Posts

Allsopp brace leads United to first win of the season; 2-1 over Kansas City

Danny Allsopp

DC United's Danny Allsopp scored in the 12th and 34th minute to give DC United their first win of the season. Photo Chris Bannon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. D.C. United head coach Curt Onalfo made two major first team moves when he sat goalkeeper Troy Perkins and midfielder Santino Quaranta to start tonight’s 2-1 win over the Kansas City Wizards. Saddled with five straight losses to open the season, Onalfo turned to a 19 year old rookie goalkeeper and a 31 year old Australian striker to help jump start a moribund United team. Well, it worked as forward Danny Allsopp scored two first half goals and Bill Hamid was one minute from a shutout in his MLS debut in United’s first win of the season.

Allsopp scored in the 12th and 34th minutes to give the Black and Red their first lead of the season at any point through six MLS matches. United hung on until a Kei Kamara goal in stoppage time halved the deficit and made the 10,038 fans in attendance at RFK Stadium a bit nervous until the final whistle just a minute later from referee Alex Prus.

United started the scoring in the 12th minute on a relatively harmless clearance by Rodney Wallace out of United’s defensive zone. The ball bounded up field and Allsopp muscled Wizards defender Pablo Escobar off the ball and regained possession 30 yards from goal. The Australian then put a deft touch past the other Wizards central defender Jimmy Conrad and was heading towards goal. Allsopp unleashed a left-footed blast that took a slight deflection off the leg of Conrad past helpless Wizards goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and into the net for a 1-0 lead.

United doubled their advantage in the 34th minute off a dreadful mistake from Escobar. The Colombian defender’s pass intended for left back Roger Espinosa was under weighted and easily picked off by the hustling Adam Cristman. Cristman easily dispatched Espinosa’s attempt of a tackle and fed Allsopp all alone in front of goal and the big striker took only one touch before sending a laser precise right-footed shot past Nielsen and into the side netting for a 2-0 lead.

United rookie goalkeeper Bill Hamid was then called on for a reflex save in stoppage time to deny Wizards midfielder Jack Jewsbury and keep the score at 2-0. Hamid looked nervous early on in the game but came through unscathed at the half.

After the half the visitors began to really pour on the pressure. Halftime substitute Kamara, who was stunningly left out of the starting lineup in spite of his personal success against United, was a match up nightmare for United. The 6 foot 4 inch striker was elusive and bothersome to the United defense but after about 20 minutes of sustained pressure, United began to turn the tide. Allsopp nearly had a hat trick when his left-footed effort was palmed away by Nielsen to keep the score at 2-0.  In the 68th minute Clyde Simms had a similar shot but from about 25 yards away that narrowly missed the outside post. In the 77th minute United’s last chance at goal was denied by the woodwork. Christian Castillo’s pile driver of a free kick from 40 yards stung the right post and the rebound was then sent into orbit by Boyzzz Khumalo.

United defended gamely but did concede late in stoppage time when Josh Wolff’s excellent whipped in cross found the outstretched boot of Kamara to beat Hamid and spoil the rookie’s shutout bid in his first game.

United will now go on to face FC Dallas this weekend at Pizza Hut Park on Saturday evening at 8:30 pm EST.

United Notes

  • Luciano Emilio and Andy Najar were both unused subs tonight for United
  • Devon McTavish made a late appearance subbing in for a very tired Juan Manuel Peña

Heartbreak for United as stoppage time penalty draws match with Kansas City at 2-2; United now needs major help for playoffs

D.C. United was four stoppage time minutes away from going back to the MLS playoffs. By virtue of Toronto’s awful gag job (5-0 loss to Red Bull) and Real Salt Lake’s comprehensive 3-0 win over Colorado, United was in position to advance to the postseason with a win. Julius James, hobbled with an injured hamstring, leaped over a Kansas City defender in the 82nd minute and headed home a weak clearance from Kevin Hartman and gave United brief hope that they pulled off the improbable come from behind win.

However, a stoppage time red card issued to Fred for intentionally keeping a goal bound ball out of the net with his right elbow set the stage for Claudio Lopez’ penalty conversion in the 2-2 draw tonight at Comerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kansas this evening. Rodney Wallace had a right-footed effort sting the inside of the post after the equalizer from Lopez that would have certainly seen the Black-and-Red through to the playoffs. As it stands now, United will need one scenario and one scenario only to advance to the playoffs. A Dallas draw in Seattle and a New England loss in Columbus. While both results are not out of the realm of possibility, as of this publishing, FC Dallas had a 1-0 lead in Seattle late in the first half of their match.

