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LA's Robbie Keanne beats United defender Dejan Jakovic to the ball; Photo: Tony Quinn.

DC host a Galaxy without a few stars

DC hopes to rebound from a woeful performance last week by catching the Galaxy at a good time when most of their big stars are away.

Unfortunately for DC, while the Galaxy will be without their top two scorers in league MVP Robbie Keane and young superstar Gyasi Zardes, as well as starting keeper Jaime Pinedo, they do have Edson Buddle and Alan Gordon and they beat DC handily last year 4-1 without Keane and Zardes. Beefeater Gordon hung two of those goals on DC to boot and Buddle has scored more than 100 MLS goals so it’s not like LA is toothless. Of course the Galaxy are also defending champions and have won 3 of the last 4 titles under former United coach Bruce Arena, so this is not a team that will go down easily no matter who they are missing.

DC on the other hand is the defending Eastern Conference champions, but they won that by playing relatively injury and mistake free the entire season. That is not the case now. They are buried under injuries and one crucial suspension as well as seeing veteran players make truly shocking gaffes on both ends of the field. Granted, United started last season with a couple ugly games to begin the year before rebounding to virtually run the table, but this situation in no way mirrors last year.

DC was completely overhauled before last season and had seven new starters to integrate into the team in those first few ugly games. This year the team is virtually intact except for injuries to Luis Silva and the suspension of Fabian Espindola. It was supposed to be a strength of this team to be able to return virtually all of their starters from last year, but it hasn’t worked out that way at all. Outside of a few good plays here and there in the first few games, DC has looked confused and disjointed with mistakes aplenty.

Ben Olsen seems to think it is merely mental mistakes and not playing hard enough, but that’s naïve at best, insulting at worst. This team has shown very little organization offensively and is being tactically overwhelmed regularly and that is on Olsen. Teams from Costa Rica to the Jersey swamps have figured out that you can overwhelm DC’s pitiful midfield which has a domino effect on pulling DC’s defense too far apart and makes them prone to mistakes through being disconnected. And it’s becoming increasingly obvious neither Olsen nor the players are capable of figuring out how to adjust either before the game or during it.

Teams also don’t need to worry too much about DC’s pedestrian attack. Playing an archaic 4-4-2, DC is built to attack on the wings, but rarely does it effectively. More often than not an attack on the wing fizzles into someone dribbling into a herd for a turnover, or they turn and back pass for a defender to hoof it upfield to a flailing forward with defenders draped all over him. United is only truly threatening when they’re gifted a turnover in a good spot and sometimes not even then.

Last year, DC had these same problems on offense, but Espindola and Silva were able to mask the issues by finding each other in the seams of the opposing defense, and also finding the back of the net more often than not. So DC essentially scored enough to win close games as the defense hardly put a foot wrong. Without them and with Pontius playing like a shadow of his former self and Nick DeLeon dribbling himself into trouble constantly, DC’s offense is pretty much down to whatever the cagey veterans Chris Rolfe, Jairo Arrieta, and Davy Arnaud can conjure up usually out of nothing. You can bet the house Arena will have noticed and will come in here with a plan. It’s not for nothing Olsen has never beaten The Bruce in the four years he’s been DC’s coach.

Looking at the lineups, Olsen has almost no option but to go with the same starting XI from the New York debacle. Arrieta and Pontius as forwards, Rolfe, Arnaud, Kitchen and DeLeon in midfield and Chris Korb, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, and former Galaxy right back Sean Franklin in the defense in front of Bill Hamid in goal. Maybe Taylor Kemp gets the start for Korb if he’s ready for 90 minutes, we’ll see. It’s my guess Arena goes with Buddle and Gordon at forward, Jose Villareal, Juninho, Baggio Husidic, and Stefan Ishizaki in midfield, then Dan Gargan, Omar Gonzalez, Leonardo, and Robbie Rogers in front of Brian Rowe. However, he may well rotate Gordon and Buddle allowing him to start an extra midfielder attacker like Mika Vayrynen if he knows Buddle can’t go 90 as he’s just back from an injury.

