Posts

Back-to-back losses to start busy August foreshadows potential trouble ahead

On the heels of a perfect July for D.C. United (4 wins, no losses)  and seemingly impossible thoughts of challenging for the Supporters Shield , United has come back down to Earth with a mighty thud after poor back-to-back performances on the road in Houston and Sandy, Utah.

United has yet to win in either Houston (Robertson Stadium or BBVA Compass Stadium) or in Sandy (Rio Tinto Stadium) in league play, although United did pull off an improbable 1-0 U.S. Open Cup final last October at Rio Tinto.

Point being is that the optimism that had been building all season for United’s incredible turnaround from the single-worst MLS season in the history of MLS last year seems to have taken a bit of a hit after this tough two-week trip out West.

First off was the stoppage-time goal allowed by United in Houston to deny United a badly needed point. That disappointment was followed by a thorough 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Real Salt Lake this past Saturday night. Bill Hamid had three goals fly by him before he could even register a save for crying out loud.

Granted, flat performances like the one this past weekend have been few and far between this season, especially when they seemed to occur on a week-to-week basis just 12 months ago. However the wounds are still fresh from that craptacular season in 2013 and with it follows some worry about the rest of the month for United.

Before we take a look at the murderers row of matches still awaiting United in August, we have to objectively look back at first 20 games prior to these last two losses.

Home Cooking – 12 of United’s first 20 matches this season came at RFK Stadium. For a team coming off a disastrous 2013, this was certainly welcome news to Ben Olsen and his staff when the 2014 schedule was announced.

Full credit goes to United for taking 24 out of 36 available points in that span (7 wins, 2 losses and 3 draws) but it only leaves United with 5 of their remaining 14 matches at RFK

Road Good/Road Bad – To be fair, United and Sporting KC were the only teams in MLS with winning road records before the two recent road losses. A closer look at the schedule see’s only one win against a team on the road in a current playoff position (2-1 win in Toronto on July 5th) and overall (including home games) only 5 wins out of their 11 have come from teams currently in a playoff position.

The Future – United does have a rare home game in August up next against  the reeling Colorado Rapids this Sunday night at RFK. This is a MUST WIN considering what is coming down the pike.

Now the tough part –  After hosting Waterhouse FC on Wednesday, August 20th at RFK to open United’s CONCACAF Champions league group play, the Black-and-Red’s next two road matches are trips to Sporting KC on August 23rd and the Los Angeles Galaxy on August 27th  (- that’s about as hard a Saturday-Wednesday road trip any team can take – not exactly places teams go to break road losing streaks)

To wrap up an almost impossible month of play with an admittedly thin squad, United will host bitter rivals New York Red Bulls on national television on Sunday, July 31st at 3pm.

How will United look after August is done? – Tough to say. I think it’s important to remember that all teams in MLS struggle at times and United are no different in that regard. In combination with a thin squad and logging a ton or road miles to places where this team traditionally does not fare well, it’s hard to imagine United being very competitive in those matches.

However, the well-earned gift of 37 points in the table currently affords them some losses. I can only really see Toronto FC overtaking United by months end, maybe New York too, but they too have a tough upcoming month, as do most teams in MLS.

It just seems looking in from the outside that United has a bit too much on their plate and getting off to a terrible start with those two losses have not helped the collective psyche of the team. Sunday’s match against Colorado at home is critical in trying to alleviate the pressure of  the upcoming  games. If United can manage a win against Colorado and a win against Waterhouse FC (not a given considering they went to Panama and  beat Tauro FC 2-1 last week), then maybe they can go into that road trap of KC/LA with more confidence than I am currently willing to afford them.

If they lose/draw to Colorado, then I gather it will be a brutal few weeks for D.C. United and their faithful following..

 

Silva hat trick propels United into first place at World Cup break

Luis Silva’s first-half hat trick pushed D.C. United to a 4-2 victory over the Montreal Impact at  soggy Stade De Saputo tonight in Montreal, Canada. The win for United (7-4-4 25 points) vaulted them past the idle New England Revolution and into first place heading into a two-week break for the World Cup which starts tomorrow afternoon in Brazil.

Silva, starting in place of injured Designated Player Eddie Johnson, got United off to a quick start in the 6th minute after receiving a nice through ball from Fabian Espindola and putting the ball between the legs of former United goalkeeper Troy Perkins. Espindola, who had three assists on the night, almost didn’t make it past the opening kickoff when he was inexplicably chopped down by Impact midfielder Felipe Martins literally three seconds into the match.

United’s talisman limped to the sidelines but shook off the nasty challenge and led United on a four-goal outburst that matched their season-high for goals in a game (4-1 win over FC Dallas on April 26th). More importantly it was a key road win for the Black-and-Red as they face a road-heavy league schedule after league play starts back up at the end of June.

