United got the three points they needed against NE, but far from showing DC is on the way towards a playoff berth for the first time since 2007, that win exposed even more questions than the win answered. Now, the team has to pull together, instead of drift apart, for crucial road points to keep themselves firmly in the playoff hunt.
DC coach Ben Olsen pulled a rabbit out of the hat in finding a way past the Revs, but despite the win, he spent the rest of the week defending his management moves. Olsen was honored with the Hall of Tradition before the match and subbed in the winning goal against an arch rival at home, but spent the week defending his team management skills and parsing his words about a player’s fitness. Obviously, not the type of momentum he wanted to generate at this crucial time of the season.
Former designated player, Branko Boskovic who was expected to shoulder more of the load now that DC talisman Dwayne De Rosario has been lost for the season (essentially), lashed out with disbelief that he was yanked from the NE match clearly indicating he feels he is being treated unfairly. And while Olsen struck lightning in a bottle as Boskovic’ replacement scored the winning goal, Boskovic’ impressions of unfairness are easily backed up by facts and Olsen’s own words.
Without a doubt, Olsen has treated his high paid talent (outside of DeRo) pretty shabbily this season. Designated player Hamdi Salihi is seen as a luxury off the bench, Boskovic has been consistently the first one off the field despite his obvious influence on games, expected defensive leader Emiliano Dudar has barely cracked the starting lineup and been benched almost every time for every little mistake meanwhile other more pedestrian players seem to play with impunity despite mistakes.
Now, whether this schism is actually affecting the team remains to be seen, but it is worth noting that DC has seemed more than a little fractured this summer with notable squabbles and shouting matches amongst team-mates on the field. Ironically, most prevalent in the match against Philly at RFK last month where DC stumbled their way to a underwhelming draw with the lowly Union in a match with 9 cards, 3 of them red, and DC players at each other’s throats by the end.
Interestingly, it is Olsen’s seeming preference for ditch diggers as opposed to architects that has exacerbated this problem. With so many lunch pail carriers on the field, United is almost certain to be in tight games that are decided by the slimmest margins, as indeed most of their games are lately. The slightest errors are magnified exponentially and as points slip away, player’s emotions explode.
On top of that, Olsen’s complete lack of any consistent system leaves the team always grasping and looking lost on the field. By changing tactics and starters pretty much week to week based on the opponent or on the latest player to meet his fancy, team unity and organization disintegrates ingloriously.
A case in point will be this game in Philly. Now, I can name the predicted starters for almost any team in the league with startling accuracy simply based upon watching them each weekend. But, predicting DC’s lineup? The team I watch and read everything about each and every week? I barely peg more than 7 starters on a regular basis. Will Boskovic start in Philly? Will Neal get rewarded for his goal? Will Pajoy finally see the bench after his pretty poor game? Pontius at forward? Najar in midfield? Dudar? Saragosa? Who knows? Now, if DC had traded for someone this week, at least I could be assured of one starter, but no such luck this week. No, Olsen does not dictate to other teams, he game plans against them and hopes to win the scraps.
My best guess of Olsen’s inscrutable mind is that he trots out Lionard Pajoy and Maicon Santos again as he seems to value their industry despite their pretty ineffective threats on goal. Olsen also seems to favor Marcelo Saragosa in a central role next to Perry Kitchen against teams that flood the center of the field as Philly tends to do with their hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1. Olsen also seems to be wedded with Pontius and Najar in midfield despite the fact both are liabilities defensively as a pitiful NE team showed clearly. Which leaves Andy Najar cemented into the right back role which he plays decently but his talent is largely wasted there.
Now, possibly with Robbie Russell back, Najar will get another shot at midfield, hopefully pushing Pontius up to forward, but that seems a stretch given Russell’s interminable time off recovering from a foot injury. As for Dudar making an appearance that is of course possible, but only if Olsen sits Brandon McDonald for the first time all year. So not likely, and he’d have to be demented to sit Dejan Jakovic, so almost certainly BMac and canny Canuck start in central defense. Which leaves Chris Korb as a virtual lock at left back, unless of course Mike Chabala had a good couple days of practice.