So, looking at the matchups and likely tactics, DC should be happy the tricky and precise Keane and speedy and powerful Zardes aren’t here because the aging Buddle and the teeth rattling Gordon are better matchups for DC’s central defense, but that’s where the good news ends. Villareal with a goal and an assist already this season will be a handful for Franklin and the rugged Ishizaki is an absolute nightmare for Korb or Kemp as Kemp has trouble defending anyone and Korb does not do well with big guys with skill who can fend him off or simply round him on the dribble. If Ishizaki gets five or six crosses in the box, then Gordon will bundle at least one in for sure.

All of which is also very bad news for DC’s offense which really needs to have Franklin and Korb or even better Kemp get forward into the attack. Franklin has been hesitant this year for some reason, but if he’s stuck back keeping Villareal from causing trouble and if Korb or Kemp contributes very little too, United is down to hoof it and hope. Which is unfortunate because that means Rolfe and DeLeon will have to stay wider and not come inside where they do their best work. LA has a bit of a soft spot as Juninho really is the only cover for the backline as Husidic doesn’t like to defend. So, unless the outside backs or even Arnaud gets forward enough to unbalance LA’s midfield defense, DC will be playing pretty much straight up and I don’t see Rolfe getting much joy against Gargan or Pontius and Arrieta getting over or around Gonzalez or Leonardo that much nor will DeLeon be much trouble for Rogers.

No matter how you break it down, DC just doesn’t have the talent or the form to pull off anything other than a tie against LA. DC would have to play their absolute best and LA be a bit off for there to even be hope of a win. DC just has too many key injuries right now and has yet to show any decent form or even a coherent style of play. Add in mistakes and you get the travesty we saw in New York. But even taking away those defensive mistakes, you just don’t see where the goals will come from in this game as LA isn’t likely to make a ton of mistakes. DC will have to be precise in the few chances they will get and they have yet to show that they can be that precise in front of goal.

It doesn’t help that LA has no reason to fear DC or RFK either. Incredibly, United hasn’t beaten the Galaxy since Gallardo was roaming DC’s midfield in 2008. DC has gone 0-3-4 against LA since. LA is also the only visiting team to have a winning record in RFK as well as the lead in head to head regular season meetings all-time as well. DC is 8-9-4 in RFK against LA, but three of last four matches in RFK have been draws so that’s something. DC is 13-19-9 all-time against LA, although United has beaten their biggest league wide rival twice in Cup finals.

Now I’d like nothing better than to be proven wrong, but everything points to a draw at best, more likely a loss. We’ll see. Recent history points to a draw and I remember a high draft pick back in 2009 making his first start in the first game of the season and scoring the tying goal in a 2-2 draw with the Galaxy in LA. Perhaps a certain electrifying high draft pick Miguel Aguilar, who just got his paperwork straightened out and is available, starts or comes off the bench and scores the tying goal in this one.

Eddie Johnson

If I Had the Wings of an Eagle

DC United’s “worst to first” story is over. After 34 games, it’s time for second season. That’s right, playoffs.

During the dog days of the season, the major question for the Black and Red heading into playoff time was the striker position. Would it be an in-form Luis Silva, or the designated player Eddie Johnson starting alongside Fabian Espindola? Due to an ill-timed injury in Houston, it is Eddie Johnson that will lead the line on Sunday next to Fabi. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Now, the major question in DC’s lineup comes from a position that has been locked down for the majority of the season: out wide on the wings. For most of the 2014 season, Chris Rolfe on the left and Nick Deleon on the right was the go-to pairing for DCU. However, Rolfe’s broken arm and the emergence of several other contenders for the wide position raise an interesting selection dilemma for Ben Olsen.

Heading into Sunday’s game against either Sporting Kansas City or the New York Red Bulls, Olsen can choose between Chris Pontius, Chris Rolfe, Nick Deleon, Sean Franklin, or Samuel Inkoom to provide width in DC’s attack. This depth could be key to a long postseason run, especially if they continue to deal with nagging injuries. Let’s narrow down the field to the two players that give DC the best option of winning over a two game series.