After the great start for United, the Impact drew level in the 12th minute through Jack McInerney. McInerney has feasted on United in his short MLS career and added his second goal against them this season when United defender Bobby Boswell was a bit too lax in closing him down and his angled shot beat goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra to the far post. Dykstra was a replacement for Bill Hamid who suffered a slight knock in United’s less than enthralling 0-0 draw against Columbus this past Saturday night at FedEx Field.

United then fell behind in the 21st minute when some sloppy defending allowed the home side to take the 2-1 lead. Andres Romero did a good job weaving his way through a number of United players but his run through heavy traffic seemed destined to fall short when a toe-poke from Perry Kitchen sent the ball to United defender Sean Franklin. Franklin however displayed an uncharacteristic heavy touch which allowed Romero to swoop in and reclaim the ball and after a deke to his left, his near-post shot got by Dykstra.

Undaunted, United equalized just two minutes later when Espindola’s pass from the left flank curled perfectly into the path of Nick DeLeon to side foot into the goal for his first tally of the season.

After that point it was the Luis Silva show. United reclaimed the lead in the 39th minute when an errant pass was picked off by Espindola and his bungled touch fortunately fell into the path of Silva. Silva took off towards goal and the Montreal defense was most likely thinking that he would pass the ball to Espindola who was making his way towards the penalty area to Silva’s right. However, the now-confident Silva smoothly curled a shot from 25-yards out that Perkins could only get a finger to before it settled into the net.

Silva punctuated his performance with a stoppage-time penalty kick conversion after rookie defender Steve Birnbaum was hauled down in the area by Hassoun Camara during a corner kick. Silva stepped up and blasted his shot to Perkin’s right to give United what would be the final goal in a wet and wild 4-2 first-half.

After the break head coach Ben Olsen made the precautionary and smart move of subbing off Espindola who has easily been United’s best player through the first 15 games of the MLS season. Conor Doyle came on and encapsulated the all-out team effort to press the ball and not allow the Impact to dictate the second-half tempo.

United seemed to have stemmed the tide but a penalty called against Davy Arnaud in the 75th minute for a hand ball sent the nerves jangling a bit. However, a bit of fortune was with United on this night as Patrice Bernier’s penalty rang off the post and then the shoulder of Dykstra and somehow managed to roll over the end line for a corner. With that disaster averted the final 15 minutes was an exercise in patience and keep-away for United as they frustrated the Impact and walked out with a well deserved win.

United now will take a little time off before they play an Open Cup match in Rochester on Tuesday, June 17th against the Rhinos. If United advances against the third-division USL side, they will host a home match at the Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland most likely against the New England Revolution in July.

United will return to league action on Saturday, June 28th when they host MLS’ other division leaders – the Seattle Sounders at RFK Stadium at 7pm EST.

United tops Houston 2-0 in Carolina Challenge Cup opener

D.C. United got their first win of the preseason tonight, a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo in Charleston, South Carolina in the first game of the Carolina Challenge Cup. An own-goal in the 22nd minute and a Micheal Seaton goal in the 88th minute clinched the result for a United team desperate to score goals after going scoreless during their first three preseason matches in Bradenton, Florida just over a week ago.

Head coach Ben Olsen could care less how their first goal came about as the Black-and-Red gladly accepted their 22nd minute gift. Nick DeLeon, looking sharp and in much better condition than a year ago, was a handful for the Dynamo down the left flank in the first half. His cross into traffic deep in the penalty area was deflected off the head of Dynamo defender David Horst to give United their first goal and lead of the preseason.

United created a number of opportunities but could not capitalize on the lead for the remainder of the first half. Defensively there were a few nervy moments as United had to defend a number of corner kicks from one of MLS’ most potent dead-ball teams in the Dynamo. United came out of the half unscathed and in the Glass Hall Full category for United so far this preseason, the starters have yet to concede a goal.

After the break United continued their fine play and nearly scored to double the lead on a few occasions. United were most effective on the counter and in particular Fabian Espindola in combination with Eddie Johnson. The pair nearly combined for a few chances only to be snuffed out by the Dynamo defense. The best chance for the starting X1 for United in the second stanza came off the left-foot of Davy Arnaud but his shot was saved by Houston goalkeeper Tyler Deric.

Ben Olsen left his starters in the match until around the 75th minute when wholesale changes were made and United sealed the match in 88th minute with quick strike accuracy. Midfielder Jared Jeffrey spotted a run by Kyle Porter and his pass over the Dynamo defense was inch-perfect. Porter tried to slide the ball under the onrushing Deric who made the save. Seaton was quick to pounce on the rebound and after taking a touch, he slotted the ball between two Dynamo defenders into the empty net for the final nail in the coffin.

United will now face the host Charleston Battery on Wednesday evening at 7:30pm. The match will be streamed live on the team’s website at www.dcunited.com

 

 

United begin preseason with 1-0 loss in the fog against Toronto FC

D.C. United opened up their preseason account with a 1-0 loss to Toronto FC in strangely foggy conditions tonight in Bradenton, Florida.

