ignites a moribund DC offense. Now that would be respectable.