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DC and the Dynamo

Fresh off giving up another late goal to NY, DC United hosts a team they are not sad at all to only play once a year in the Houston Dynamo at RFK tomorrow night.

A thorn in their side ever since their inception in 2006, DC is definitely not sorry to see Houston moved to Western Conference this year meaning they now only face each other once a year. Nice for this one to be in RFK to boot as DC won in Houston for only the first time ever last year. Since their inception in 2006, Houston’s ascendency has roughly mirrored United’s demise. Aside from last year’s glimmer of possibility, United’s last run of league success was back to back Supporter’s Shield’s in ’06 and ’07, but Houston won the MLS Cups both of those years, and knocked DC from the playoffs in 2012 enroute to the Dynamo’s fourth trip to the MLS Cup final in six years as DC wallowed.

However, defending Eastern Conference champion United sits at 3-1-1 riding a three game unbeaten streak and hasn’t lost at home in their last 14 matches, but suffice it say it hasn’t all been rosy in RFK of late despite the results. DC defeated a listless Montreal and a depleted Galaxy with pretty unconvincing play and somewhat miraculous 1-0 scorelines, then looked good going 2-0 up on NY before Olsen got outcoached allowing NY to come back and tie it up 2-2 after being over matched in NY losing that one handily 0-2. Still, DC is leading the East while Houston is barely hanging on to sixth in the West at 2-2-2.

Both teams have shown the ability to keep it tight in the back, but also a pretty shaky touch in front of goal. Houston’s defense has been absolutely stunning however. Outside of an own goal, they have only allowed defending league MVP Robbie Keane and MVP runner up Obafemi Martin to notch one goal each against them in 6 games. A year removed from their worst defensive performance ever, Houston appears to have re-discovered how to lock it down under new coach Owen Coyle.

A big key for both has been the play of their goalkeepers. United pretty much relies on Hamid and hope, but Houston is absolutely beholding to Deric and the dominoes falling their way. Tyler Deric has been sick this season with save of the week three weeks running at one point, highest save percentage in the league at 91.3 (for you hockey fans tuning in because of Caps angst) and .5 goals against average that would be even better than that if he hadn’t sportingly slapped one into his own net to throw a bone to the other net-minders in the league.

A former forward himself, Coyle has shown no inclination to jazz up Houston’s offense, perhaps merely waiting out the arrival of Cubo Torres, preferring instead to park the bus playing essentially a 4-6-0 and rely on set pieces and the odd mistake for offense. Not too dissimilar to United’s approach under Olsen I might add. Doesn’t exactly make for a mouth-watering matchup in RFK for sure, but both teams do have an ace or two in their sleeve. Giles Barnes, who has 3 goals in his last 5 games against DC and the winner last week against Montreal, has been the point of the spear for Houston as Ramblin’ Ray would say, and they have a trump card in Will Bruin who has killed United with 9 of his 35 career goals coming against DC. United on the other hand has last year’s second leading scorer Luis Silva virtually all the way back to starting and both Chris Rolfe and Chris Pontius who were a big part of DC’s sweep of Houston last season.

Looking at the lineups is a bit tricky. Silva should be ready to start and go 60, but Houston is so good defensively, it might be better to go with Silva off the bench against a tired defense and keep the continuity the team has built over the first 5 games. Also, Nick DeLeon has been an Olsen favorite and he might be back from his hamstring troubles, but Michael Farfan was a more than solid replacement. He doesn’t have the flashes of brilliance, but Farfan does bring intelligence, more defensive effectiveness, and a heck of a lot less turnovers. In my opinion, Farfan should start and DeLeon settle into his likely career role as a spark off the bench. Houston has a couple likely out as well, Oscar Boniek-Garcia with a balky knee from the Montreal win and probably new defender Raul Rodriguez who got clocked in the head by Deric in the Seattle loss a couple weeks ago.

So, considering the styles of play and looking into my crystal ball, I think Olsen goes with Pontius, Arrieta, Rolfe, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, and Farfan across the midfield from left to right. Then Taylor Kemp, Kofi Opare, Bobby Boswell, and Sean Franklin going from left to right in front of Bill Hamid.  Houston will almost certainly go with Barnes as their only “forward” with Brad Davis, Nathan Sturgis, and Rob Lovejoy, who had a goal and assist in the dismantling of Montreal last week, in front of hard men Luis Garrido and Ricardo Clark sweeping up in front of a back four of the ageless DaMarcus Beasly, David Horst, Jermaine Taylor, and Kofi Sarkodie going left to right in front of Deric.