United was missing more than a few regulars and head coach Ben Olsen put out two separate units to begin each half. Predictably the more experienced side which started the match gave United their best chances on the night. After a pair of impressive saves by Andrew Dykstra in the opening 15 minutes of the match, Nick DeLeon had a pair of opportunities to put United ahead. In the 17th minute, Davy Arnaud’s cross from the right flank flicked off of a TFC defender right onto the chest of Luis Silva. Silva quickly touched the ball over his shoulder to DeLeon who beat TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendick but the admittedly weak shot was cleared off the goal line with ease.

DeLeon followed up a few minutes later with a sharp-angled shot that was well saved by Bendik. DeLeon appeared to have take the heavy criticism laid on his fitness levels from last season to heart as he appeared slim and trim and was active throughout his 45-minute stint on the field.

After the break, Olsen trotted out the remaining available players to finish out the match. United did have a number of chances to take the lead once again but narrowly missed out. In the 52nd minute rookie Christiano Francois, playing on the right flank, received a ball after a clearance from a United free kick. Francois’ delicate chip met the head of fellow rookie Steve Birnbaum but his glancing header just went wide of the post. In the 60th minute another United rookie in left back Travis Golden weaved through the TFC defense and his left-footed rocket sailed just over the bar.

United’s best chance of the second half (before the stream died in the 65th minute) came when Colin Martin dribbled through the heart of the Toronto defense only to see his shot smothered by TFC substitute goalkeeper Chris Konopko.

It was all for naught however when reportedly TFC striker Bright Dike got the game-winner in the 85th minute.

United will now regroup and look forward to their match against the Chicago Fire on Saturday night at 7pm. Let’s hope MLS get’s the stream issued straightened out before then..

United begins offseason housecleaning – Inside and Out

The bloodletting has begun. Not even a week after D.C. United closed what arguably will be the worst single-season by an MLS team in it’s 17-year history, the Black-and-Red have made moves on and off the field that have sent shockwaves through the United community.

The on-field moves made by United yesterday included the declining of team options on Dwayne De Rosario, Lionard Pajoy, Carlos Ruiz and Marcelo Saragosa. None of these moves comes as a surprise with the exception of De Rosario, team captain for most of his time on the field this season. While DeRo came up way short in terms of production on the field, it was a bit of a surprise that the team didn’t at least talk through the option of re-signing DeRo at a much lower rate than his reported $600,000 salary from this past season. Not coincidentally, all four of the players let go yesterday were all over 30 years of age. John Thorrington and Lewis Neal are the only players now on United’s books that are over 30 years old and both will most likely be retained in the offseason.

As for the others, it was a no-brainer as Pajoy, Ruiz and Saragosa were shells of their former selves. Some would argue differently for Pajoy’s case as he was clearly the fans and media’s #1 whipping boy for the failures of the 2013 edition of United. Pajoy was unconvincing pretty much during his entire run with United, but for some reason head coach Ben Olsen loved his workrate. It’s funny, I remember a conversation during an early season match for United that was televised on ESPN when play-by-play man Adrian Healey was mentioning a conversation he had with Olsen in regards to Pajoy when he said “Olsen really likes his high workrate”. Immediately color commentator Taylor Twellman shot back “well I prefer my forwards to score goals.”  That pretty much sums up everyones opinion on Pajoy and it really seemed a mystery why Olsen decided to hitch his wagon to him.

Ruiz was a shot in the dark that simply didn’t pan out. There were expectations that Ruiz’ experience would help United’s admittedly young striking corp (aside from Pajoy) but it never materialized and he became an afterthought for Olsen during the summer. Ruiz’ only contribution was a goal against Chivas de Guadalajara in an exhibition match midseason. After that Ruiz was a persona non grata once the on-loan addition of Conor Doyle came to be.

Imagine how Ruiz’ and United’s fortunes may have changed had Ruiz finished that sitter late against Real Salt Lake in the 2nd match of the season. Who knows? Maybe if Ruiz buries that chance, both he and United don’t begin a season-long funk in front of goal. Now of course it’s ridiculous to heap the blame of an entire season’s worth of ineptitude on the feet of Ruiz and a shot he buries 9 out of 10 times, but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that a burst of confidence from that finish might have spurred United to a better outlook on the season rather than what became the customary “here we go again” scenario that unfolded too many times to count during the season when chances came begging that weren’t put away.

As for Saragosa, he was a solid peice of the late-season puzzle for United last year in the wake of the DeRo injury that put him out of the last 9 league matches (of which United went 7-0-2 to end the season). Saragosa however has always been a limited player aside from locking down the middle of the park and his injuries this season and subsequent unavailability made this an easy decision for the front office staff.