Chris Rolfe

Rolfe has been a lynchpin of DC’s chance creation this season, a revelation that arrived three games into the regular season. From his favored position on the left, Rolfe has 6 goals and 6 assists in 21 appearances. His linkup play and decision making, especially on the counter attack, has been crucial for DCU.

However, the selection of the Magic Headband is not guaranteed. Coming back off of a broken arm, it is unclear whether Rolfe is ready to jump back into the starting lineup, and a playoff matchup may not be the best time to test the waters.

Chris Pontius

The return of CP13 from a series of devastating injuries feels like a new late season signing for DC. Since his return to fitness, Pontius continues to impress, especially as he continues to regain match form, fitness, and confidence- crucial for a goal-scoring player. Pontius looked shades of his old 2012 form at home against Chicago, heading home an inch perfect cross from Eddie Johnson for his first league goal of the season.

Should Rolfe not be 100% ready to go out on the left, it is very possible that Pontius will get the nod. However, should Rolfe be ready to play, it is hard to ignore his form in the 2014 campaign. Rolfe and Pontius have yet to see the field together in 2014, or ever, so it is hard to say which player would play on the left, and which on the right.

Nick Deleon

In 2014, Deleon has at times looked similar to his outstanding rookie form, and at others has been a bit frustrating. The right midfield spot belonged to DeLeon pretty much all season, and it may be harsh to drop him heading into the playoffs. So far this season, DeLeon has 2 goals and 5 assists playing out on the right.

Compared to Rolfe and Pontius, DeLeon looks a far less menacing player to opposing defenses. However, NLD also has a history of crucial postseason goals, as everyone will remember from his 2012 strike at Red Bull Arena that propelled the Black and Red past their biggest rivals and into the conference finals.

Sean Franklin

All-star right back Sean Franklin shut down Bayern Munich (along with Bill Hamid and Bobby Boswell) in this year’s MLS All Star Game. Franklin has been outstanding at the right back position this season, but Ben Olsen has been pushing him up to right midfield and slotting Chris Korb or Samuel Inkoom into the right back slot on several occasions.

The switch to right back has mostly occurred when either Perry Kitchen or Davy Arnaud is unavailable in the middle of the field and Nick Deleon is pushed into the center. While Franklin has filled in fine out wide, he has yet to look particularly menacing in the final third. With both Kitchen and Arnaud healthy and ready to go for Sunday, we should see Franklin return to his preferred spot at right back.

Samuel Inkoom

DC United’s late summer acquisition is a curious case. A young right back and right mid that saw action in two World Cups for the Black Stars of Ghana, as well as Champions League experience with Swiss powerhouse FC Basel. Olsen appears intent on playing Inkoom out on the right, and he has looked dangerous with his speed and crossing abilities. These crosses could come in handy with Eddie Johnson lurking in the box.

Despite Inkoom’s impressive CV, he hasn’t appeared to feature regularly as of yet in Olsen’s plans. As many a player will tell you, adjusting to the MLS can be difficult, and Inkoom is probably not ready to be thrown into a playoff matchup as a starting player.

It’s Down to Olsen

Ben Olsen is one of the clear frontrunners for the Coach of the Year award, and has hardly put a wrong foot forward this season with his decision-making. In the end, whoever we see on Sunday in the wide positions will come down to the man who just recently signed a new long term contract.

The enticing option would be to throw Rolfe and Pontius out for the first time and see if they can both hit a run of form at the right time. However, as previously mentioned, Rolfe and Pontius have yet to play together for DC. On top of that, they have both been used out on the left. In order to play together, one of these attacking players would have to shift over to the right, where Nick Deleon has seen the majority of the action this season.

On Sunday, I expect to see either Rolfe or Pontius in their usual left midfield position. Due to recent form, I would give Pontius the nod on Sunday- with Rolfe likely to be used as an impact substitute. On the right, expect to see Franklin back at the right back position with Nick Deleon playing in front of him.

