Ben Olsen. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Desperate DC Faces Formidable RSL

After a depressing draw to Chivas, United must regroup and find a way to beat RSL, one of the best teams in MLS the past few seasons. However, history is on their side, and perhaps the wrath of Ben Olsen (pictured) might be just enough to give them an edge.

Obviously, on paper this is a loss for DC United, especially after the abysmal form they have showed the past two games. However, Ben Olsen’s tirade might just be exactly what this underperforming squad needs to light a fire and generate the kind of passion and determination United sides have usually had in RFK stadium, and it doesn’t hurt that Real Salt Lake has never actually won a game in RFK either.

Yep, as good as RSL has been in recent years, they still have the big donut in the win column when playing in RFK. United is 3-0-3 in RFK against Salt Lake, outscoring the Regals 12 to 4, plus another win in an Open Cup qualifier here to boot. So history is definitely on their side, but more on that later.

Olsen made his feelings abundantly known after that dreadful tie against Chivas and literally ripped into his team in the post game press conference, calling the team naïve, inconsistent, complacent, they played like boys, etc. Now, such a brutal hiding can go one of two ways, obviously, but you have to think the younger guys will want to prove him wrong, and since DC really has no prima donna type veterans, and nearly all of them played with or against Olsen in their playing careers, it’s a good bet United’s veterans will respond positively too.

So, United may very well be as fired up as they have been all year, while on the flip side, RSL just found out tonight there is a little less riding on this game than they thought. Philly coming back to tie SKS means RSL has clinched a playoff berth already. Now, they still have a good shot at the Supporter’s Shield, so they won’t roll over, but they have a little less incentive in this particular match, especially as it is their third match in seven days, and the third of a stretch of six games in 19 days sending them literally from coast to coast and back again.

It will be interesting to see if Olsen benches anyone for this match to further hammer in his message, but it’s tough to see that happening. For one thing United is tissue thin in terms of depth, so it’s not like he’s got weapons slavering for a chance to take a starting slot. Plus, no one was truly egregious in the Chivas match, pretty much everyone was a little off, so if he scapegoats one or two players, he could potentially lose those guys and he needs every oar pulling if United’s slim hopes for the playoffs are to be realized.

So, with that in mind, I suspect he goes with pretty much the same lineup that collapsed against Chivas and hopes for a better result this time. That means Charlie Davies and Josh Wolff as forwards, Santino Quaranta, Dwayne De Rosario, Clyde Simms, and Andy Najar across midfield, and in defense Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Ethan White, and Perry Kitchen in front of Bill Hamid. However, I suspect a quick hook to give Blake Brettschneider, who played very well in the phantom foul tie at RSL earlier this year, some time if a forward is playing poorly. I also think McDonald might get the yank instead of White if Jakovic is ready for some minutes.

RSL is a bit trickier to guess their lineup given their schedule and their injuries and players just returning from injury. However, since they have only two healthy forwards, it’s pretty much a lock that Jason Kreis sends out Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio. Predator and Sabo each have 9 goals on the season, so that’s not exactly good news, nor is the fact that if RSL jump out to a lead, they could get a huge boost in morale if Javier Morales gets his first minutes since having his ankle gumbied earlier this year. Even if Morales is saved for a home debut, with a lead or to preserve a tie, Kreis has a few teeth rattlers like Jean Alexandre to spell whichever of his forwards tires first.

In midfield, I think it likely Wil Johnson, Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman ( returning from suspension), and Andy Williams start the match across midfield from right to left. Possibly Collen Warner, who played well in the win over NY mid-week for the 17 year old Gil, or maybe Arturo Alvarez plays for the aging Williams nudging Johnson over to the right, but either way RSL will have their usual formidable midfield.

However, unless Chris Wingert is ready to return from a wrist injury (and you just know he wants to get some redemption against Davies if he can!), Kreis pretty much only has four healthy defenders. Plus, coming off a resounding win in NY, Kreis will surely keep Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, and Chris Schuler across the backline going from right to left in front of former DC keeper Nick Rimando.

So, the matchups obviously do not favor DC all that much. Espindola and Saborio are as brutally efficient as two Juan Pablo Angels, and we saw Wednesday what one determined Angel could do to United’s backline. The only glimmer of hope would be that Flip Espindola has a tendency towards indiscipline, and Saborio looked like he got a little banged up knee against NY and he has been known to coast through matches from time to time, but that’s about it in DC’s favor.

In terms of support from the midfield, Johnson and Kitchen is a pretty even matchup, as is Williams and Woolard, and you’d like to think Simms can snuff out a 17 year old, but the problem is the way RSL controls the ball and moves into the attack so well, unless DeRo helps out a lot defensively, Beckerman swings the midfield as a unit towards RSL, and if they find Espy and Sabo regularly, it’s light’s out.

Offensively, things are not much better. RSL is the best defensive team in the league. The only way around Olave and Borchers is if they get a red card. Olave can easily run down Davies and steal his lunch money to boot, Borchers is just as experienced and savvy as Wolff, and Little Nicky in goal is the quickest cat off his line in all of MLS and the best with his feet too, so it’ll be a truly great play or a stone fluke if DC gets any joy attacking the center of the field, especially with Beckerman harassing DeRo.

On the wings, Najar against Schuler is a hope as he is more skilled, quicker, and perhaps more tenacious, but then again so was Dane Richards Wednesday and Schuler ate him up. Russell on the other side is even less promising. Russell has the speed and skill to shut down Tino or Da Luz. The only bright spot is that Russell has layed a ton of minutes since Beltran tore a groin muscle, and he looked a little worn out at the end of that NY match, but that’s about it.

And while history in RFK is on United’s side as mentioned above, overall history is not, nor are the current trends to friendly either. United is 4-5-4 against RSL lifetime, but more importantly hasn’t actually beaten them since Marcelo Gallardo rocketed in one of the best goals in RFK history back in 2008. DC hasn’t even scored against RSL in RFK since then outside of an Open Cup win, having two straight 0-0 draws the past two years, and a draw simply will not cut it given the playoff picture.

Obviously, current trends are dead set against DC. RSL is not exactly dominant on the road at 5-5-3, but they have won their last three in a row on the road, and last five in a row overall, so they are certainly peaking at the right time. While United has been pretty dismal at home at 3-3-7, with only one win since May in RFK.

About the only thing that is sort of United’s favor is that RSL has not played well against the East on the road this year going 2-4-2 with wins over only NY three days ago and NE way back in March, and they have lost in Toronto where few ever lose more than a sheckel to the exchange rate. Even more tenuously, two thirds of United’s hoe wins have come against the West, but clearly that is grasping for straws.

Obviously on paper this is a loss for DC barring divine intervention. Unless United play above their heads with passion and determination such as they have rarely shown all year, for the full 90 minutes of the match, which is even more rare, and in conjunction with RSL playing a little off their game, which could happen given the peculiar circumstances surrounding this game, then DC is in real trouble.

Pray for a little nudge from the soccer gods.

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