We’ll see. Maybe we should make it a drinking game. A beer for every starter I predict correctly in the correct position. Mom would like that. I’d finish the game sober which has been an elusive goal since DC started cratering in June.
As for Philly, coach John Hackworth has been pretty consistent, which you would think is an argument against consistency in a team, but the man simply has no talent. He’s playing virtually a youth team in a man’s league. Granted, former DC midfielder Brian Carroll and central defender Carlos Valdes bring up the average, but the rest of the team are closer to puberty than they are to planning for their next career after soccer.
After jettisoning Pajoy (thanks.), Hackworth has thrown teenager Jack McInerney to the wolves as the lone forward with a predictable lack of success. He usually has Michael Farfan as the quasi playmaker, but he’s out with yellow card accumulation, so it’s exceedingly likely mercurial Colombian attacker, Roger Torres gets the nod to show if he can show the consistency Hackworth demands. Maybe there’s a Keon Daniel sighting instead, but he’s a little long in the tooth for a Hackworth attacker, so I doubt it.
Rounding out the midfield should be old DC favorites, Freddy Adu and Danny Cruz as well as Michael LaHoud alongside Brian Carroll. It’s a stone cold lock Hackworth starts Gabriel Farfan, Valdes, Amobi Okugo, and Sheanon Williams across the defense from left to right in front of former Terp, Zac McMath in goal.
So, looking at the matchups, DC obviously has some serious advantages if this match were played at home where they seem to manage to pull out results. Since it’s on the road where they don’t, the game will be a lot closer than the players on paper might suggest.
Pontius might have a chance against the elegant and effective Okugo or the teeth-rattling Valdez, but neither Pajoy or Santos will. Well, unless Santos has one of his rare blinders. That’s sort of like predicting a sunspot. Pontius will also struggle against the under-rated Willliams in addition to the scrappy Cruz helping out on that side too. DeLeon might see some joy against Farfan on the other side, as will Pontius when they inevitably switch sides every 40 minutes like clockwork, but Lahoud will muddy those waters and with everyone else being useless, there’s no one to cross to anyway.
Possibly Boskovic swings this match DC’s way, but I doubt he starts, with Olsen undoubtedly thinking that Carroll and Lahoud will hamper him right from the gun. Better to bring him in later when those guys are tired. Well, unless the game is out of reach by then, or there’s an injury of some sort. Even if he does start, the game will go 0-0 until he’s yanked. That’s Boskovic’ luck with this team so far.
Still, the flip side is promising. As bad as DC’s defense can be, Philly’s offense is even worse (second worst in the league), especially without M. Farfan who leads them in goals, points, shots, you name it. Maybe Freddy or Torres pulls off some magic, but not if DC’s defense plays half way decently. However, Philly doesn’t give up many goals either with the league’s third best defense behind only Kansas City and Seattle, so DC’s struggles on the road might continue despite their vaunted offense (4th best in the league).
So, expect this match to be a slugfest like the first two matches between these clubs earlier this year. One mistake likely decides the match as in when Pontius stole the points in Philly earlier totally against the run of play in a match DC should have shared the points at best. Or when DeRo missed the second PK to leave that match drawn in RFK last month. This match will be that close too, barring a shocking reversal of form from either side.
And don’t think the trends help DC either. Before the unearned win there this year, DC was 0-2 in Philly and ominously it was the 3-2 loss late last year that sparked DC’s 6 game winless streak to end the season and DC’s playoff hopes. DC is still only 2-2-2 against their pesky neighbors to the north overall as well. Of course, Philly is mired in an 8 game winless streak currently while United is coming off the NE win and is 2-1-2 in their last 5.
However, DC is a dreadful 0-6-0, with four of those being shutout losses, on the road since that win in Philly in mid June, and The Union are 2-2-1 in their last 5 at home with the draw being 0-0 with RSL barely three weeks ago.
So, an apparently touchy and bad tempered DC team with a recent run of hideous form on the road and an uninspiring history in Philly specifically; really needs to pull themselves together and find a way to overcome a stingy Union defense with the willingness and knowhow to put DC on monkey tilt in a crucial game. A team that would love nothing more than to spoil DC’s playoff run. Again.