DC United Host Jabloteh in Crucial CONCACAF Champions League Match

Now, DC’s MLS life might be hanging by a thread after that painful performance this weekend, but United’s international campaign is chugging along nicely as the Black and Red can turn their attention to a competition where things are going their way. With a win at home against the worst team in the group, DC has a golden opportunity for advancement into the knockout phases of the most prestigious tournament in the region.

Now, it does seem a bit presumptuous for United to be expecting any success considering they got hammered at home by one of the worst teams in MLS and are now hosting one of the absolute best teams in the entire Caribbean, but Jabloteh has had a pretty tough week themselves and may be ready to throw in the towel in a competition where they are winless and have been outscored 8-1 including a 1-0 loss to DC in San Juan two weeks ago.

For sure, DC has had some bad news and bad results lately, but so have the Devils Birds. They were pounded in Mexico 3-0 by Toluca a week ago, then traveled back home to get knocked out of their League Cup by Joe Public 2-0 on Friday, and have to turn right around to travel to DC for this matchup. But, they also have worry about their future as they have to turn right around and get ready to defend their league title in Big Six Tournament back home which decides the Trinidad champion. Very possibly the CCL, where they have almost no chance to advance will be the least thing on their minds.

Which does not mean DC should take this match for granted, a lesson they hopefully learned when the Earthquakes trotted into RFK with nothing but pride to play for and spanked DC in a match United desperately need to win in order to keep their MLS playoff hopes under their own control.

Jabloteh will have some pride on the line as well and I can’t imagine they will not play much better than they did the first time these two teams met. Jabloteh strangely showed none of their usual attacking flair, and if anything played a bit meekly, maybe giving DC too much credit in that earlier match. They played virtually a 5-3-2 and barely tried to expose DC with their enormous speed advantage.

There’s no chance the San Juan Kings play that conservative this time around given the situation. They truly have nothing to play for, but they also have nothing to lose either. It could be a track meet in RFK tomorrow and DC would not be the favorites in that scenario I assure you. Especially if United comes out as flat and disinterested as they did against San Jose.

Plus, DC has had some seriously bad news since their stunning win against Marathon last week to put themselves in this catbird position in the CCL. Obviously, the bad performance over the weekend, but also the loss of Namoff possibly for the rest of the year as well his concussion seems a bit worse than was hoped. Then starting goalkeeper Josh Wicks who separated a shoulder and wrenched a knee in that Earthquake debacle and is gone for months as well. So, those two join Moreno, Jakovic, and John who are all suspended for various stupid cards they collected.

So, this match will almost certainly be a very difficult one for DC unless they decide to turn it on and play the way they are capable. Soehn too, has to show that he has learned to be forward thinking in his lineup selections, and not just knee jerk playing players in various positions just because it worked once before. DC pulled out a result against Jabloteh in San Juan with a pretty sketchy group, but there’s no chance those same players can do it again for example.

Assuming Jabloteh does roll out a much more dynamic lineup, dropping some defenders to sprinkle in some exciting attackers like Josh Johnson, who stunned Toluca with the nearest thing Jabloteh got to a goal in Mexico, or their 17 year old phenom Jerrel Britto, to help loosen up the pressure on their already dynamic attackers, Marcano and Peltier, then DC had better be prepared for it. The guys they trotted out last time will not cut it as they barely won then.

Oddly enough, with that in mind, I think Simms will play in central defense. He and James are as smart and as athletic as it gets without Jakovic, so there you go. Now, if Soehn had some guts, he’d take a chance on Vaughn in central defense with James and play McTavish on the right to bookend Burch on the left. Vaughn can certainly play the center as he did for Chivas, but if he hasn’t played there yet for DC, and Simms has been relatively successful lately, I can see sticking with Clyde the Glide back there. Although it would be pretty tempting to have him play midfield where he is actually good, as opposed to defense where he is just competent at best.

In midfield, DC should expect to have to honor Jabloteh’s outside threats more than they had to first time around. Guerra and Jamerson were sucked inside and negated a lot because of their stupid five defender formation. I doubt they make that mistake again and in a 4-4-2, those guys can easily be trouble, especially taking pressure off their playmaker Oliver and spreading the field so DC’s defense can’t collapse on Marcano and Peltier which helped contain them quite nicely the first time these two teams met.