Now, speaking of the front office..

On Tuesday the team also announced that Doug Hicks (Cheif Marketing Officer), Aprile Pritchet (Community Relations – also in charge of United for DC charity) and Sarah Lerner (Communications Manager) were all let go. This news sent shockwaves through the media and Twitter was ablaze for about 5 hours after the late-afternoon announcement.

Hicks had been with the club for 13 seasons and was everpresent for any and all major announcements and was a true pro in his role as Communications Director for most of his time with United. On a personal level, I’ve dealt with Doug for over 10 years and he has been more than meets the eye on almost every occasion. Without knowing the inner workings of United, it seems on the face of things a terrible move by the ownership group. On the heels of major front office moves last season, which included the letting go of Communications Manager Kyle Sheldon, it makes you wonder what the Hell is going on over at United.

On the one hand, I understand if new onwnership comes in and wants to input their own personnel, that’s their prerogative as owners and truth be told, the front office has not been up to snuff from previous seasons. Season ticket sales are down and United just came off their worst attendance average in club history in just over 13,000 per game. Heads are gonna roll in situations like this but it doesn’t mean that I can’t disagree with them from the outside looking in. That’s my prerogative.

As for Aprile Pritchet and Sarah Lerner, not unlike my experiences with Doug, they have been very open and receptive to any of my minimal needs. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense why good people are losing their jobs. Sarah was only with the team for two years but Apriel had been there a very long time as well. I wish all three of them good fortune in the future and hope to cross paths with them again one day.

In the end, United in two years have basically jettisoned every person I deal with from a media standpoint and it just doesn’t seem right to me. However, it’s not my decision and I will just have to buck up like every other media member who is as saddened as I am to see these good people let go.

One can only hope that their replacements are equally as accessible and professional as Doug, Aprile and Sarah were.

Getting back to the on the field product, it seems pretty clear that Olsen and his staff are cutting what they see as dead weight. This doesn’t mean that the contributions from the four aforementioned players won’t be forgotten anytime soon. DeRo after all did win an MLS MVP trophy and almost single-handidly carried United to a playoff berth in 2011. I think in many ways, everyone with a vested interest in United was hoping to see something similar from him this season after the team made a number of offseason moves that saw quite a few goals leave the team. DeRo obviously wasn’t up to the task and paying him a Designated Player salary just wasn’t sound business. Additionally, I think DeRo’s time had come. From the two-game suspension at the beginning of the season to the pouting about not starting matches when clearly his form was way off, he just wasn’t giving this team what it needed most, veteran leadership.

DeRo can still play in this league, just not for a team like United who is in major flux. DeRo would be a good addition to a veteran team next season, provided he’s okay with a reduced workload that also comes with a slight reduction in salary. Unfortunately, that is the climate for veteran players in MLS these days not named Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill or Robbie Keane.

The much maligned Lionard Pajoy actually did manage to carve out a few memorable moments in his brief time with United. He scored the lone goal in a 1-0 away win over Philadelphia during that streak late last season that kept United in the hunt for a top playoff seed. He also scored the game-tying goal in Chicago on the last day of the season that clinched 2nd place for United in the East. Had that goal not been scored, United would have been in the play-in game against Houston. I think we all know what would have happened had that panned out. And last but not least, he helped set up the series-winning goal against Red Bull last November that got United to the Eastern Conference final.

Obviously Saragosa and Ruiz’ contributions had much less impact than what DeRo and Pajoy had done during their time with United but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the effort they put forth for United. These are tough decisions for teams but at the end of the day, they were the right moves to make going forward.

United still has a trip to Indonesia on the books in December and Technical Director Dave Kasper had said recently that the club was planning on taking a 22-man squad on the trip. Well, the releasing of these four players makes that decision that much easier.

All in all, I still think this team has a lot more moves up their sleeve. Let’s hope they make the right ones this time as clearly last season they did not on many fronts..

United vs Sporting Kansas City preview: Can United change their road mentality?

MLS didn’t do D.C. United any favors with a rather harsh flurry of tough road matches to start the 2013 season. United started the season in a city (Houston) where they have literally never won a match in their history. Then they travel to play the home opener to their most bitter rival (Red Bull) and now United embarks on another death march to another location where they haven’t won since 2007 (Kansas City).

When is this supposed to get easier? Well, if United continues their poor road form, it may never get easier. United will face Sporting Kansas City on Friday night at Sporting Park and there isn’t much optimism surrounding the team at the moment. United hasn’t won in Kansas City since July 4, 2007 when Luciano Emilio scored in their 1-0 win. United has gone win less in seven matches since then and they’ve done it playing in three different places (Arrowhead Stadium, Comerica Park and Sporting Park (formerly Livestrong Sporting Park).