Looking at the matchups is a bit deceiving, of far more importance is how United handles that amorphous attack coming from Davis, Sturgis, and Lovejoy in support of Barnes. DC had serious trouble with a similar overload in central attack in NY and lost handily. Olsen compensated to take the 2-0 lead against NY last game, but it took NY coach Jesse March 45 minutes to realize he could pull Dax McCarty, the hero in the first NY game, and change his tactics to a 4-3-3 and pretty much dominate the rest of the way, and Olsen’s answer was Conor Doyle and grasping at straws as NY stormed back to tie. It’s true I am hard on Olsen, but the defending coach of the year is getting outsmarted pretty regularly and always seems to be a game behind in the evolution of his thinking.

Starting Farfan was huge in terms of allowing Kitchen and Arnaud to stay connected in midfield and stifling NY at first, and it should work against Houston too. Farfan will go a long way to handling Davis especially as long as DC stays away from too many FK’s allowing Kitchen and Arnaud to throttle the center of the field defensively and even get forward turning Houston’s strength against them as their attackers will have to defend more than they’d like. Kemp also showed remarkable improvement in his defense against NY so he should be able to contain Lovejoy well enough leaving Boswell and Barnes to trade off on chasing Barnes and Ricardo Clark coming from making the run from a deep position.

However, if Coyle is any kind of fantasy fan, he knows the rule of thumb is to have Bruin on your team whenever he plays DC. When he brings in the Bear to shift more towards a true 4-5-1 with a center forward how DC handle’s that is the question. Boswell is key here. How he communicates with Opare is crucial to keeping DC’s lines intact and connected. If DC gets pulled apart by width, Bruin will have room and could cause havoc.

In the attack, DC simply has to get balls into the box from Rolfe, Kemp and god willing Franklin from wide play, as well as the odd ball over the top to Arrieta and Pontius behind Taylor and Horst. They will find no joy attacking down the center against Garrido and Clark. Their only chance down the middle is when those teeth-rattlers give up a freekick and sorry to say, but outside of a Silva being gifted a hideous wall, DC’s freekick plays have been abysmal. Barely even going forward much less being threatening. Crosses won’t work either, but they should at least open space in the middle for DC to quick pass into a chance here and there. Hopefully they put one in as Houston won’t give up much.

Looking at the intangibles, DC is coming off a home tie that should feel like a loss and Houston of a rousing home win. Interestingly, both teams have faced Montreal going paws up after an emotional midweek CCL travel game, but Houston won easily, while DC barely scraped by the Impact. DC is 2-0-1 at home and Houston is 0-1-1 on the road albeit against LA and Seattle. Overall records head to head show Houston up handily 13-6-2 against United outscoring DC 37-21 all time, but DC has managed a slight advantage at RFK going 5-4-1, albeit grimly outscored 14-16 by the Orange Crush in RFK. But DC did win the last one in DC against the Dynamo 2-0 as long as you studiously forget the 0-4 and 1-2 losses in the previous two at RFK.

On paper, this match has all the makings of a 0-0 snoozer, maybe 1-0 zero either way depending on a mistake or a brilliant play here or there. I think a tie is most likely but barring something surreal, it will ultimately come down to Hamid or Deric outplaying the other.

Depleted DC faces Orlando for first time

Fresh off their first victory over the Galaxy in seven years but reeling with injuries, DC travels to Orlando to face Orlando City on a purple monstrosity.

DC United has been clinical at home with two 1-0 wins over less than impressive opposition, but the fact they are grinding out points when not playing particularly well and with some key injuries and absences does bode well heading into Orlando and facing an expansion team that is definitely punching above their weight so far this season. But pulling off surprises on the field is nothing compared to what they have done to their field in the Citrus Bowl where they have installed purple grass. Not painted purple grass, actual grass colored purple that was grown specially for them and required a special dispensation from FIFA to be used. This abomination is no doubt newsworthy, but let’s hope OCSC keeps their marketing shenanigans to a minimum.

