Whenever teams face each other twice within a week, especially when there’s been a knockout game in the first meeting, there’s often little point in consulting the form book as almost universally these grudge matches usually become emotional affairs that are decided by ejections as much as by playing the beautiful game. But this time, I’m not so sure RSL will hold any grudges as the Open Cup certainly didn’t seem a priority for them as much as a visit to the White House was apparently. But, of course their league pride as defending champions and a rabid desire to stay near the top in the West could be motivation enough.
Complicating things for the defending champs is their hideously thin bench and the no doubt difficult recovery after the 120 minute loss in the Open Cup Wednesday. With Findley away with the US Nats, Beckerman out with a foot injury, and a rash of hamstring injuries (sound familiar? Perhaps they don’t sprint in practice either) to key depth players like Andy Williams and Chris Wingert, even Argentine attacker Nelson Gonzalez, RSL will very likely struggle mightily late in the rubber match with DC. Especially as the hot and humid Washington summers has obviously hit them like a fish upside the head if that Wednesday performance was any indication.
So, by my calculations, RSL will very likely have no less than six players who played almost the entire Open Cup loss starting again three days later, while DC might rely on one two at most. Even worse for RSL is that the all those players pulling double duty are in the defense or midfield. Beltran and Russell for sure will be expected to go the full match (or as long as possible to keep the unconvincing Schuler off the field), and probably Borchers too, unless Kreis has enough faith in McKenzie joining the rested Olave in the center of defense. In midfield, Grabavoy, Alexandre, and Johnson will all start again as well, unless Kreis takes a flyer on young kid like Warner, or even Gil to make his first start in MLS. Still, Kreis’ offense will pretty fresh as Morales, Saborio, and Espindola only played the final hour or so Wednesday night.
DC, on the other hand, pretty much used up their entire second string and saved their most important players for this league match. Pena and Talley are fresh as daisies, which is good because Saborio and Espindola are a handful for athletic players, much less for those stately and more sedate pillars of DC’s defense. Wallace and Simms too are completely fresh, with only Graye (or perhaps McTavish) needing to pull the double.
United’s attack is pretty fresh too. Allsopp didn’t play at all, while Quaranta, Pontius, and Najar played an hour or less (15 glorious minutes for Najar), and while King or Morsink will have to start again, they could easily split time in this match as they play the same position. Even Hamid in goal got a welcome break, no doubt. So, kudos to Onalfo and Stumpy Kelderman for managing United to the point where they can apparently maneuver very successfully through this 6 matches in 19 days stretch without too much trouble.
So, if that’s how it plays out, looking at the matchups, each team has some pretty big advantages going forward and some pretty bad disadvantages going backward. Even with Allsopp and Olave being a delicious matchup of Mastadons bellowing across the primordial swamps of the Anacostia, adding a rejuvenated, attack first minded Quaranta to the mix going up against the tired Borchers or lumbering McKenizie is a net gain for DC. With Pontius and Wallace having a clear advantage over Grabavoy and Russell, and Najar and Graye having a decent edge over the inconsistent and tired Johnson and Beltran, United should find the back of the net with any luck whatsoever.
However, RSL also has an enormous advantage going at DC with the deadly Saborio and the punishing Espindola matching up with the deliberate Pena and Turtle Talley. In fact, it might even be worth it to start James instead of Talley and let him exact some revenge for that bogus red card at the end of the match Wednesday. However, he is tired and doesn’t seem the most suited to the cold sweet revenge that would be required. He seems much more likely to exact his revenge on Flip with a Samurai splenectomy using only his cleat and a shard of shinpad. Still, there you go, nothing like a little genuine emotion from time to time, especially when James needs games to gain that much needed wisdom.
But, either way, considering even a fresh Simms will struggle to contain the clever Morales and that even a tired Grabavoy is sneaky enough to take advantage of a Wayward Wallace mistake and that a tired Johnson going against a tired rookie in Graye is a complete crapshoot to predict, RSL has advantages all over their offensive end of the field too.
Bottom line is that on paper this game shapes up as a 2-2 draw, but then again, DC should be the fresher and certainly more desperate team with the added edge of playing in front of their rabid support. Add to that RSL’s winless streak here now stretches to 0-4-2 and DC might just have an edge. Of course, RSL’s recent string of five straight wins in MLS trumps United’s modest one match winning streak, but add in the Milan friendly and the Open Cup, and DC is on a decent run too. Both teams have a short week ahead too, but RSL’s is much more daunting as they host LA this coming Wednesday, while DC has an extra day before playing in Seattle.
So there you have it. DC is entering the second third of the season with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, but still possible. They’re fresher and more frantic for points and coming off a thrilling week where they beat Milan, and got two thrilling last second confidence boosting wins. RSL is probably the better team overall, but right at the moment, they are thin and possibly pre-occupied with their upcoming Galaxy showdown. Could be a perfect storm situation for DC to pull off an upset and give themselves some hope for an improbable run back into relevancy in MLS.