While the defending in their two road matches was mostly good enough to garner results (they did manage to get a point out of Red Bull Arena but only by the skin of their teeth) the offense has been less than stellar. Through both of those matches, United has managed only one shot on goal and rarely have been a threat offensively.

So why is this happening? I think it mostly comes down to the attitude they take into the matches. Head coach Ben Olsen and countless other United players have mentioned ad naseum the soon to be very tiring cliche of “take care of the matches at home and play for a draw on the road”. This to me is loser talk and not relevant to MLS play. MLS teams aren’t going to Old Trafford, La Bombanera or San Siro, there going to Crew Stadium or the mostly empty Home Depot Center when Chivas USA plays or worse yet Gillette Field in Foxborough where you can literally hear the Cotton Candy vendors over the players on the field. Why go into those venues playing predictable and defensive soccer? Granted, there are places in this league where it’s a tough out. Houston, as previously mentioned, is on a 34-game unbeaten streak at home in all competitions and we all know how tough it is to play in Seattle and Portland. Kansas City is no different in that regard as they have pulled off a rags-t0-riches turnaround in their town. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that 7,000 fans at Arrowhead was a common occurence. Now they turn out 18,000 strong on a week-to-week basis and just goes to show the the power of a well placed new stadium. Hmmm, wish we could have one of those..

So I ask again, why is poor road form happening? Why play defensive and predictably scared soccer? My co-host on the UnitedMania.com Podcast Mike Martin says simply “because they stink”. While that is laced with some hyperbole, where there’s smoke there’s fire. United simply have not played well so far through four matches of the season. Key players like captain Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius have been rendered ordinary at best and it all seems to have flowed downhill, at least until it gets to the defense.

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid and the defense for the most part have done their part. They went 80 good minutes in Houston only to be beaten by an unfortunate own-goal from James Riley. After the air was let out of that particular balloon, Houston tacked on another for good measure late in the match. The team then posted back-to-back shutouts with the 0-0 draw in Red Bull drawing a lot of notice. Yes, they were under seige for the entirety of the second half but that was mostly due to the fact that the mental approach going into that game was to bunker in and make life difficult for Red Bull. Well, this of course meant that United had to sacrifice any offensive notions and quite honestly, it’s just not that much fun to see a team that historically attempts to play attractive soccer go against their nature and squeak out results.

To be fair though, this was the model that got United from sixth place in the East to an eventual second place finish after the injury to De Ro in September of last year. In some small way I don’t blame Olsen for going to that well that often because it signified the most successful run Olsen has had as a coach here in DC. However, it has come at a cost. The offense for the most part, going back to that run last season, has been ordinary at best even with the return of DeRo.

Which brings us to the Sporting match. SKC rolled over the previously unbeaten Montreal Impact 2-0 last Saturday and did it in some style. They dominated their Canadian visitors and this was a team (SKC) that had come into that match on the heels of a pair of 0-0 draws. SKC seems to have turned it around while United continues to flounder. United, coming off a 2-1 loss at home to Columbus nearly two weeks ago, don’t play well against this team and their 4-3-3 formation. It’s just a bad matchup for United and they’ve never quite figured out how to combat their particular style of play.

United will welcome back defender Dejan Jakovic to the back line where he was sorely missed in the Columbus game as the Black-and-Red gave up two goals on set pieces and if not for the heroics of Bill Hamid it would have been much worse. United will also most likely slot midfielder Marcos Sanchez into the right side of midfield for the injured Nick DeLeon, another player who’s struggles has mirrored United’s inconsistent start.

This leaves the dilemma of what to do in the forward and central midfield positions. Olsen came out with an attacking lineup against the Crew (which I wasn’t against BTW) that featured DeRo in the attacking midfield supporting Lionard Pajoy and newcomer Rafael. While this did create more scoring opportunities than in the previous three matches combined, it unhinged United defensively and a lot of mistakes were made, particularly in midfield where you know with DeRo you won’t get the same type of two-way play that Perry Kitchen, or even Marcelo Saragosa provides. So it’s a bit of a double-edged sword in that regard. If you want to put more offense on the field, as they did against Columbus, you may be sacrificing some defensive discipline.

I think after witnesssing what Olsen saw from his squad in terms of turnovers and lost possesion in the Columbus match, Olsen will most likely play it safe and try to slug out a result in Kansas City. We all know what will happen if they do this, Pajoy and DeRo will man the front line, putting Rafael on the bench and he’ll most likely slot Saragosa back alongside Kitchen and the slugfest will ensue with United getting very few chances to play soccer against Sporting’s suffocating pressure.

In a lot of ways, this couldn’t be a worse team for United to play considering their offensive woes. SKC is the most disciplined and regimented defensive team in MLS and they take pride in choking teams off with their high pressure and leaving very little for their opponents to accomplish.