As for the latest on the injury list for DC is starting central defender Steve Birnbaum who rolled an ankle five minutes into the LA win and is out four to six weeks. He joins Eddie Johnson and unfortunately the guy signed to replace him, Finnish defender Markus Halsti who remains out with a bum knee. Of course, Fabian Espindola still has this game and three more to complete his suspension as well. DC does have forward Luis Silva nearly ready to return, in addition to midfielder Michael Farfan who did get some minutes at the end of the NY debacle, but options for DC coach Ben Olsen are thin for sure.Orlando also has some injury concerns as well, but will be bolstered by the return of their internationals.

Incredibly, despite being an expansion team and playing perhaps the least attractive soccer overall of any team outside of Colorado, Orlando has ridden a surprisingly strong defense and a few moments of Kaka brilliance to a 1-1-2 record and is only a point behind DC in the standings. Obviously, Kaka is the key to their success. His shot got the miracle deflection to tie NYCFC in their home opener, he scored and set up the two goals in 90 seconds that tied the Impact in Montreal last week and when Vancouver throttled him in week three, Orlando had no answer. However, rookie Pedro Ribiero has also been key as well scoring Kaka’s assist in Montreal and it was his hustle that forced Houston’s goalkeeper in to one of the most improbable own goals in soccer history.

Looking at the lineup’s DC should be pretty predictable as they are pretty much down to the nubs in terms of options. There’s no way Silva is ready to start, so it will be the Montreal hero Jairo Arrieta and the LA hero Chris Pontius scorers of DC’s only two goals this season at forward. In midfield, it is almost certainly to be Chris Rolfe, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon going from left to right, although Farfan could start DeLeon as a tactical decision if he’s ready and Olsen wants to try something new, but more on that later. In defense, Taylor Kemp should get the start on the left, Kofi Opare the central partner for Bobby Boswell, and Sean Franklin on the right in front of Bill Hamid.

As for Orlando, that’s much more of a crapshoot. They’ve played more tactical variations than any team in the league in their first four games and have clearly not settled some positions. Seems likely Ribiero starts as their lone forward with Kaka roaming underneath him. Then in their crowded midfield, it’ll be some mix of Kevin Molino, Bryan Rochez, Eric Avila, Amobi Okugo, Darwin Ceren, Maybe Cyle Larin who just scored for Canada, etc. Orlando coach Adrian Heath has plenty of interchangeable parts on offense depending on what he wants to do. Same with the defense, he’d been playing four in the back, but the team scored two goals playing a hybrid 5 man backline in Montreal for example. I don’t think he does that again however as I think he goes four in the back which most likely will be Brek Shea fresh off a goal against the Swiss, Seb Hines or Sean St. Ledger, Aurelien Collin and Rafael Ramos in front of former goalkeep of the year Donovan Ricketts.

Looking at the tactics and matchups DC does have advantages, but in a matchup of two teams known so far for pretty tight defense and limited offense relying mostly on seizing opportunities, it’s more a matter of forcing mistakes rather than straight up tactics. Of course DC will go 4-4-2 as they have no imagination but it would be prudent to note that Orlando will play a five man midfield of some sort very similar to the Red Bull midfield that dismantled DC with ease. When DC is attacking, they simply have to get Kemp and Franklin forward or they have little hope of scoring outside of luck. If they get Kemp and to a lesser extent Franklin, who will have to be careful with Brek Shea and the soft defending DeLeon in front of him, then DC can stretch Orlando and beat them especially with Collin being foul prone and giving up set pieces.

It’s defensively where DC has to tighten up quite a bit or they are doomed. If they give Kaka the room they gave Kljestan and Felipe, he’ll hang a hat-trick on them especially as Kaka drifts to the right and the left side of DC’s defense is the weakest with Kemp not being the greatest at staying goal side his man and Opare being less than impressive when covering open space. With the speedy Rochez or Molino roaming that side as well, Kitchen or Arnaud simply have to be sharp to cover that central space and help the left side too because if it’s left up to Rolfe to always track back DC’s offense might go into witness protection it will be so invisible.

