Last year, the Dynamo and DC tried twice to play their league match at RFK, only to see it postponed due to storms. Even when they did finally play, the match took almost five hours to complete due to the weather flooding the field. Of course, had they known they were destined to see Houston win in RFK for the first time in MLS play and for the second time in four days after losing to them in SuperLiga too, DC might not have been so keen on getting that match finished.
Still, all that is in the past. Of far greater concern for United is their current situation and what they need to do to take the full three points from a tough Dynamo side who are just as anxious for their first win too. Both teams might also be looking to make some changes in order to find a better run of form.
DC certainly has the far tougher decisions to make on that score however. The only thing worse than having starters injured, is having to figure out when and how to insert them back into the lineup as they come back to health. Plus, Soehn has the added worry of deciding if he’s going to switch systems too now that he probably has enough defenders to do so.
United has been playing a 3-5-2 since the season started, but considering Houston’s strengths and Greg Janicki’s head healing up nicely, a switch back to Soehn’s favored 4-4-2 might be a smart move. The best way to beat a three back system is to attack wide and deep which Houston does regularly with Mullan, Holden, and Davis. Inserting Janicki in the center to partner Jakovic, and keeping Burch and Namoff on the outsides would go a long way to neutralizing those threats, as well as save United’s rookie wingers from getting pinned back and useless to United’s attack.
However, that switch would also require dropping a midfielder to the bench. For certain Simms and Gomez will be playing centrally, and it seems likely Pontius and Wallace (with Fred and maybe McTavish easing back into the lineup by coming off the bench) have earned the right to continue to start on the outsides, so possibly Benny’s ankles get a rest this weekend. What you lose in Olsen’s leadership, you might gain back with better tactics. Something to think very seriously about anyway.
Houston on the other hand will certainly keep their same system, but will be inserting Kamara (back from suspension) for Ching who played two tough games this week for the Nats. Kinnear will also almost certainly be re-thinking the Cameron experiment as Robinson’s replacement in central defense. The poor guy is not a defender and he was torched by SJ last weekend. With Julius James picked up in the DeRo trade, it just makes sense that now is the time for him to get a shot at the job.
Also, Holden has been given the reigns in central midfield to very mixed results. Houston has looked much better when Davis has rotated in there. Kinnear might be thinking very seriously about making that switch permanent as it keeps Holden out where he is a premier wide player instead of an average attacking midfielder, and it takes some of the defensive burden off Davis who never really took to that part the job of playing wide anyway.
So, looking at the matchups, DC would be in pretty decent shape in that scenario. No glaring weaknesses, although no glaring strengths either outside of Emilio and Moreno going against Boswell and James (or Cameron) which is pretty positive. Pontius (or even Olsen) and Namoff on the right going against Holden (or Davis) and Barrett is dicey, but doable as Pontius just continues to impress week after week. Wallace and Burch are a pretty good match for a rapidly aging and increasingly ineffective Mullan and Mulrooney. And Gomez and Simms are a match for Davis (or Holden) and Clark in the center. Janicki and Jakovic should be able to handle Kamara and Wondolowski, too.
It also seems likely Crayton makes his first start in goal too. Wicks looked a little lame coming off the field after the Chicago game pointing to a possible groin problem, and Crayton has been itching to get in, so this is a nice way to insert him without ruffling Warf’s cranial plates. Crayton should also settle down the freekick defending too which is often crucial when playing Houston.
So, all in all, I just think it’s very likely Soehn switches the team back to a 4-4-2 for Houston at least, if not for the rest of the season as it seems to be a better strategy given the situation, and maybe for the long run. But that’s a debate for another day.
Tactics and lineups aside, this is shaping up to be a very tight battle as both teams are pretty evenly matched given the players available and both are eager if not desperate for a win after some disappointing results in their first two matches of the season. DC should be slightly more confident however as they held on to their points, while Houston let SJ take all the points after managing to erase their two goal lead.
But, the biggest edge however is the venue. Despite losing to Houston here twice last July, RFK is still a tough place to come in and expect points, and I have no doubt the RFK Faithful will be out with a vengeance pushing for a United victory.
So, there you have it. All things being equal, DC has a good shot at all the points this week. Now, let’s hope all things are equal, or even better, the Dynamo have another bad day like they did last week and get rolled by a United team staking a claim to a return to the top of the table after a year away.
As for the rest of the league, I told you RSL would take the Crew! Of course, I thought Toronto would take them too and they fell short with the tie, and then again RSL folded like shabby lawn chair against Seattle, so I guess that’s a net loss. But, I called the NY-NE tie, and the Colorado-KC matches exactly, as well as predicted Houston’s demise in SJ. So, with DC failing to dispatch the Fire and Dallas proving that they actually do stink, I’m still mired in mediocrity at 4 to 4 on the year and 7 and 7 overall.
The rest of this week’s picks.
Seattle comes down to Earth in Toronto 3-1
NE rolls Dallas 2-0
LA and Colorado 1-1
Chicago hammers NY 3-1
KC shows some life and edges SJ 2-1
Chivas adds to the Crew’s misery 2-1
And fingers crossed, soccer gods willing, DC edges Houston 2-1.