I pretty much have an inkling of what Olsen will do, but if I had my say in the matter, I would juice things up a bit. Considering how difficult it is to play SKC at Sporting Park, why not turn the tables and go at them as opposed to sitting back and letting them dictate play? This is a bit of the Miracle on Ice theory where everyone shook in fear of the mighty Russians but it took an unconventional move by USA coach Herb Brooks to turn the tide. He used the Russian’s own system against them and put them on their heels. Who knows? Maybe Olsen can take a lesson from that.

Here is what I propose for the match on Friday. The usual suspects in the back with Hamid in goal and Riley, Brandon McDonald, Jakovic and Chris Korb from right to left in front of him. The midfield would have Pontius on the left and Sanchez on the right with Kitchen partnered with Raphael Augosto in midfield with DeRo and Rafael up top. I think there is enough youth and energy with this lineup to combat and counter what SKC will throw at United.

This of course means that Olsen will bench Pajoy, a fact that would bring much rejoicing amongst United’s faithful. However, as I have stated on our podcast, Olsen remains loyal to a fault with Pajoy and that goal he scored in the 1-0 win over RSL was a bit of Fools Gold. Olsen didn’t want to hear any criticism of Pajoy after that match because he got the game-winner. However, it’s been a rapid decline for Pajoy since then and honestly the juice isn’t worth the squeeze when Olsen constantly reminds us of how much dirty work Pajoy does for the team. All coaches have blindspots and I think we’ve all found Olsen’s at the moment. Let’s hope that Olsen discovers this fact sooner than later.

So, how is this game going to end up? Well, if United goes with my unconventional thinking, I think a hard fought draw could be in order. However, my head tells me that this will be more of the same old conservative defensive mindset and United will come out with a predictable 2-0 loss at the least. I hope I’m wrong but I just don’t see Olsen as a gambler.

Folks, it might just get worse before it’s gets any better around here.

 

United vs Red Bull: Hamid, crossbar crucial in helping United escape with 0-0 draw in New Jersey

D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid came up with a number of tremendous saves to help United earn a point in a 0-0 draw this afternoon against rivals New York Red Bull. United (1-1-1  4 points) had to scramble defensively at times and were on the back foot for the majority of the match against Red Bull (0-1-2  2 points) in their home opener at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. United were also beneficiaries of some help from the crossbar as Red Bull forward Fabian Espindola twice was denied by the woodwork.

United again struggled to put together any semblance of attack and only had a handful of chances at goal, the best being Chris Pontius’ 60th minute bid that was well saved by Red Bull goalkeeper Luis Robles. Captain Dwayne De Rosario made his season debut after serving a two-game ban for a preseason head-butting incident but was rendered ineffective by Red Bull’s constant pressure. United did manage to go t0e-to-toe with Red Bull for the first forty-five minutes but after the break it was all Red Bull.

Hamid came up with a brilliant save on a Tim Cahill effort deep into the box and then just a few seconds later defender Chris Korb saved a goal himself by beating Thierry Henry to the back post and clearing a dangerous chance. Hamid however saved his best for last when he swiped a goal bound ball out of harms way in the second minute of stoppage time at the end of the match. Replays showed no conclusive evidence that it crossed the line as the ball bounded off the chest of former United midfielder Brandon Barklage. Barklage, who scored twice  in a 3-2 win against United in their only regular season meeting last season at Red Bull Arena, chested the ball towards goal and Hamid dove to his right to swat the ball out of danger.

Hamid has now gotten shutouts in his last two matches but the offense still remains a big question mark after only scoring once in three matches.

United will now turn their attention to a home match next Saturday evening against the Columbus Crew. United defender Dejan Jakovic (Canada) and midfielder Marcos Sanchez (Panama) will not be available for the Black-and-Red against the Crew as they will be on international duty.

United vs. Real Salt Lake Preview

D.C. United opens up the home portion of their 2013 MLS regular season with a matchup against Real Salt Lake this Saturday night at 7pm at RFK Stadium.

United is coming off of a disappointing but ultimately predictable 2-0 loss in Houston last weekend to open up the 2013 campaign. Two late goals sunk United in a very credible defensive effort against a team that simply has their number in the state of Texas (United is winless in 11 matches across all competitions lifetime against Houston). While defense did it’s part through the first 80 minutes of the match, it fell apart in the final ten minutes. Offensively United could only muster a few solid chances and ultimately never even registered a shot on goal. Obviously things must change this weekend in order to avoid another 0-2 start to the season.

Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake is coming off a surprising 2-0 road win in San Jose last weekend courtesy of two fine finishes from their Costa Rican sniper Alvaro Saborio. The scoreline may have flattered RSL a bit as San Jose was dominant in the match but simply couldn’t close the deal. Reigning Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski had seven attempts on goal without scoring, a sure sign that things didn’t go well for the Supporters Shield winners from last season. RSL was patient and clinical in their finishing and were deserved winners at the end of the day.