There’s plenty of variations for this to play out too, but the bottom line is Kitchen and Arnaud have to be able to handle the center of midfield with as little help from Pontius or Opare as possible. If they shut down Kaka, that’s most of the heavy digging done. Then Boswell and Hamid have to be smart with Ribiero and Opare has to help Kemp control that left side. Which means Franklin has to handle Shea pretty much on his lonesome. All of which is reasonable, fingers crossed with Opare. Then on offense, Collin is good but is shocked that anyone thinks he’s ever made a foul ever and Hines and St. Ledger are just teeth rattlers, Pontius and Arrieta are clever enough to get around them or force a crucial mistake. Neither Shea or Ramos are all that impressive defensively either so DeLeon or Rolfe can find some joy too assuming they can get up the field often enough.

Current form suggests a 1-1 draw and I think it plays out that way. It’s about time Orlando’s smoke and mirrors gets exposed and about time for DC to show they can play reasonable soccer on the road even if it is on a purple field. Kaka will score or set up one, but I think Rolfe or Pontius gets the other on a counter or an Orlando mistake. We’ll see.

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.

DC needs to find their edge against Red Bulls

In a rematch of last year’s first round playoff exit, DC United faces the New York Red Bulls in Harrison NJ no doubt with a small measure of revenge on their minds.

DC was the Eastern Conference champions last year when New York drummed them out of the MLS Cup playoffs far too easily. So while a win tomorrow won’t make up for that completely, spoiling NY’s home opener should be a prime motivator for DC to regain that chip on their shoulder they had all last season that propelled them to the greatest turnaround in league history from last in 2013 to first in 2014.

And make no mistake, regaining that edge is crucial to United’s success. On paper, DC has nowhere near the talent level of the majority of teams in MLS, and so far this year is even further decimated by injuries and a suspension, so their main source of success will come more often than not from their cohesion as a group and the mentality to prove detractors wrong.

That edge to their game which earned them the best record in the East last year has been glaringly absent so far this season. From the paws up performance in Costa Rica and subsequent exit from the CONCACAF Champions League to the pretty uninspiring win over the emotionally drained Montreal in DC’s home opener two weeks ago.
New York should be a good opponent to find that fire again. Not only a long time traditional rival but a team in transition as well having fired manager Mike Petke despite his success; and losing their most talented player with the retirement of Thierry Henry, and their best defender by far with the trade of Jamison Olave back to Real Salt Lake.

League leading scorer, NY forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, returns and will surely be a threat, but he’s a player that relies on other to set him up and Henry was their main threat to do that. Now newcomers, Felipe from Montreal and Sacha Kljestan in a revamped midfield have to figure out how to get BWP the ball enough times to make up for his horrid strike rate. He led the league in goals last year tying the MLS single season record, but he also had to have set the record for botched opportunities that will never be equalled. If he’d have scored all those wasted sitters, he’d have set a scoring record no one would touch in a 100 years.

As for DC, they have to contend with the loss of most of their top three scorers from last year. Leading scorer Fabian Espindola is serving the second game of a six game suspension for pushing a referee at the end of that playoff loss to Red Bull in last year’s final game. There is also the continued absence of their other designated player, Eddie Johnson due to apparently some sort of a heart ailment that has him sidelined indefinitely as well as Luis Silva struggling to return from a hamstring injury.

Picking up the slack has been newly acquired Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta, who was about the only player to play well against Alajuelense and scorer of the winning goal against Montreal, and Chris Pontius who should have scored against Montreal if the soccer gods had been paying attention.

Looking at the lineups, with no news that Silva or the newly acquired Finnish defender Markus Halsti are ready to return, it seems likely DC will trot out the exact same group that squeaked by Montreal. Bill Hamid in goal, defenders Chris Korb, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, and Sean Franklin going left to right in front of Hamid. The midfield will almost certainly be Chris Rolfe, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon supporting a forward line of Arrieta and Pontius.

For NY, it will be former DC draftee, Luis Robles in the nets with likely the newly signed left back, Kemar Lawrence from Jamaica in place of the injured Roy Miller. NY’s French connection central defense of Ronald Zubar and Damian Perrinelle might be broken up by Zubar carrying a knock picked up in their draw with KC in week one. Should Zubar not start, it will be homegrown Matt Miazga taking his place with Chris Duvall at right back. NY’s five man midfield will be former Carolina Railhawk, Mike Grella, Kljestan, Dax McCarty, Felipe, and speedster Lloyd Sam on the right supporting lone forward BWP.

