Marathon thumping Toluca might have dampened DC’s high spirits after their rousing win over Jabloteh, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles in CONCACAF. Now, it’s back to business in MLS where DC simply has to beat Chivas because missing the playoffs back to back could easily spell doom for a lot of familiar faces around RFK these past few years.
Ironically, United’s success in Champion’s League could hold a key to their stretch run in MLS, as some critical plays by the young and hungry end of the roster guys as well as some interesting tactical tweaks could easily translate into MLS success if indeed Soehn has finally figured out who should play where. Now, I certainly don’t mean to rush the man as these are the most important decisions of his coaching career, but it is October after all. No time left for hunting and pecking for the right blend of players.
Which brings us to an interesting tactical twist Temperamental Tommy threw out there against Jabloteh, the 4-5-1. It was almost a 4-3-3 in execution, too. Pretty inventive and it actually appears to have solved a lot of problems the team has been facing of late. Granted, Jabloteh played terrible and DC took advantage, but there’s no discounting the amazing difference in creativity and movement the offense showed while at the same time keeping a rock solid backline.
The 3-5-2 was scrapped earlier because the team was leaking goals like a battered paint bucket, but the 4-4-2 was smothering DC’s attack like a hug from your grandmother. The problem was the outside backs never really got forward, nor could the central midfield really control the flow of play, as well as no-one really getting forward to make slashing runs or quick combinations in front of goal.
However, the 4-5-1 alleviates a lot of those problems. DC still has the four in the back to keep things tight, but there’s less pressure on the backs to get forward. Then the midfield still has a central pair to defend behind Gomez to let him roam more freely generating the attack, plus the added bonus of having sort of wing forwards on the outsides who can make slashing runs more often because they start higher up the field and have less worries about getting back to cover.
Now, a lone forward is often a concern, but with DC’s particular set of players, not really. Quaranta, Fred, Pontius, Wallace, even Gomez and Moreno coming off the bench can switch off making some of those forward runs that Emilio desperately needs to play off of, yet they still can hang back in midfield to help keep the possession game flowing so DC does not turn the ball over so much. It’s really very similar to the Crew’s formation which has proven to be very successful the past few years.
So as much as I hammer at Tommy for his sticking to previous formations and player combinations that might have got lucky one week in order to see that same formation get brutally exposed the next time out against a whole different set of circumstances, this time against this Chivas team that is coming to visit, Tommy should stick to this new formation.
The only question remains, who will play in it. I gotta tell you, I wouldn’t want to be Tommy this week. The team looked incredibly energized and dynamic with the younger guys out there, but this team was built around the big money guys who were all (except Gomez) rested for this crucial MLS match coming up. As good as Pontius played that lone forward for example, can you see Soehn really sticking to him and benching Emilio for this match? Fred, too was a like a gazelle released onto the veldt, but as bad as he’s played this year will he really get to play instead of Quaranta? And then what do you do about Moreno and Olsen who do not fit this formation well at all?
So, here’s where Soehn makes the big bucks. I think benches some iconic players and goes with a more youthful blend of the old and the new. I think he starts Emilio in that lone striker spot with Quaranta and Pontius as wing forwards either side of him. Each gets to accentuate their attacking skills while not being forced to do a whole lot of defending, especially as Kljestan is having his worst year ever (that PK miss against NY can’t have helped things either despite that fantastic first goal) and Padilla is still adjusting to MLS from the mother club in Mexico. Plus, neither Quaranta nor Pontius would be matched up a specific defender like they would if either played forward, so they can find the holes between the center and outside backs to unbalance the defense.
Then Gomez has play the central attacking role with Simms and Jacobson behind him in order to get the best of both worlds. Gomez gets to spark the attack with abandon, making his surging runs and his ridiculous switching the point of attack without getting bogged down and beat up tracking back so much of the time. But DC will still have control of the center of the field because Jacobson and Simms should have no trouble negating anything Nagamura and Lahoud (or Marsch if he’s back fit) will be trying to do. Chivas central midfield is the epitome of two way play, but they are only trouble going forward if they are given room. Gomez and Simms alone in the center would be trouble for DC, but there’s no trouble playing three in there.
Finally, the defense should be in great shape with the return of Jakovic. He should be able to start and his play should help settle down Calamity James who is really starting to look promising as long as he doesn’t try to do too much. Even if Jakovic is not quite ready to start, McTavish is looking a lot more solid than he has all year lately. Now Wallace is suspended and that’s a concern as his runs out of the back where excellent, but then again his defending was a bit shoddy. Burch is certainly a step backward in the attacking department, but he’s a better defender (just barely anyway). Then Vaughn for Namoff on the right is a great move as he will be itching to make Preki look stupid for waiving him and he should know how to play Kljestan as well as anyone.