United came out of the game playing the obviously more attentive soccer as the Wizards had been eliminated last weekend. Julius James had a header go off the far post and Christian Gomez, later subbed out in the first half after suffering a clash of heads, missed narrowly wide. The Wizards then stepped up and got the games first goal in the 30th minute. Graham Zuisi (from Maryland) sent in a free kick that Kei Kamara got a diving header to and glanced it past United goalkeeper Steve Cronin for a 1-0 lead that held up through halftime.

After the restart, United obviously were in dire straights and got the game leveled on a rather dodgy penalty call mid-way through the second half. Fred was patrolling the right sideline and cut into the box and seemed to go down without much contact. The referee bought the move and MLS’ all-time leader in both penalty conversions and goal scoring, Jaime Moreno,  stepped up and was fortunate to beat Hartman as he got a glove on the shot but it still trickled past and the match was level at 1-1.

Later in the match, United defender Julius James suffered a hamstring injury when tracking back to defend a Wizards counter attack. The Trinidadian defender was out of the match for a few minutes and with United having used all their subs was forced to move James up top as not to have an injured player on their 3-man back line. United was awarded a free kick in the 82nd minute and when Hartman mishit his clearance, the injured but clearly athletic James rose way above the ground and easily nodded the ball into the empty net to set off a raucous celebration as it seemed United just might have pulled the rabbit out of the hat.

It was not to be however as the Wizards clawed their way back. In the 90th minute the Wizards had a corner kick and United struggled to clear the ball out and with a shot heading for the empty net, Fred stuck out his elbow and left referee Jair Marrufo no choice in showing the red card and pointing to the spot. United’s season started out on a dodgy penalty call against them and most likely also ended on a penalty called against them. Quite a turnaround considering United didn’t give up a penalty all of last season.

Now it’s a waiting game for United.

DC United On its Last Gasp in Kansas City

Yes, when Chicago won and Jabloteh lost, it was pretty much a poke in the eye and just about the worst day of the season for DC United, but DC have a golden chance to redeem themselves and scrape into the MLS playoffs with a win in Kansas City and some good results around the rest of the league.

OK, so last year, it was NY hanging around waiting for someone to knock them out, and it never happened so they backed into the playoffs when DC lost and parlayed that good fortune into their only MLS cup run ever. Now, the shoe is on DC’s foot as they are pretty much waiting for other teams to knock them out, but they can make that task a lot harder by winning in KC, a place that has been exceedingly friendly to United over the years.

So, without further ado, I will make your playoff scenario lives easier. If DC wins and Dallas wins, United are very likely to make the playoffs. If DC wins and Dallas loses, DC is almost certainly out unless Colorado fails to win too and some other results go the right way as well. Now, incredibly, DC can make the playoffs with a tie if a lot of other results fall perfectly, but those chances are dicey to expect, so it’s not even worth thinking about them. Bottom line, DC must win on the road in order to need the least amount of help getting to the playoffs.

Incredibly, all the other teams at 39 points vying for that last spot are also playing on the road too. TFC ostensibly has the easiest match at the pitiful Red Bulls, but that is the last match in Giants Stadium, and under Richie, NY is a lot tougher out than they have been all year and what better way to audition for the DC job next year than to help them into the playoffs! DC at KC has the next easiest match, then NE at the Crew and Dallas at Seattle both have tough matches, but against teams that have already clinched the Supporter’s Shield and their spot in the playoffs respectively. No doubt, those two higher seeds will not want to lose their final home matches, but you would assume the visitors would easily be the more desperate teams.

Away records are not much help either as Dallas and NE have but three wins on the road, while TFC, Colorado and DC are right in there with two each. Of course, DC’s two wins were utter flukes, but hey they were robbed a few points on the road too. Looking at road performance, DC and Dallas have scored the most on the road, but also given up the most too, with Colorado and TFC coming in a couple goals behind them. Incredibly, NE with a 6-0 loss in RSL has still given up far less goals on the road than anyone else, but then again they have only scored half as many too with a mere 10 goals and therefore have the worst goal differential by far. FCD has scored 23, DC 22, TFC 19, and Colorado 18.

But all that goes out the window anyway when you consider the opponents each team has to face. NE has to go to Columbus where the Crew have only lost twice in 26 games over almost two years (to Seattle and Cruz Azul) so clearly that’s not an easy win. Nor does Colorado have an easy task as RSL is 7-1-5 this year in Rio Tinto (KC beat them shockingly, not Houston, LA, Seattle, Chivas, much less Colorado!). Plus, TFC has never won in NY in their history as well as the fact that as bad as NY has been this year, they are still 4-6-4 at home with a -1 GD as opposed to their overall -25 GD. Dallas does not matter as DC holds the tiebreaker edge over them as long as no other teams horn into that tie as their better per game average points would kick in to help them.