So, matchupwise, DC could be in some trouble in midfield as NY floods forward in a similar way that Alajuelense used to expose serious flaws in United’s defensive structures unless they are 100% sharp mentally. Centrally, DC should be fine as Boswell and Birnbaum will negate BWP and Felipe when he ranges forward, as well as Kitchen and Arnaud handling Kljestan and McCarty well enough.

The key will be who wins the wings. If Rolfe and Korb outplay Sam and Duvall, as well as DeLeon and Franklin keep Sam and Grella honest, then DC will have the edge. However, if Rolfe or more likely Deleon get caught upfield too much, then DC’s defense will get stretched and out of shape to the point where mistakes happen far too often, and they’ll just have to rely on BWP missing his chances.

In particular that matchup of Korb against Sam will be crucial. Korb has played well defensively, but Sam is a game changer who has to be kept quiet or DC will be in real trouble. Sam scored the tying goal in KC last week as well as the winning goal when NY beat DC in the last regular season matchup in RBA. If Korb repeatedly needs help from Rolfe, DC’s offense will suffer. If he gets beat pulling Birnbaum or a central midfielder out of position too often, DC’s defense will likely struggle even worse.

In terms of current form, Red Bull gave Sporting KC all they could handle in Kansas City a couple weeks ago. If they’d have finished better, they’d have beat KC. However, they didn’t, even with a man advantage so their offense is a bit suspect right now. As is their defense which gave KC plenty of chances including a missed PK. DC isn’t much better though. They missed chances to put away a listless Montreal team that barely put up a fight. Both defenses got lucky as much as showed good form as well.

DC recent record in Red Bull Arena isn’t too good lately either. DC hasn’t won in RBA since 2012, and 1-4-1 there since DeLeon knocked them out of the playoffs in the snow game. United is ahead all time though at 33-23-9 over their most hated rival in the East. In addition, DC is 13-13-5 all time in New Jersey having outscored NY 50 to 41 in their house.

Too close to call this one. New York has the home opener edge and the more talented although getting the new chemistry right hasn’t quite showed up yet. On the other hand, DC is the more consistent team in terms of chemistry having made few changes since last year, but the results aren’t there yet. As with all DC-New York games, there will be drama as well.

Eddie Johnson

Coach leaves Eddie “Money” Johnson with no Ticket To Paradise

Every four years there are players around the world that are shockingly left off of their respective national team rosters for the World Cup, and every four years we wonder why talented stars such as Samir Nasri (France/Manchester City), Carlos Tevez (Argentina/Juventus), and Jermaine Defoe (England/Toronto FC) won’t be representing their countries on soccer’s greatest stage.   Perhaps it’s a sign of the evolution of the sport in this country that the United States has a legitimate snub story, in leaving Eddie Johnson off the roster (above left; Photo: Tony Quinn), to discuss in 2014.

DC United’s newly acquired forward Eddie Johnson, a regular fixture during World Cup qualifying, was left off the provisional 30 man roster of the US National Team, which must be trimmed to 23 players by June 2 to comply with FIFA regulations on official rosters. While it could certainly be argued that Johnson was a stretch to lock down a starting role for the USA, he’s probably the most dangerous player the team has available to bring off the bench, and his versatility would have afforded national team manager Jürgen Klinsmann multiple tactical options for substitutions and injuries.

Leaving EJ off the World Cup team is the biggest mistake since Steve Sampson left Roy Lassiter at home in preference to Roy Wegerle. As a fan of both Roy’s I can almost appreciate the difficulty in picking one over the other, but the sheer absurdity of that choice was cause to dismiss Sampson before the team left for France in 1998. Johnson’s omission isn’t a Sampsonesque disaster, but it’s positively a head scratcher when you consider that players like Terrance Boyd, Chris Wondolowski, Joe Corona, Brad Davis, Maurice Edu, and Kyle Beckerman, who while fine players in their respective leagues, have no business taking the field in a World Cup match. Yes, all of those players are good, and many of them have helped the USA to qualify for Brazil 2014, but none more so that Johnson, and not one of them has proven that they can consistently compete on the international stage. In stark contrast EJ has proved that he can do exactly that, and not only does it ring with the unjust sting of a punch in the stomach, it’s a huge mistake to leave him behind.