This is a good problem to have, and none of these players are bad options. But this is playoff time, and Olsen has to go with what is currently working. There is very little time to experiment in this phase of the season. Should a new experiment go wrong, DC could find their worst to first run ending in an early playoff exit.

Episode 139 – Mean Ol’ Bitch

Join the guys as they talk about recent DC United news, including development in the DC primaries. The boys also talk about DC’s recent two games, including the draw against the Fire and the win against the Revolution. Finally the guys talk about the US Men’s national team and the upcoming friendlies leading up to the World Cup.

Snap Shots – DC v Fire

DC United’s valiant come from behind effort was all for naught as the Fire’s Quincy Amerikwa’s redirect from the six-yard box in the 82nd minute leveled the match at 2-2 and spoiled the party for the announced crowd of 9,445 fans, the smallest league crowd at RFK in over five years.

DC United have now gone 15 matches without a win over the course of two seasons. United will next take aim at the New England Revolution who come to town next Saturday night at 7pm.

Photos: Martin Fernandez.

Reality Bites DC in RFK

After the fantasy win Tuesday night in Salt Lake to win the US Open Cup, United came back to earth as their dismal league season continued with a painful 3-0 loss to the visiting Chicago Fire, United’s 22nd loss of the 2013 campaign which ties a league record for futility in a single season.
With a mixed lineup and perhaps carrying a glimmer of the enthusiasm from their improbable 3rd US Open Cup win, DC started the match quite brightly and barely missed a couple of excellent chances in the opening 20 minutes of the game.
DC would come to rue those early missed opportunities as the Fire stole the lead against the run of play in the 24th minute when Fire forward Juan Luis Anangono ghosted past DC defenders James Riley and Daniel Woolard like they were cones and slipped the ball in to Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz storming deep into the box on a late run that wasn’t picked up. The Fire hard man cooly slid past DC keeper Joe Willis and snuck in a wicked shot from a very tight angle to score the winner for the Fire.
The Fire essentially sealed the win with their second goal two minutes later after a Fire freekick fooled Joe Willis and fell to Fire defender Bakary Soumare to blast into the empty net to give the Fire a 2-0 lead and cast a pall over the RFK faithful.
United rallied to create ever more chances with some very lively attacking efforts rarely seen this season, but the Fire keeper Sean Johnson was up to the challenge with a few spectacular saves. Johnson denied DC forward Conor Doyle with a diving save and later sprawled to stop a blast from DC midfielder Nick DeLeon who had burst into the box to shoot from close range.
In the second half, Johnson made his best saves of the match on a wild effort in the 60th minute. Diving out to deflect a cross through the box from United forward Dwanye De Rosario, the ball fell right to DeLeon who saw his snap shot incredibly deflected by the quick recovering Johnson. DeLeon was denied again spectacularly in the 76th minute when Johnson again dove to stop a clever shot from the United midfielder.
Drained and defeated by the end, United gave up a final goal to second half substitute, Quincy Amarikwa who scored a lovely diving header from a precise cross from Dilly Duka in the 89th minute to fish off the Fire’s 3-0 win.
Already a team record 22 losses on the season, United has now tied the 2001 Tampa Bay Mutiny for the most loses in a season in league history. The Mutiny’s epically bad season ended with a record of 4-22-4. United has 3 more matches to try and elevate themselves above being the worst team in MLS history.
DC also saw its current winless streak stretch to 9 games. DC is 0-7-2 over that span. The loss also guarantees United will finish dead last in the league as Toronto and Chivas sit 11 points ahead of United with 3 games left in the season.
United hosts the Philadelphia Union next Saturday night October 12 at 7PM.

Episode 130 – Dos a Cero

Join the guys as they review DC United’s past two matches against both LA Teams, including the 1-0 loss at Chivas USA and the 2-2 draw vs. LA at RFK Stadium. The boys also take a look at the US Men’s National team and yet another 2-0 win against Arch Rival Mexico in Columbus…