So, there you have it. If DC wins, they have as good a chance as they will get, albeit slim shady for sure. So, the real question is can they win and the answer to that is a resounding maybe. DC is certainly capable and KC is probably only going to play spoiler a bit halfheartedly. Plus DC, as bad as they have been on the road the past few years, they have only lost once in KC since 2004. DC is a shocking 3-1-4 in KC with the only loss being that season opener last year when their minds were elsewhere as they were traveling to Pachuca for their next match.

However, stats and tendencies aside, DC has some real hard questions still to be answered up and down the team and that is no way to claw your way into the playoffs. Incredibly United, heading into the last game of the season mind you, still does not have a system in place or even a reliable set of starters. So, maybe Soehn hits the jackpot with whatever new lineup he trots out there this time, but just as likely he craps out.

Case in point, The Crew “win” was pretty much a lucky result gutted out by the old guard, while the Toluca tie was a brilliant performance (yes, a bit lucky too, but that Toluca reserve team was miles better than that Crew team in RFK) by the new wave of young and hungry types so Soehn will have to decide which way he will go, or how he will strike a balance, particularly since Quaranta and Namoff remain out.

So, right from the start, what formation does Soehn use? 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 3-5-2? What does he do with Moreno, Olsen, Fred and Gomez? What about young guys that have clearly stepped up like Khumalo, Jacobson, and Szetela? Amazingly for this late in the season, there is just so many fundamental questions still left to be answered.

Now if I was in charge and considering rest really isn’t an issue even with that tough match in Mexico a few days ago, I think this is the time Soehn has to say these are the best I’ve got and they will win this one and ride out whatever playoff string United can muster.

That means Emilio and Pontius starting at forward. They are easily the best pairing United has produced to date, and when Pontius tires Khumalo can move in for him as he has earned it with his sparkling play lately. KC has been doing a bit of shuffling in their central defense with the rookie Besler taking over for Hohlbein as partner for Conrad, so maybe that’s an area where DC can take advantage.

In midfield, even though United could afford to play five midfielders, since three in the back is fine on that tiny KC field, they should play a standard 4-4-2 as it is their best formation right now with the players they have and considering the way KC plays as well as who and where they will play in the playoffs should they get that far.

So, in the center, Gomez and Simms are the best DC has and they match up very well with Jewsbury and Hirsig (if he’s healthy), and especially against Zusi if Hirsig remains out. Maybe Szetela for Gomez if Soehn is really ready to let him out of the doghouse, but with Quaranta out and Jacobson a bit banged up, Gomez is really the best option right now unless Soehn is ready to start auditioning Szetela for that role next year.

As for the outside players, Fred barely gets the nod over Khumalo on the right. Boyzzz has probably earned it more, but sadly he plays almost no credible defense at all and Fred is at least competent in the sense that he gets in the way like the proverbial sleeping dog that trips up the burglar trying to rob the house. So, with Lopez out there for KC backed up by the very lively Harrington coming forward from his left back slot, DC needs to play someone at that right midfield slot who will track back with some type of reliability even if it is just a body to trip over.

As for the left, Wallace is a no brainer, he’s the best left midfielder DC has hands down and going against Myers for the injured Leathers and Watson is a pretty nice matchup for DC too. Plus, with the snakebit Arnaud, or maybe the anemic Herculez Gomez out there for KC, Wallace’s defensive flaws will be less crucial to the outcome most likely.

You’ll note there’s no Olsen or Moreno in those plans and as sad as it is to say, those guys are now officially past being consistently effective players. They now become the super-subs who help cement wins coming on late to provide some control and leadership, or maybe they can run out a stretch of games if injuries hit or what have you, but they are done as starters and probably finished wearing Black and Red unless they are willing to take huge pay cuts and much diminished roles in the future. We’ll see.

Now, the defense has lesser questions. McTavish or Vaughn can play the right well enough for Namoff, I’d play Vaughn personally as he has done the most at that position lately, but McTavish is great and maybe a bit more experienced in that role with DC overall. Either one of them can keep Lopez contained as good as anyone in MLS can. Then Jakovic and James are etched in stone in the center and they should be fine against Wolff and Arnaud or Zoltan.

So the only question is at left back. Burch has been average to terrible, but John is a wild card who can be brilliant or utterly useless. Burch is more experienced here and a better threat going forward, but John is a more solid defender and less likely to make mistakes. However, John has a tendency to the costly foul and does sometimes get lost. I’d play John, since KC’s attack down their right is not that scary, but either John or Burch has risks.