Eddie Johnson scores clutch goals. Be it for club or country, if you need a goal late in a game, EJ is you man. But he’s not a selfish poacher, or a one dimension speed demon. He’s arguably the most versatile player on the roster, able to play as a pure striker, a target man, setup man, or as a withdrawn forward. He’s also adept on either side of the wing midfield, contributing to a possession game while making slashing penetrating runs. He’s good with his feet, whether shooting or passing, one of a handful of US players that can actually beat a defender off the dribble, and he’s better than anyone on the roster in the aerial game. On top of all of that, he’s pretty damn fast to boot.

The knock on Johnson allegedly has been his slow start/poor form in MLS. This is hogwash. It’s nitwittery espoused by the mindless stat-crazed fools playing fantasy soccer. Anyone paying attention to Eddie Johnson’s play with DC United this year would have seen him integrating effectively with new teammates, at least six of whom are new to the team themselves. Judging EJ of his lack of goal scoring through seven games with a new team, and that being one that lacks a play making midfielder, is just silly. It’s also ignoring the blossoming forward partnership that he’s forged with fellow newcomer Fabian Espindola. It’s discounting the fact that Johnson wins every head ball that comes his way. It’s ignoring the tireless off the ball runs he’s making while not getting proper service out of the midfield. Additionally claims that Eddie is in a scoring slump ignore the fact that he’s had goals for both DC United and the United States wrongly disallowed by poor officiating. The fact is that Eddie Johnson is as close to top form as any player in the USA player pool.

The poor from rationale doesn’t hold water. Aside from the fact that the label is inaccurate, it’s not consistently applied to the selection of the other players on the team. Jozy Altidore is coming off a wretched year in the English Premier League with Sunderland, a club he was counseled not to sign with in the first place. Yes, you can make excuse that Sunderland is a trash heap club, but he chose to go there, and by the end of the season he was not only not starting, but mired on the bench behind a cast of donkeys. Even so, Altidore made the provisional World Cup roster in spite of a much more arguable case of poor present form. He’ll be going to Brazil because he’s the best forward we have. And good for Jozy, he’s earned it. But so has Eddie.

The suggestions that Eddie Johnson is a bad influence in the locker room, or that he pouts and sulks when things down go his way, are a lot of after the fact rumor and speculation drummed out to rationalize his exclusion. Maybe there really is something to all of that, but there’s just a general absence of honesty to this angle. Meanwhile Eddie’s reaction to the snub was pure class:

That’s not the reaction of player that fits the negative stereotype labels applied to EJ, or of a bad locker room influence, or of a sulking child. That’s the reaction to heartbreaking news from a ‘Grown Man’ as my friend Andrew Dixon would say.

The most frustrating part of this is the conventional understanding that Johnson was probably beaten out by Wondolowski. Wondo is a great MLS player, and a goal poacher of the highest order – in MLS. The World Cup however, is clearly beyond his reach, and there will be no goals to poach against Ghana, or Portugal, or Germany. Scoring goals against these teams is going to require the ability to play at the international game speed. Eddie Johnson can do that, and Chris Wondolowski cannot. Now maybe Wondo gets trimmed from the final roster in two weeks and makes this 1v1 comparison moot, but it also holds to the likes of Boyd, Corona, Edu, Davis, and Beckerman just as well.

At some point you have to allow a manager to select his player pool, his starters, and his tactics, accepting that he’s trying to assemble best “team” rather than a collection of the best players. That’s fair enough, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow when asked to accept that there’s no place on the US team for EJ’s level of skill, athleticism, and consistent production on the international stage.

To put a positive spin on this the USA’s loss is DC United’s gain. Eddie will now not miss United games while the US team is in pre-tournament training, or games while the team is away in Brazil for the World Cup. He’ll have more time to settle in with his new club, where he can set about being a part of restoring this team to its winning ways, and we will be treated to his clutch play, passion for the game, and professionalism.

Take us home tonight, Eddie. We love you!

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.