Riding a six game unbeaten streak, second in the East DC United (and leading scorer, Chris Pontius, left) hosts the fifth place Houston Dynamo who are winless in their last three, but the disciplined Dynamo have had DC’s number for years, so United should not take the Dynamo lightly if they are to have any chance of breaking their incredible string of league matches where they have failed to win two games in a row.
Incredibly, it’s been almost 3 years and exactly 88 games since United had a winning streak, and coming off a rousing win over NY last week, United has to feel the time is right against a Dynamo team reeling from its fifth straight away match to start the season while they wait to open their new stadium in Houston (a match where they will host DC, btw). So, a win breaks that hideous string at 89 games, unfortunately DC has rarely racked up all the points when facing the Dynamo, with only one win in the past 8 games over the last 4 years, and DC would be wise to be wary of one of the biggest and toughest teams in MLS.
Especially as Houston’s record is nowhere near as bad as their ranking in the East suggests. While United is second in East at 12 points (3-2-3), Houston is fifth at 8 points (2-1-2), but with three games in hand, as well as a winning record after their fifth of seven straight road matches to start the season. The Dynamo’s only loss on the season so far was a respectable defeat in Seattle, after having beaten SJ and Chivas to start the season, and subsequently have tied Chicago and Columbus respectively in the past two weeks.
As always, Houston relies on set plays to score, stout defense to grind their few goals into wins, and utter discipline to keep games close so that either side of the ball has a chance to garner at least a point making them very tough to beat in general.
Still, on the bright side, Houston’s Brad Davis, who should have been league MVP last year (no disrespect to Dwayne De Rosario, but Davis got his pedestrian side into the MLS Cup final, DeRo was merely a spectacular scorer for a pitiful team that couldn’t figure out how to win any game of consequence), has been out for weeks with an calf problem and while rumors have him as available, he should be a second half sub at best.
DC, on the other hand has the actual defending MVP in fine fettle and he seems to rounding into his game after a slow start, with 4 assists in United’s last 5 games. DeRo still hasn’t scored yet, but it should be ominous for Houston that DeRo torched his former teams last season with 6 goals in 3 games against NY, SJ, and Toronto.
It’s especially lucky considering DeRo was traded to DC literally days after United had completed their season series with the Dynamo, and one game before he went on his tear. So, this will be the first time he has faced the team where he won two of his four MLS Cups as a member of the Black and Red. In fact, the rest of his former teams should be wary as DeRo is in the 2nd of 6 matches against his former clubs of this 7 game stretch for DC.
United also appears to have settled upon a lineup of choice at least for the time being. Sadly, for United’s designated players, that lineup doesn’t appear to include them, but at least it is successful and the hope being that when or if Hamdi Salihi, or less likely Branko Boskovic, do break into the lineup, they will make the team that much stronger, but that is an article for another day.
Considering Pontius is coming off a hat trick and a game winner two weeks ago, he’s a lock to stay in the lineup at forward. Obviously, Maicon Santos who has four goals and an assist in the last four games, and who salvaged the tie with Montreal 10 days ago, will be his partner. De Ro is surely set for attacking midfield as is rookie left wing Nick DeLeon (3 goals 3 assists), and midfield defensive anchor Perry Kitchen. The only question is whether Danny Cruz’s ankle is healthy enough for him to start against his former team. If so, he starts, if not former rookie of the year, Andy Najar gets another shot to see if he can play within the team concept.
In the defense, considering Dejan Jakovic is still hobbling, it will surely be Emiliano Dudar and Brandon McDonald in central defense with Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard on the right and left respectively in front of Joe Willis, who has done nothing to see any bench time any time soon.
Houston will just as surely start Brian Ching and Will Bruin at forward as both scored in the 2-2 tie with the Crew last week, as well as the fact that both had a hand in keeping United from any wins against Houston last season. Bruin had a hat trick in the 4-1 battering DC took in Houston, and Ching scored a late goal to tie DC 2-2 in RFK. Their midfield and defense is also set unless Davis makes a surprise start. It should be Corey Ashe, Luiz Camargo, Adam Moffat, and Je-Vaughn Watson going left to right across midfield, and Jermaine Taylor, Geoff Cameron, former DC defender Bobby Boswell, and Canadian Andrew Hainault going left to right across the defense in front of Talley Hall in goal.
So, looking at the matchups, United has a huge advantage in speed and talent, Houston a huge advantage in discipline, size, and experience so it’s probably a matter of who makes a mistake and given their history against each other and United’s now historic lack of consistency overall, that probably means a draw. But, on paper DC has some serious advantages that could translate to a win, if you know, they actually wanted to win two in a row. That remains to be seen.
Offensively, I especially like the matchup of the sleek DeLeon against the more clunky Watson on DC’s left, especially as Hainault is a good defender, but prone to dive in and the tricky DeLeon, who seriously could be on the way to a rookie of the year himself, could blow right by those types of challenges. Also, Pontius could be another key to the match if he carries on with his confident form. Santos’ more physical style will go nowhere against Houston’s central defense, but if Pontius can be a dynamic wild card to score himself or open room for Santos to unleash his cannon left foot, Houston could be in trouble, even if DeRo is somewhat negated as I expect Houston coach Dominic Kinnear to be able to do.
Defensively for DC, it’s even better. Dudar wasn’t the slightest ruffled by Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, Blas Perez, Eric Hassli, or Sebastien LeToux, so I don’t see an aging Ching or a bum rush by Bruin bothering him in the slightest, and Brandon McDonald can mix it up physically with anyone in the league. Davis will be a huge problem should he come in late, but hopefully he is only entering the game because DC is up by then so all they need to do is not foul and hang on for the win.
Bottom line, DC has the tools to win, unfortunately trends and history go solidly against them. As mentioned Houston is every bit as good as DC so far this year considering they haven’t yet had the chance for any 4-1 wins at home yet. Also, DC has a paltry 3-7-2 record against the Dynamo, and while all 3 wins did come in RFK, there’s only been one since 2007 and that was in 2009. DC did manage the draw here last year for their first point in 2 years against the Dynamo , but a draw will not be what they are looking for this year.
Smart money says 2-2 draw, but just maybe the monkey comes off DC’s back tomorrow night and the record goes in the books as 89 games without a winning streak. A win would cement DC firmly into second in the East, while a loss would not necessarily affect Houston at all considering their situation waiting for their stadium to open, with an almost certain win over DC then, and also considering their games in hand.
Fingers crossed DC fans.