D.C. United will take on David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday night at RFK Stadium. It will be only the second league home match in over two months for the Black and Red and they absolutely need to capitalize on their good fortune at RFK. United is unbeaten in 9 home matches with 5 wins and 4 draws. However, their recent slide down the Eastern Conference table can be laid directly at the feet of their admittedly poor road success this season. United has only one win in 12 road matches (along with 5 losses and 6 draws) this season and only three road wins over their last 24 MLS road matches, easily the worst streak in all of MLS.
The comfy confines of RFK can hopefully jump start a team that is slowly falling apart due to lack of confidence, poor play and of course a schedule that is simply adding more pressure on the team. The Galaxy come into the match on the heels of their 2-0 win in Chicago on Wednesday evening, without the services of the suspended Beckham and fellow midfielder Eddie Lewis. Both players are expected to start for the Galaxy who will also be seeing a homecoming of sorts with ex-Maryland defenders AJ Delagarza and Omar Gonzalez returning to the DC area for the first time as professional players.
United will have to figure out how to stop the Galaxy’s potent offense driven by Beckham and Donovan. Donovan is coming off swine flu symptoms and seemed none the worse as he flew past three Chicago Fire players to tally the second goal on Wednesday. A confident and fit Donovan is a worst-case scenario for United in that he has been a personal killer against the Black and Red throughout his career. Donovan scored both goals in the Galaxy’s comeback 2-2 draw in the season opener at the Home Depot Center in which United gave up a two-goal lead (sound familiar?) with 13 minutes to play. Donovan also notched a hat trick last season in Los Angeles’ 5-2 drubbing of United eleven months ago. In order for United to keep the Galaxy at bay, they have to sort out their defense which has gone all pear shaped the past two months. United gave up 15 goals on their recent six-game road jaunt and on Tuesday evening it all came to a head when reserve defender Greg Janicki had a hand in all three goals given up in their undeserved 3-1 loss to Marathon in the opening match of group play in the CONCACAF Champions League. Head coach Tom Soehn didn’t mince words during training yesterday when talking about the clearly underperforming Janicki, “I actually thought the team did a pretty good job. We just had an individual who didn’t play well and it really hurt us. Some of the mistakes he is making are mistakes you shouldn’t see at the professional level. He has had a rough stretch, that’s all I can say.”
With that being said, it’s obvious that it would take an act of Congress to get Janicki to play again this season for United, especially with the recent acquisitions of David Habarugira and Julius James in defense. I’m willing to say that Soehn will go against type and actually go with a 4-4-2 against the Galaxy tomorrow evening. I think both Habarugira and James will start (James in central defense) and Marc Burch will see some pine time. In the midfield I see Clyde Simms and Christian Gomez in the middle with Santino Quaranta and Fred out wide, though I would prefer to see Rodney Wallace start ahead of the inconsitent at best Fred. Up front it will be Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno.
While it’s easy to say that the season hangs in the balance with this match should United not get the vital three points, it really isn’t over just yet. After their match against the Galaxy, United will play Toluca of Mexico on Wednesday night at RFK before heading off to play the Fire in Chicago on Saturday night. At that point, United will only have two road matches left to play in league play with 5 consecutive home matches sandwiched in between. Right there is where your season lies.
As for the Galaxy match, I expect United to come flying out of the gate. Their recent performances have been pedestrian at best and I think the relative comfort of RFK will serve them well. United has won two straight matches against the Galaxy at RFK, a 4-1 pasting last season and a 1-0 win in Beckham’s MLS debut in 2007. I say recent history is on United’s side and they will scratch and claw for the three points. However, they simply have to contain both Beckham and Donovan. If other Galaxy players beat them, so be it, they just can’t let the big guns go blasting away. Also, the defense simply has to find a way to keep goals out of the net. I know the offense was a complete no-show north of the border in Toronto last week, but it’s been individual breakdowns that have haunted this team for the better part of two seasons. Last season even United fans could make fun of the Galaxy’s defense as it was one of the worst in league history. However Bruce Arena has gotten them to buy into a total team concept and the three ring Circus hasn’t really taken off this season. In fact the Galaxy have given up twenty fewer goals than at the same point last season. Over that period of time only one team in MLS has given up more goals. I’ll give you three guesses who that team is.