Looking at this matchup in particular, one has to wonder if Ben Olsen is going to take a more offensive approach to this match as opposed to his three defensive midfielder lineup that he brought out against Houston last weekend. With an 18-match unbeaten streak at RFK on the line, you would think that Olsen will indeed release the hounds and go for an emphatic win.

My guess at the lineup will see United employ a few changes to get more offense into the team. I think the substitution at halftime last weekend of James Riley for Daniel Woolard was more than just fear of Woolard picking up a second yellow. Although Riley gave up the game-winning goal via the dreaded own-goal, his ability to get upfield and also to get more speed overall into the oustide channels will be a key in this match. Chris Korb will switch over to the left and the usual combo of BMac and Dejan Jakovic will be in place. Let’s hope BMac gets his poor performance in Houston out of his system as he just didn’t seem to be locked in as well as he should have been.

In midfield I also see some changes which would be bringing in Marcos Sanchez into the team which could possibly move Chris Pontius into the DeRo role (DeRo of course is serving the second game of his two-game suspension for his preseason headbutting of former United midfielder Danny Cruz) in support of lone striker Lionard Pajoy. This move would flip Nick DeLeon over to the left side of midfield with Sanchez on the right. However, Olsen could just as easily inject Sanchez into the withdrawn forward role and keep Pontius and DeLeon in their usual spots. Off the bench United should have plenty of striker firepower should it be needed. Olsen said earlier this week that Carlos Ruiz is getting more and more integrated into the squad during training and we’ve still haven’t seen the debut of Rafael either.

Either way, I think it’s important that Olsen and his squad take the match to RSL. Watching the team capitulate to Houston was tough to watch and you could almost predict that type of effort once you saw John Thorrington pressed into central midfield as the lineups were revealed. While you can’t blame the loss on that one move, Thorrington didn’t exactly cover himself in glory either and honestly he wsa put in a tough position with the suspension to DeRo at end of last week.

Looking at what RSL can offer is pretty simple. The team depth that once enveloped the squad is all but gone. Traded away in the offseason were stalwarts Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. Additionally, usual starters Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers and Javier Morales missed their opener through injury and all are doubts for this match as well.

With that in mind, the lineup that took the field against San Jose will probably be the exact same with maybe the lone exception being Ned Grabavoy slotting into midfield for Khari Stephenson. While the lineup doesn’t exactly wow you with quality, particulary in the inexperienced back four, they did manage to pull off one of the surprising results last weekend so that in itself should not be overlooked.  Also of concern for United fans is the return of Robbie Findley alongside United-killer Saborio. While Findley doesn’t have the scoring success against United that Saborio has, his speed threat will be big in a match that I expect United to dominate possession. The counter attack ability of RSL could be deadly in this match.

Now we’ll get to arguably the weakest part of my particular game – the prediction. While I did predict a loss last week in Houston, that wasn’t exactly going out on a limb. For this match, I do see an improved performance by United in terms of dictating the tempo and creating chances and I also predict a good bounce back performance from BMac too.

I think United takes this one in a close 2-1 win with Pontius and Ruiz getting the goals. That’s right, Ruiz getting the game-winner in the second half.

United vs Houston Pregame: Season opener has United at Houston House of Horrors

 

[UPDATED]Dwayne De Rosario has indeed been suspended for two matches and fined for his altercation with Danny Cruz

The last time D.C. United officially had taken the field outside of RFK Stadium was the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals against the Houston Dynamo in Houston this past November.

 That 3-1 loss was chock full of agonizing moments that all worked against United, not the least of which was the 45th minute non-call by referee Ricardo Salazar on an Andre Hannualt tackle from behind that should have been a straight red and left United with a 1-0 lead at the break at the very least (United still would have had a direct free kick straight at goal from 22 yards – though arguing they would have scored would have been optimistic at best seeing as United didn’t score a single goal off of a direct free kick all season long). I highly doubt United would have given up three second half goals with a man advantage and would have most likely been in the drivers seat heading back to RFK Stadium just six days later. As it happens, the call didn’t materialize and United’s defense collapsed in the second half and Houston took a huge advantage into RFK that turned into a second consecutive MLS Cup final appearance.

 Thus is the tragic history of D.C. United in the city of Houston. Doesn’t matter if the match is played in Houston’s shiny brand new BBVA Compass Stadium or the old Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston. United simply has been a non-factor and an almost automatic three points for the Dynamo. Here’s the gruesome tale of the tape:

 9 matches played in MLS competition (including last seasons playoffs) – 0 wins, 8 losses and 1 draw. 5 goals scored and 20 goals allowed.

 Ouch….

 

Top that off with the breaking news that team captain Dwayne De Rosario is most likely to be suspended for the match because of a head-butting incident last weekend against ex-teammate Danny Cruz in the final match of the preseason, and the news just doesn’t get any better. I highly doubt another team in MLS can boast a record of such mediocrity and futility through their history at an opponents home field. United definitely has its work cut out for them but they do have some things to hang their hats on heading into this match.

