DC United has more US Open Cup trophies than the Union have games played, but that’s the way it goes when a new expansion team opens at home for the first time. However, more importantly for both teams is the fact that each are looking for their first goal of the season, much less their first point, so on top of everything else this game should be about as intense as it gets this early in an MLS season.
Obviously United does not want to be the first team to lose to the new guy in the league, but there’s also the added edge of playing their old coach, The Emperor Perfect Peter, who led DC to its last MLS Cup in 2004, as well as facing a couple players the Union picked up from DC in Fred and Andrew Jacobson. Plus, with new DC assistant coach Ben Olsen from the eastern PA area and having played in the Philly area growing up, there is obviously some serious bragging rights at stake as well.
Then there’s the bad blood that was created when Nowak and Co. held Perkins for ransom just before draft day and exacted well over their pound of flesh in snagging Fred as well as DC’s number one pick. Of course now there’s a bit of karmic backlash as now Philly is in the market for a scorer and United is holding Emilio’s rights for ransom, no doubt hoping to get as good as they gave. But, no question a deal will not be reached until after the match this weekend. No chance DC’s brainstaff wants their former MVP scoring against them this week.
Then there’s only the little thing of about 1000 or more DC fans heading up to Lincoln Field which obviously caught the Union stadium staff by surprise as they have interestingly moved the DC fans from their original seats near the Philly supporter’s section to all the way across the stadium. Now, the cynic in me says their original plan was to drown out the DC fans with their own SOB’s, but when the actual numbers got crunched, they punted that plan and banished the Eagles, Barra and La Norte to the upper deck probably hoping the legendary cheering of the DC fans doesn’t dominate their entire stadium.
But enough of all that backstory, the important stuff is in the match itself where DC is facing almost a must win situation. There are few teams in this league DC has the talent edge over, and Philly is one of them, so they can’t afford to waste these points like they did last week to NE. Starting the season 0-3, all of them Eastern Conference losses including an expansion team that got blasted in their first match almost as bad as DC did, would be darn near catastrophic for the once proud Black and Red.
It’ll be interesting to see who Onalfo starts at forward as both Moreno and Pontius have been ineffective and Allsopp has barely cracked the lineup at all. My feeling is that Allsopp and Pontius should start as I explained midweek, but I have a suspicion Moreno will be out there come time for the opening whistle. Considering Califf and Orozco are likely to start in central defense for Philly since the serial back kneer Stahl is suspended, this is a huge decision for Onalfo as I don’t think Moreno or Pontius will have an easy time with either one of those guys, while the Aussie battering ram might have a bit more luck, but we’ll see.
I’d be shocked if DC’s midfield or backs changed at all though. Maybe McTavish or James for Talley, but I can’t really see that happening. DC showed excellent improvement in the midfield and backline, so I can’t see messing with that. Barklage on the right was very effective, while Tino and Castillo are developing some very nice chemistry, and maybe Morsinck has turned the corner on his previously lackluster career.
Nowak, however should be making some changes from his bizarre lineup in their opening loss in Seattle, and he’ll have had over two weeks to implement his changes too since they haven’t played since the opening game of the MLS season. It was tragic the way he wasted Mwanga in midfield and marginalized Torres and Jacobson playing them wide in positions not really suited for them. Hopefully he does that again of course, but I suspect Mwanga plays forward with Curious George, while LeToux drops back to right midfield, which will allow him to put Torres and Jacobson (or maybe Miglioranzi) into their more natural central roles, since Fred comes off suspension and is likely to man the left side for them like he did for DC for three years.
Nowak will also have to do some shuffling in his defense too as not only is Stalh suspended, but he flat out cut his starting right back David Myrie after that opening match performance. Now, granted Myrie stunk, but playing Zakuani is tough for anyone and not only that, Philly has no other obvious choices to play there. He could maybe slide the lefty Harvey over there and play Orozco on the left to bring in Sharvar Thomas into the middle, which might be his best bet, but that’s a lot of shuffling and Thomas isn’t nearly as good as Orozco.
Now, it would be just bitter if somehow Philly manages to land USL defender of the year Christian Arrieta before this match as he would own that right side immediately, but with nothing signed as I type this, maybe DC catches a break there and Nowak is forced into some makeshift juggling in his defense that should be advantage DC. We’ll see.
Anyway, if all that comes to pass, there will be some lovely matchups to watch. Barklage and Talley against Fred and Harvey on DC’s right side, then LeToux and player X against Castillo and Wallace on the left. Since I don’t see either team with any real obvious advantage down the center, how those wing matchups play out seems likely to determine the match, and I like DC’s chances.
Even the intangibles favor DC. Despite never having played the Union, when DC has faced an expansion team for the very first time, United is 6-0-1. The tie coming last year in Seattle 3-3, but DC soundly beat the Fire and Fusion by two goals each in 1998, Thrashed RSL and Chivas in 2005, squeaked by TFC in 2007, and beat SJ easily in 2008. Twice it was the expansion franchise’s home opener too, Miami and Chivas, so DC has never been the first team to lose to an expansion side ever and they average a two goal cushion overall.
Hopefully, that trend continues in Philly. Good thing it’s at the Linc, too as no MLS side has ever lost their stadium opening game. So, perhaps the gods are favoring DC by steering them clear of the opening match in Chester that some poor team is going to have to endure come June.
As for a prediction, this match has 0-0 written all over it. Nowak will keep it tight and frustrate DC hoping for a break on the counter using the Nicol playbook that worked so well last week, but I can’t see DC falling apart like they did to lose that one. I also can’t see any obvious ways DC will score either, unless a wacky MLS referee sticks his nose in their with a PK or two. Both teams should be close to playoff intensity, so goals are likely to be hard to come by and neither offense has showed much promise so far. So, maybe it’s a barnburner, but I doubt it. I think they share the points in a small step forward for both sides.
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