DC United and Chivas top their respective conferences and this meeting of the two best records in MLS is about as classic as it gets even beyond their respective offensive and defensive stats. It is really the irresistible force versus the immovable object in terms of how these two teams got themselves to the top of the league with completely opposite methods and circumstances.
After a relatively slow start, DC United has surged to the top of the East with miraculous goals at opportune times to bail out their wildly inconsistent play, while Chivas is exactly the opposite in that they have been rock solid consistent right from the get go, and have pulled off some stunning defensive plays at just the right time to keep themselves at the very top of the table overall. So, something has to give one way or the other in this classic early season matchup of the best of the best.
Obviously, Chivas has the advantage in this being at home where they have let in a mere two goals in six matches including their ‘away’ match with LA, and none since giving up those two in their first two home games of the year. Even more remarkable is their giving up only three goals total in nine matches so far this year. Thornton playing out of his mind is obviously part of that, but Chivas is also the most organized and disciplined team in the league playing under arguably the best motivator in the league in Preki, who continues to find results no matter who takes the field for that injury riddled side.
DC United on the other hand is remarkably healthy overall, yet has used their depth just as well to make them probably the most feared attack in the league despite their sometimes erratic play, and Soehn clearly has them playing right up to the final whistle as their numerous last second heroics attest.
However, that really is the biggest difference between the two teams in terms of their results. Chivas gets ahead and closes out games in an almost brutally boring grind it out fashion, and they are never shy in the tackle. DC, on the other hand is never boring as they also typically take the lead, but then fall apart a bit and let the other team back in it, and they rarely seem to really put the lumber to anyone. Still, United always seems to find a way to make it interesting.
Even the players that make up each team are pretty much the opposite as well. DC relies on a lot of young talent with some savvy veterans thrown in, while Chivas is basically veteran from top to bottom even with the injury problems they have had, with a bare couple of young players sprinkled in.
Looking at the likely matchups there are some tough tasks for DC depending on who Soehn chooses to trot out there. As usual, nobody outside the team knows yet who even flew out there, but some educated guesses should be pretty close. It seems extremely unlikely that Olsen made the trip for example. He’s barely practiced and why subject his ankles and hamstring to a five hour flight if not absolutely necessary.
So, thinking offensively for DC and considering the wall and moat Chivas typically build in front of Zach Thornton, I would imagine Soehn starts his big guns to have the best chance to break through. Which means Emilio, Moreno, and Gomez will be in the main attacking positions for United. They have about as good a chance as anyone to get through the gang of four, Marsch, Nagamura, Sharvar Thomas and Talley that Chivas will play centrally.
Out wide will be a bit more interesting, and it may well depend on how Preki chooses to replace the suspended Kljestan. If Preki goes old school banger and plays Hospital Harris, who beat the crap out of United in their win out there last year, then some care would have to go into matching up against him. Or he may go with a bit more grace and offensive firepower with young Gerson Mayen, who he plays will go a long way in tipping his hand to how he expects the game to be played. So, if it’s youth for Preki on their right side, then I think it’s Wallace for DC. But, it wouldn’t be right for Soehn to allow Atiba the Hun to pillage DC’s rookie winger, so maybe Fred or Quaranta would be a better choice in that scenario.
Their left is much more predictable as Preki will likely go with the Serbian Bojan Stepanovic, and Soehn is almost certain to start Pontius. This will be a huge test for the rookie too as he really has to help pull apart Chivas’ defense as well as keep Bornstein pinned back if DC is to have any real success. Jacobson, who seems likely to play for Olsen, could be a wild card too as some long range shots might loosen Chivas up as well.
Defensively, Soehn seems determined to continue his round robin goalkeeping as Kocic was dropped and didn’t make the trip. Now, normally I would go with Crayton for sure, but I suspect Wicks might get the start Soehn isn’t through toying with Crayton’s mind just yet. I’m not a big advocate of a merry go round between the posts, but more on that later as I think this drama has way more acts to come.
However, in the field I fully expect Namoff, Jakovic and Burch, although Janicki and John would be just fine too. Now, wouldn’t that be something to see John and Atiba Harris go at it like a couple of dinosaurs wrestling in the primordial ooze? I’d pay to see who staggers away from that matchup.
But, either way, DC should be in good shape as Chivas really relies on efficiency in the attack as opposed to real creativity or speed. Lillingston jumps offside too much and Braun relies on living up to his name too much to really be that scary to defend, which is why Nagamura leads to team in scoring. If Galindo and Mayen or Flores play, they add that speed dimension that would be scary, but DC still has the guys to defend that if they concentrate for 90 minutes.
But, that’s the rub. DC has yet to close out any game except Houston at RFK. They have played way above the rim for long stretches, but have also played like a rec. league team often enough to let efficient teams burn them. No doubt DC is fully capable of beating Chivas, but they are just as capable of getting blanked 2-0 too. Hard to believe this will be the match where they string it all together.
So considering all that, DC is not likely to win this game, maybe a tie if the soccer gods continue to favor them, but that’s OK for now. Winning in May is nice, but winning in October is far better. Chivas with their discipline and veterans will grind out results for the regular season, but they will hit a ceiling and probably not make it far in the playoffs. DC on the other hand will take their lumps but should continue to get better and that could be huge come MLS Cup time.
As for the rest of the league, another so-so week on the league predictions, I really should just bag this whole segment and go back to sniffing glue, but I’m too stubborn, so the search for the perfect week continues like the Bataan Death March.
Of course it doesn’t help that DC let me down horribly with that Toronto tie. Then NE got away with a handball and scraped a tie in Chicago to scuttle me there, and finally LA kept themselves undefeated on the road incredibly in Seattle. I’m starting to sour on Seattle and maybe sweeten on LA. However, I called the Crew’s first victory of the year, as well as pegged the Houston-Dallas winner and score exactly, and Chivas scraping by RSL too. So, all in all I was 3-3 on the weekend’s matches and remain 2 games under .500 at 30-32 overall.
The weekend ahead:
Chicago at Toronto where the winner likely takes the lead in the East. Chicago has actually played better away from home than at Toyota Park, but Toronto is really solid at home. This one really is too close to call. So, I’m going with the homer pick and saying Toronto 1-0.
Colorado at NE will be the snorefest of the weekend. Colorado stinks on the road and NE stinks overall despite their .500 record. But, Nicol will find a way to squeeze out a 1-0 win.
Houston at NY will be interesting. NY is approaching respectability lately, but Houston is poised for a surge of their own and have one of the best defenses in the league. Tie 1-1.
Seattle at Dallas – I’m tempted to say Seattle will steamroll the hapless hoops, but I am souring on Seattle a little lately. So, Dallas 2-1 and the Hyndman death watch is put off for another week at least.
KC at RSL – RSL wins going away as they love playing at home and KC’s attack has gone into the witness protection program. 2-0
Sun: Crew at LA – I am really starting to sweeten on LA, with Ricketts and Berhalter, and getting healthier in the attack, I have to admit they are a tough team to beat as indeed only one team has done so, Colorado on a fluke over six weeks ago. The Crew are coming off a win, but I’m thinking playing in LA is the deal breaker. LA 2-1.
As for DC at Chivas, fingers crossed for a 1-1 tie (as opposed to the more likely 2-0 loss.)