 One, the Dynamo haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory so far this preseason. Yes, I know preseason results matter about as much as a cool glass of milk to Mike Martin on a bar-hopping tour, but it is a hopeful indication of the team just not gelling at the moment. Secondly, the weather is going to be very comfortable on Saturday evening. A high of 60 degrees is expected during the daytime and this should quell any notion of having to play in Houston’s famous 10-inch thick humidity.

 And lastly, it just seems about damn time that United get their act together and not mail in a road performance in Houston. Perhaps they can use the potential DeRo suspension to their benefit. Maybe even use the non-call in the playoffs as further motivation.

 Let’s assume DeRo won’t be available. This will leave head coach Ben Olsen with some moves to make in his absence. The easiest and most likely of which would be to move Chris Pontius from his left midfield to the forward line in support of Lionard Pajoy. Now Olsen will have a few options on the left side of midfield. He can use rookie Kyle Porter, a natural lefty who impressed tremendously in preseason, or he could flip Nick DeLeon over to that spot. Olsen could also go the cautious route and start Lewis Neal on the left and leave DeLeon on the right. Another intriguing option would be Panamanian midfielder Marcos Sanchez. Sanchez’ visa issues have been cleared up and he would be available to play.

 Everywhere else in the lineup it seems rather predictable. Bill Hamid in goal with a defensive lineup from right to left of Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic and Daniel Woolard seems to be an easy call. In midfield the question depends on what Olsen will do with the DeRo suspension but my gut tells me that Sanchez will play on the right, DeLeon on the left with Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa roaming central midfield.

 As for the Dynamo, injury concerns with newly acquired Omar Cummings might see him come off the bench with Cam Weaver and United-killer Will Bruin up top.

 Midfield should see Brad Davis on the left with Oscar Boniek Garcia on the right and Giles Barnes and Adam Moffet patrolling the center of the park. In defense the Dynamo will most likely go from right to left with Kofi Sarkodie, Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor and Corey Ashe with Tally Hall in the nets.

 History and my brain tells me that United doesn’t have a chance in this match. For whatever reason at whatever time of the year, United just doesn’t seem to focus when playing in Houston and honestly, they just have never matched up with the very disciplined Dom Kinnear-coached Dynamo. The Law of Averages and my heart says that United will have to win at some point, but with this last-minute distraction of the impending De Rosario suspension, this will give United the requisite excuse to mail in another bland performance on Saturday night

On the bright side of things, this is the only matchup in Houston this year and it will be out of the way after Week 1. Unless of course they meet deep in the playoffs. Even knowing United’s paltry history in Houston, if you were to give me that scenario in the playoffs, I’d take it and run to the hills..

United vs Montreal: United back in control with 3-0 win over Impact

After back-to-back matches on the road in which D.C. United were thoroughly outplayed, the Black-and-Red enjoyed their brief visit back to RFK Stadium with a complete and professional 3-0 pasting of the expansion Montreal Impact (5-10-3  18 points). The win for United (10-5-3  33 points) gives them their sixth consecutive home win and eighth of the season overall. Both win totals are the highest from United since the 2008 season.

Chris Pontius’ goal (9th of the season) right before halftime and Robbie Russell’s first goal with United just five minutes into the second half were more than enough on a very sticky evening in front of a season high 18,302 fans on East Capitol Street.

United started the match a bit slowly trying to feel out their Canadian neighbors to the North but once the realization that Montreal’s injury-shortened squad were more interesting in putting bodies behind the ball the game started to open up for United.

Maicon Santos stinging drive from 28 yards away in the 20th minute was well saved by Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush. Chris Pontius and Branko Boskovic almost finished off great individual moves a few minutes later but it was a harbinger of things to come for Montreal.

Pontius put United up 1-0 in the 45th minute with a beautiful individual effort that spun MLS debutant Calum Mallace into the ground. Pontius received a pass from Dwayne De Rosario on the left flank and after a pair of sharp cut-back moves Pontius blasted an angled left-footed drive to the far post for the lead.

After the break United essentially put the game away with another goal in the 50th minute provided by the left-foot of Branko Boskovic. Boskovic’ free kick was perfectly curled and met Robbie Russell in stride who flicked it past the motionless Bush for the 2-0 lead.

After this point, United played keep away from Montreal with the  occasional venture towards goal with the mindset of forcing Montreal to chase United during the stifling humid conditions. As the game wore on the hope started to drain from the visitors and in the 90th minute the deal was sealed when substitute Hamdi Salihi poked in a rebound goal (his fifth of the season) after a nice save from Bush on Nick DeLeon.

United will have another two-week break from league action and will return to play in Houston on July 15th to begin a two-game road trip that will conclude in Columbus on July 21st..