With that in mind, Quaranta (or McTavish) on the right and Wallace on the left would be perfect choices to negate those outside threats as well as get forward credibly. However, maybe both will play anyway as it just seems likely Soehn goes with Wallace in the middle again. A rigid Soehn philosophy seems to be that if something worked once, it should work again. Wallace playing the middle did work in Trinidad and in has worked decently since, but playing decent shouldn’t be what DC is hoping for this time around.

Now, considering how athletic and enterprising Jabloteh can be, it would be great if Soehn could go with Simms and Gomez in the center, but with Simms likely in the defense and Gomez obviously in the doghouse, it seems Wallace and Jacobson or Olsen will get the call in the middle. That is not good news in the slightest. Wallace has not shown the ability to really mark a guy out of the game as he must do on Oliver, and Jacobson showed in Trinidad he has huge defensive flaws and that was against defenders coming at him, not attackers. Now Olsen, god bless him, is past his ability to play against this type of athletic competition 72 hours after playing a tough match. Still, maybe DC gets lucky and Jabloteh will play badly in central midfield, or maybe Soehn will suddenly have an epiphany on the “right blend of players”. We’ll see.

Then at forward, Soehn simply has to go with Pontius and Emilio if there is any god at all. There’s no Moreno to gum up the decision making process, and surely Soehn can’t possibly think Gomez at forward will work as it failed in Trinidad even though Gomez scored and ruled the field in the last 10 minutes when Jabloteh got desperate. No, the only player who has shown any kind of partnership with Emilio has been Pontius so they must play together if DC is to have any productivity out of their snakebit designated player. Those two paired up should be able to crack Jabloteh’s rather pedestrian defense if anyone can.

So, if DC negates the athletic advantage, doesn’t turn the ball over in bad spots in midfield as has been their wont, and avoids too many free kicks to that monstrously tall stick insect, Lawrence, DC should be in good shape to hold the zero. If they come out motivated and threatening and manage to jump on Jabloteh early with some players who have shown some true understanding amongst each other, that should send Jabloteh’s heads down and ice the game.

However, if DC comes out flat and/or Soehn continues to put players in bad spots with his sketchy lineups, then DC could be in for trouble. Obviously, an early mistake like DC has been prone to make, even in Trinidad when they gave Jabloteh three glorious chances to tie the game in the first half minutes after being gifted the early PK, would be catastrophic. But beyond that, even letting this match go to halftime tied will be letting Jabloteh hang around way too long gaining confidence as each minute ticks by.

That’s really the 800 pound gorilla. If DC actually plays hard and tries to win, they will. If they fumble and flail, they will lose and their best chance at any kind of success this season will go down the crapper along with their dwindling playoff hopes.

With a win and a Marathon loss and DC advances out of group play into the quarterfinals next Spring. If DC ties, they would need to hope Marathon gets no better than a tie in their last two matches hosting Toluca and away to Jabloteh. DC could even advance with a 1-0 loss, but DC would need a result in Mexico, or more likely need Marathon to lose both its matches, since DC would still hold the tiebreaker on Jabloteh unless they beat Marathon by six goals. A multigoal loss by DC and they would be eliminated.

As Fred Sanford would say, This is the big one. DC has to pull this one off or they are done for the year. A win and they give themselves an excellent shot at something big to play for next year, but more importantly give themselves some momentum for a decent shot at the MLS glory this year. If they tank this one, no chance they regroup by Saturday for Chivas, and that’s that for the season. Chang will and should lower the boom on this whole dysfunctional mess.

But, how incredible is it that one match could turn an entire dismal season on its ear. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility that DC wins tomorrow and rides a wave to surprise Chivas and KC, and maybe even Columbus. A team that survived this horrific season with such success at the end would be a tough out for even a bogey-team like the Fire in the MLS playoffs.

Hey, it could happen. Despite all evidence to date to the contrary, it could happen. Obviously, wishful thinking, but seriously, this team pulls off the miraculous and does it fairly regularly after digging themselves into titanic holes. As tempting as it is to bury them, just watch them tunnel to the other side and make us all eat our words.

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