Then you still have options if things aren’t going your way. If Emilio is stinking up the joint, replace him with Fred and push Pontius up top, or if you need a goal in the second half, insert Moreno for Jacobson too. But, on the flip side, if things are going good and you need to cement a lead, insert Szetela or Olsen for Gomez and/or McTavish for a wide player.
But the bottom line is that this formation will work against a Chivas team that is extremely tough to crack because it allows DC to attack from any angle and from any part of the field. Chivas can collapse on Emilio and mark him out of the game, but then Quaranta, Pontius or Gomez can slash in from either side or the middle and put the Chivas defense in shambles. More likely, they will commit more players to defend, which will cede possession to DC allowing them time to work from side to side waiting for that killer mistake by Chivas to burn them.
Now, it may seem like overkill to commit so many player to defend against a Chivas team who are not really all that scary in the attack, but if DC plays it right, United’s extra defenders will just be there to keep things tight and cover for DC’s apparently inevitable mistakes, but they can get forward too to help create more options for the offense if things go well. You know, in a lot of ways, Chivas’ offense is a lot like DC’s pathetic attacking displays since they started playing in the 4-4-2. Chivas, like DC lately has been relying far too much on individual brilliance, like Kljestan’s strike against Red Bull, to see them through which is why they have scored so few goals this year. It’s their defense that has been scary, not their offense.
But, the defense that has carried them this year is really banged up and vulnerable now which is why they are pretty much abandoning their offense completely the last few matches. If Santos, Galindo, Kljestan, or some random donkey like Braun, or a fluke outside shot from Nagamura can’t find a way through, they do not score. They have the most shutouts in the league, but also have been shutout themselves right up there with the leaders in the league.
So, DC’s defense should not be too troubled and Vaughn and Burch should actually get forward to help the offense much more than would normally. Plus, the central three for DC should cut out a lot of that long range shooting from outside the area that Chivas uses to help open up things for their rather limited forwards. Santos is the x factor for them as he is the total package, but he’s just one player and Jakovic and James should be able to counter him well enough.
Offensively, DC should be able to get things going against a decidedly weak central defense. With Saragosa suspended an extra match for taking liberties with Montero’s neck with his studs in a way that would have made Warf proud, Chivas is really shuffling around their defense. Talley is playing right back, Cuesta, the wild young Colombian center back is anchoring the middle with Bornstein, who is a terrible central defender, so Chivas has been forced to drop to make sure that central problem is not exposed too much.
Now when Talley was playing the middle, or if Suarez was to get a lot healthier and a lot younger overnight, then Chivas defense is a lot scarier, especially with Nagamura and Marsch cleaning up in front of them, but none of that is happening right now. Even the outside backs are not really playing that well. Talley on the right is tough to beat, but adds nothing to the attack. LA reject Ante Jazic the prickly Canadian is manning the left back in between suspensions and he too is tough to beat, but a complete loss with the ball at his feet.
Bottom line, DC has some decent matchups to exploit in this one. Assuming they do their jobs and play with some kind of heart and determination, United should see their way clear to a much needed three points. They need it too as their playoff lives have been slipping away lately.
DC currently sits one point out of the playoffs behind NE with them having a game in hand. But, the Revs just lost Ralston for the season, lost in Dallas and travel to Colorado for the weekend so they have a tough one ahead of them. Plus, if DC gets the full three points on Chivas, it’s a six point swing in the standings against a key Western team. Three teams look likely to qualify from the West, but DC will leap frog Chivas in the standings and hold the tiebreaker on them with a win. Plus, it distances them from any other Western team hoping to make a run like RSL or the unbelievably surging Dallas.
Even the intangibles go DC’s way although one huge bugaboo is in Chivas’ favor. United has only lost once to Chivas in RFK, but it was a doozy. Before last year, United was 3-0 in RFK against the goats outscoring them 7-1, but last year right when DC was hoping to cobble together a playoff run late in the season, Chivas came in here and hammered DC 3-0 in a match that essentially forced them to need a win in the very last match in Columbus against a team heading for a Supporter’s Shield and an MLS Cup. Which of course did not happen. Another such loss would pretty much cripple United’s chances this year too.
So, DC controls their destiny to a point. It’s a lot like their CONCACAF fate, if they take care of business at home, they have a great shot but they still need a little help. DC won out at home in CONCACAF, but Toluca’s el foldo might have scuttled their CONCACAF hopes anyway. However, MLS teams have been leaping to their rescue with poor results week after week lately. So, if DC wins this one, they get a huge boost at a crucial time, if they lose there’s no denying they are the goats.