Well, no sense putting too much thought into this preview. DC quite simply has nothing to play for while Toronto is merely 4 points out and scrambling viciously for their first ever MLS playoff slot. They are playing at home too after a dismal road spell lately that includes a loss in Dallas and a controversial 0-0 draw in Chicago where arguably TFC was gypped out of a couple PKs when Ramon Hernandez swallowed his whistle on two obvious handball calls in the Fire penalty area. Then again, Ljungberg buries a breakaway and TFC might have lost or tied anyway.
But, DC is the real wild card in this match. They are buried under a wave of injuries in a simply horrendous season, and even at best would likely have trouble in this match, but if they pack it in and start thinking of their winter plans early, it could be brutally ugly if TFC finds their scoring touch.
However, that is the rub and why a solid effort from DC could easily end up with both teams sharing the points. TFC has a mere one goal in their past five matches as Chad Barrett pulled hamstring a month ago and took the team’s offense with him. So, considering DC couldn’t even get a shot on goal at home last week, getting a goal in Toronto seems out of reach completely, but TFC might not be able to find the net either.
DC will be without rookie keeper Bill Hamid as he mulls over shoulder surgery while he does his penance at home for that hideous blunder against Columbus last week. DC also has Burch shelved for the season with a broken foot as well as Pontius mulling over surgery for a balky hamstring, plus have lost Jed Zayner to a sprained ankle, in addition to their usual cast of injured characters. So, Olsen will be cobbling together a lineup for sure.
Perkins replaces Hamid in goal and gets a chance to turn around his pitiful season, but unfortunately it will be behind a defense that hasn’t been all that successful earlier in the season either. Jakovic is back from his Canadian duties to partner with James in the middle, and without Zayner, Burch or even Wallace back from his broken leg, DC turns back the clock to July when Graye and McTavish last manned the corners in a league match. That would be a winless July for DC, by the way for those taking notes.
On the bright side, DC’s offense is intact now that Boskovic is back from Euro qualifying with Monenegro. Even though Cristman is probably lost for the season, Hernandez and Allsopp are available to flail away in futility in Toronto’s penalty area. Then Najar, Quaranta, and Simms recalled from his central defensive duties last week round out the midfield. Granted it’s a thin bench, but the usual anemic starters are available anyway. Perhaps they’ll even score. One can hope.
Toronto has their own problems though as they gear up for the playoffs and try to handle their CONCACAF group schedule too. They’ve played a ton of games lately and have a ton more coming up. DeRosario especially is getting worn down and has faded lately without Barrett or Santos to help him with the load offensively. They also have Usanov suspended for the stupid yellow gathered in Chicago on Wednesday.
So, their lineup seems likely to be DeRo and O’Brien White at forward, Labrocca and DeGuzman in central midfield with Gargan and Peterson on the outsides. In defense, Either Hscanovics or pitbull Garcia at right back with Harden and Cann in the center and Attakora on the left.
If so, the matchups do actually favor DC somewhat if they put forth a decent effort as the strength of TFC is right down the center, but so is the strength of DC defensively and arguably offensively too. Jackovic and James are a nice foil for a tired DeRo and an unlucky White, with Jakovic especially knowledgeable about his Canadian teammate DeRo. Then the petulant Peterson and the gritty Gargan shouldn’t be that difficult for McTavish and Graye to handle.
The same theme continues into midfield as Simms and Boskovic should be fine against Toronto’s braincase Labrocca and DeGuzman, while Attakora and Hscanovics (and certainly Garcia) aren’t really that offensive minded enough to pin back Quaranta or Najar. So, TFC should struggle to score, especially considering their form of late.
Unfortunately, DC will struggle to score too. They are already almost a lock for the worst offensive team in MLS history with 15 goals in 23 games and tied a league record for being shutout 15 times already. And that’s before analyzing the matchups. Hernandez and Allsopp are lively enough, but precision in front of goal has been lacking, so Cann and Harden have to merely be competent to thwart them. Now, if they get some luck or find their touch, the center of defense is TFC’s weakness, but that seems a stretch for DC to expect in this painful year. Najar will not get past the very athletic and physical Attakora very often, nor is Quaranta likely to have that much luck against Hscanovics or Garcia for that matter. TFC has shut out LA and RSL at home recently, surely DC’s pitiful offense has no chance.
Even the intangibles only favor DC slightly despite a 5-2-1 record against TFC overall. Unfortunately, those two losses came the last two times DC has played at BMO field. However, TFC has crumbled a bit of late even at home. They are 0-1-1 in their last two at home giving up four goals to NY in their first home loss of the season after going 6-0-4 at BMO up to that point.
Of course, DC is even more hideous on the road having won only one match all year away from RFK and has lost three on the trot by shutout lately after a couple of road ties in July (yes, Graye and McTavish started then and for sure Bennie could use that karma now). In fact, DC has only one goal on the road since winning in Seattle before the World Cup, and if one is to be honest, DC has a total of 6 goals on the road and only two of them are really deserved goals. Two of them were deflections (Q in Philly and Pontius in Seattle), one should never have counted (Moreno in Philly) and another is due to a miraculous fumble by Kasey Keller, so really DC has only two legit goals on the road all year (Cristman in Seattle and Najar in SJ).
Bottom line is that DC has dig down to find the will to play better than they have all year in a game that has less meaning than any game they have played to date. Granted, they are playing for their jobs next year, but do they really want those jobs? With this team? Seriously? Even playing the spoiler role and seriously denting TFC’s playoffs hopes is a pretty hollow goal. Hard to see DC with the motivation or skill to win this one, but perhaps TFC is equally inept in front of goal and DC snags another point which, by the way, will ensure they will not be the worst team ever in MLS history. No small feat there considering the pain DC fans have endured to date.
Now, if they pack it in and don’t bother to show up in Toronto, then this match could get seriously ugly. Especially as arguably the best big game player in MLS history who has almost never missed out on the playoffs in his MLS career, Dwayne DeRosario, simply decides to drag Toronto kicking and screaming into the playoffs by his lonesome, then DC is in trouble as he could easily hang a brace on DC and that’s far too many for this frail United to think about overcoming.
But he is stretched thin of late and Preki refuses to budge from his defense first philosophy to give him any serious help, so TFC may well continue to struggle to score, which will ply into DC’s hands as the longer it goes 0-0, the better DC’s chances for a point, or even amazingly the full three. And if that thee points knocks out TFC from the playoffs, that’s a bonus.