As much as it hurts to lose a trophy contested on your home field, it would hurt even worse to have that very same team come in your house barely ten days later and deliver a swift kick right into DC’s playoff hopes if Seattle was to win again. Make no mistake, this match is crucial to both teams playoff hopes.
No question United should be primed and ready to administer some payback for that pitiful Open Cup loss, but United has some troubling issues in the personnel and performance department, as well as tired legs facing their ninth match in 28 days, while Seattle is rested and returning to health. But, with a mere five matches left in the season, DC has to find a way to win, or for the second year in a row, DC could be on the outside looking at Seattle playing in the post-season.
As incredible as it sounds for a team that has a ridiculous 7 points in their last 3 games (two on the road), DC is playing incredibly badly and still has lineup and tactical problems this late in the season. But, Seattle has been struggling too and both teams are solidly on the playoff bubble so the winner has a distinct advantage at making a run for the another much more important Cup.
Of course I think even Tempestuous Tommy will have to acknowledge the fish upside his head and play four in the back against Seattle, but unfortunately Jakovic and Burch are no closer to playing and while United’s back four against KC got the shutout, I think we can all agree that perhaps that was more providence than performance.
However, Soehn may well have hit upon a lovely solution by putting Wallace in the back and playing McTavish in central defense. Yes, McTavish was beaten like a rented mule by Claudio Lopez, and James had his worst outing yet (and that’s saying something), but McTavish is a competent player who hasn’t played in the back in a while, so he will rebound and James is athletic if nothing else. He may not have much of a soccer IQ yet, but he can bang bodies and has the speed to recover from mistakes. Plus, Wallace adds a very nice element when attacking out of the back.
Seattle on the other hand does lose Freddie Ljungberg to yellow cards, but welcomes back Nate Jaqua and Tyrone Marshall from injuries as well as Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who was suspended from that Open Cup final. So, I think overall, they are in a lot better shape than the team that dominated DC in RFK for the Dewar Trophy.
Apparently Jaqua does not have a serious concussion, so it’s very likely Seattle starts him and he has been crucial to their attack lately scoring or assisting on 7 of their last 8 goals in league play. Thundering Nate alongside Montero who has scored both times he’s faced United, and enticed Wicks into that appalling stomp last week, is not a pretty prospect for DC. Sigi the Hutt can also replace Ljungberg realatively easily with Seattle legend Sebastion Le Toux, and of course number one draft pick Steve Zakuani hasn’t gotten any slower over the last ten days either. All of which is not good news for a fragile DC defense.
But Wicks appears to have come back from his meltdowns a much better person and despite enormous provocation to excoriate his woeful defense in the KC match, he kept his calm and even boosted a few flagging defenders when they needed it. Wicks might really be the key too as he has 3 shutouts in the last four matches and five overall for the season, the most for a DC keeper since Troy Perkins was in goal for the Black and Red.
It’ll be interesting to see what Soehn does offensively though. Playing the 4-4-2 limits his choices in central midfield. Simms obviously must play to help the sketchy defense, but Gomez struggled to contribute and was subbed out for Olsen. Unfortunately, almost all imagination in the attack went out with him. Plus, moving Wallace to the backline limits the options on the wings to Pontius and Quaranta, which is fine, but means Moreno must start at forward and play most of the game, something Soehn has shown reluctance to do twice in one week. Plus, Quaranta and Pontius are the most dynamic players DC has in the offense right now, so pulling them back farther from goal is not good.
So, all in all, I fully expect Soehn to trot out the same lineup as KC and expect the same result. That might be the definition of insanity, but DC seems to have very little options at this point unless he throws out Habarugira, or the newly acquired Lawson Vaughn right into the fire from the waiver wire which could unlock DC’s midfield conundrum, but then again Vaughn was waived from Chivas for a reason. It’s not like he’s a misunderstood artist or something like that, and it’s really sad that DC appears to be depending on the scraps from the waiver wire instead of coaching up the promising young players they have tossed aside like Janicki who will end his United career with “back spasms”.
So, let’s break it down assuming all the assumptions on lineups are reasonably correct. Obviously, Emilio and Moreno have a stiff challenge ahead of them in Marshall and Hurtado, not to mention Keller who is hands down the best keeper in the league (and that’s saying something too). They will almost certainly be negated by that withering central defense, so the crucial difference will have to come from the midfield.
Gomez against Alonso is not a good matchup for DC, but United’s playmaker did wriggle away for a dynamite goal in the 3-3 draw in Seattle, so there is hope. Much more promising are Quaranta and Pontius on the outsides. For Quaranta, Zakuani is an indifferent defender and Gonzalez is a bit dodgy too. Both are light’s out going forward, so Q will have to defend more than he likes, but going the other way he can get loose on those two as well. Pontius on Riley is even better and the Pilot tore up Seattle in that 3-3 draw too scoring and hitting the cross that Marshall nodded in for the tying goal.
Defensively, DC will have to cross their fingers a bit. Now that’s worked for going on a month now in league play, so there’s merit in simply hoping for more shots right at Wicks or into the signage behind the goals. No question Seattle has the attacking talent to overwhelm DC, but then again aside from the Open Cup match, Seattle only has 3 goals in their past seven matches in MLS going 1-3-3 over that span. So they are hardly frightening especially without Ljungberg.
Even the intangibles do not favor Seattle. DC is 6-0-5 at home outscoring 16 to 8, Seattle is 2-4-5 on the road with a negative 1 GD having given up 14 in those 11 matches. Whether or not Seattle scores is really the key to this match. So far this season, if they score a goal, they get points, if they don’t score, they pretty much lose as all of their 6 losses are by shutout. So, if DC pitches another bagel (soccer gods clearly with their thumb on the scales), then they’re in pretty good shape.
But both teams are equally desperate for points too. While DC has been improbably collecting points lately, Seattle has been dropping them like manhole covers in league play. However, DC has played almost their entire season already having only having this match and a mere 3 more matches at home where they can dare to expect points. Yet, Seattle is actually in even more desperate straits as despite their juggernaut start to the season as they are barely in the hunt right now and finish with four of their last six away starting with tomorrow night in RFK.
So there you go. If the soccer gods continue to smile on DC for another week, the good guys have a chance at their best four game run so far this season. Better to be lucky than good at least right at the moments in MLS play anyway. However, if dominating DC for that Open Cup trophy breaks Seattle out of their recent funk, then United could be in serious trouble and completely overmatched like they were bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Hope Wicks is wearing his body armor.