This United team is nothing if not resilient considering their record to date and that rousing come from two goals down tie in Seattle. But, facing the altitude in Denver and a scrappy Rapids side after only four days later is usually a recipe for disaster. Now, it may well be another futile performance, but something tells me this time DC has the guts and depth to break that ugly string of losses to the Rapids.
Yes, all the signs say this is a loss for DC. Why even bother to rationalize and imagine dreamlike scenarios of even getting a point in this match, you say. DC United has lost five straight in Colorado, gone 0-7-2 since 2000. Yes, I’m aware of the history. However, I do think this time things will be different for a number of reasons. Hey, streaks got to end sometime, eh? And I’m nothing if not optimistic right?
First of all, DC is deep as I have mentioned many times before and will again. Soehn brought essentially the entire team and I think he will use the majority of them. I can fully imagine him trotting out a complete second side in defense for example. Namoff and Jakovic have had precious little rest lately, and Burch played his worst game of the year in Seattle, so maybe all of them sit this one out. I can easily see the entire second team defense of McTavish, Janicki and Avery John playing this match and doing just fine thank you very much.
In midfield, Fred is out, and Pontius, Wallace, and especially Simms have had very little rest. Plus, Simms is a tricky one to replace normally, but not this week as John DiRaimondo should have no problems with the altitude having played for Colorado the last two years. Plus, you could easily pencil in Boyzzz and Barklage for Pontius and Wallace respectively. They’re not as good for sure, but they can play and DC has lost in Colorado with superstars on the pitch, so what’s lost if you try a few young hungry types?
Playing some bottom of the bench types is even more compelling when you consider you still will have some veteran leadership even without Moreno who did not even travel with the team. Olsen will surely start this match as it’s idiotic to think his ankles were brought along on two long plane flights just to sit the bench. Plus, Gomez only played 45 in Seattle and hasn’t played a whole lot lately overall. Emilio too had an unscheduled rest and should be good to go and he’s the only guy that’s even scored in Colorado for DC recently.
Plus, those two former back to back league MVPs have more than enough motivation to prove themselves in this match. Emilio because he’s been frustrated and suspended lately, but still has more goals than any other player in the league over the past two plus years. And Christian Gomez languished on the scrap heap in Colorado as he spent a season in that purgatory last year before coming back home. And Christian holds grudges. Christian was not happy with DC’s contract offers and he made DC pay last year setting up Peterson for the winning goal in Colorado last year. Christian hardly played at all for Colorado last year, but Christian found a way to influence that game. Bottom line Christian, like Jimmy, holds grudges and will see vengeance carried out.
Also, Colorado is a little thin right now without Conor Casey, and probably without Terry Cooke. Casey is their bull in a china shop and he would probably cause enormous problems for DC, but he is in South Africa. The Rapids just traded for Pat Noonan and Omar Cummings is very good and lightning fast, but without Casey, they are not as dangerous. Nor is their midfield as scary without Cooke’s deadly crosses and dead ball strikes.
Colin Clark is having a very good season and will be trouble for sure, Mehdi Ballouchy is another talented, but more inconsistent element in their midfield, and of course Mastroeni will be his usual delicate and refined self, elegantly stopping United attacks with cleats, elbows, or teeth, depending on the situation. Still, Colorado’s midfield is no where near as frightening as others DC has faced this year. Mastroeni on his worst day has got nothing on Joseph and Larentowicz for example.
But Colorado is really tough to score on at home anyway. The thin air for sure has something to do with that, but so does Gary Smith’s defense first philosophy. Colorado may have a partnership with Arsenal, but Smith sure makes it look a lot more like he is trying to recreate Millwall. The Rapids have only given up 4 goals at home and only Houston has done better to date, but then again Seattle had only given up four at home until DC hung three on them Wednesday.
Still, Colorado’s backline of Harvey, Palguta, Gibbs, and Ihemelu (maybe Kimura, with Ihemelu moved inside for Palguta) is about as good as it gets in MLS. Again only Houston and Chivas have given up less goals. But, then again, DC has beaten Houston and tied Chivas 2-2 in LA, so there you go.
Bottom line is that Colorado is much better than they are typically portrayed and this will certainly be a tough match for DC. However, I really like the matchups for DC no matter who plays for the Black and Red, but I especially like the matchups if Soehn plays the fresher and hungrier bottom half of the roster.
Thinking defense first, I like the way Janicki angles off and out-positions fast players like Cummings or Noonan. He absolutely ate up Cunningham and Cooper as well as Donovan and Kirovski the few times he’s played this season, so the streaky Cummings and the tricky Noonan should be no trouble. I like the way John will takes no prisoners when locking down his side of the field. I think McTavish will struggle with Colin Clark (but so would Namoff, or anyone in MLS), and I think the one player who deserves a rest but should play is Pontius as Soehn should really put the youngster on the right to help out with containing Clark particularly.
As for the rest of the midfield, I have no problem with DiRaimondo playing against Ballouchy, he should know him well. Nor Barklage against Peterson, especially as I fully expect Gomez and Olsen to overwhelm Mastroeni in the center which will help starve those wide guys of the ball. Now, Emilio and Quaranta (or N’Silu) against Gibbs and Palguta (or Ihemelu) is a bit more sketchy. If former MVP Emilio and recent team MVP Santino show up, then DC has a good shot. If the shadows of those players show up to play as has happened on the road, especially for Emilio, then that’s trouble for DC.
The situation, the history, almost everything points to another DC loss, but I think this team has the ability to put all that heartache to rest. Especially if they score first as they almost always do on the road. Colorado’s offense without Casey is no where near as good as Seattle or Chivas or LA with Donovan, and DC got results in all those places. True, they tripped up in RSL as usual, but this team is miles better than that team two months ago.
This is a tough one to expect, but take a flyer on DC pulling off an upset this week. With a win or tie, DC keeps on top of the East no matter what the Crew do in Dallas. Now, who would have had DC leading the Eastern conference at the halfway point of the season after the turnover from last year? Their unbelievable road resiliency is the reason they are in this position, but that has been mostly improbable ties to this point. Now’s a good time for an improbable win.