As for goalkeeping, I must bite my tongue and say Cronin has been fantastic. I think it’s a horrible message to send to your young players that they will get replaced at the drop of a hat by the newest flavor of the month who might be brought in, but I guess Soehn has been doing that all year in lots of positions, so why stop now. There have been none of the communication problems I expected anyway, so hopefully young Cronin keeps his streak going because with that tight field in KC, weird things can happen. Might be no shots for half an hour, then 10 in 5 minutes, or it could be end to end action for long stretches, or no action at all for a whole half.

Even the intangibles somewhat favor DC. United is 6-9-4 overall in KC, but considering the team went 3-8 there over the first 9 years of the league, DC’s recent record there isn’t too shabby. Plus, no danger of biblical storms or weather related travel fiascos either. DC is relatively hot coming off those big results against the best teams in MLS and Mexico, and they should be more motivated considering their playoffs chances, while KC hasn’t won in almost a month and they have nothing to play for.

So, there you have it. DC has the ability to win this one if they exhibit some of the will to do so. That has always been the question for this team, but now is the absolute last chance for this team to establish some kind of rhythm and maybe make some noise in the playoffs if they are lucky enough to get there.

If DC ties, they could still qualify for the playoffs, but they’d need Colorado to win, Dallas to tie, and NE and TFC to lose in order to make it on the first tiebreaker. If DC loses, they are out as they can’t pass NE or TFC in any tiebreaker scenario.

DC United Graciously Accepts Wizards Gift of Three Points

If United has any dignity left at all, they should have slunk off the field like a thief in the night instead of feeling proud of that pitiful effort against a KC side that clearly deserved to win if not for their woefully inept finishing ability. But Lucky Luciano’s 39th minute strike was the difference in the match as DC fell into a valuable three points.

Now I’ve never been one to mince words so I will not start now. Frankly, if DC were to win any more games in the way they dispatched KC, I would stop being a fan of the team. Seriously, the quotes about grinding out a win, making your own luck, taking advantage of your chances, etc. make me want to vomit. United should have bolted out of RFK like they stole something after that painful performance.

DC flat out tried to lose the game, and only KC’s shocking futility in front of goal allowed DC the shut out win. Wicks gets his third shutout in four games, but if not for the shots hit directly at him that he saves almost in self defense, I’m not sure DC is even within three goals of KC at the final whistle. But hey, better lucky than good eh?

Didn’t take long for United’s game plan to spring into effect either. Barely two minutes into the game, Bryan Namoff went walkabout to give KC’s Claudio Lopez an acre of space down the left to pick out Davy Arnaud wide open eight yards out from goal, but inexplicably, he hammered a shot right at the dumbfounded Wicks.

KC was to continue spurning United’s largesse as KC and the unfortunate Arnaud in particular was to pepper open shots into the various banners behind the South goal throughout the opening 20 minutes of the match.

Jaime Moreno did manage to assert a token effort for the home side as he headed a Rodney Wallace cross off the crossbar in the 23rd minute to prove that DC would not completely roll over paws up if nothing else.

Still, KC continued to pound DC’s goal only to have woeful shooting or flat our dumb luck keep them off the score-sheet to United’s frustration one has to wonder. KC’s right back Jonathan Leathers was given an open look at goal only to be denied by Wicks barely getting his hands up in time to save himself from another painful shot to his torso. Of course, he spilled the rebound, but as the ball fell tantalizingly to Jewsbury, Namoff poked it away to keep KC’s rugged central midfielder from taking another crack at the shell-shocked Wicks or the fragile signage behind the goal.

In the 33rd minute Namoff, perhaps disgusted by the whole affair by this point simply passed the ball to KC’s Herculez Gomez for a wicked shot over Wicks and tagged for the far corner, but feeling conflicted and obviously some remorse, Namoff sprung into the breach to nod the shot away off the line.

The ensuing KC corner kick was even more comedic as United struggled to clear a rather innocent kick allowing KC’s Conrad to spank a shot off the crossbar and Josh Wolff to crank a bicycle kick that took two desperate lunges to clear off the line.

Finally, Gomez hooked up with Emilio on a short corner kick no doubt intended to waste time, but Gomez cracked the ball to Namoff and his flick on header found Pontius on the back post. Clearly United’s rookie winger did not get the memo about tanking this match as he dove to rocket a header off the post and right into the path of Emilio who had no choice but to knock it in for the go ahead goal.

Sensing his plans for an early summer rapidly going awry, Soehn went all out defensive in the second half in order to help cede possession back to KC. DC had utterly fumbled the game plan and put themselves completely behind the eight-ball with that first half goal. Clearly, DC would need to give the snakebit Wizards a lot more help if they were to be expected to score the requisite two goals for the win.

Sure enough, in the 65th minute, Lopez was again left alone to measure a lovely diagonal ball to Wolff to knock down into the path of Arnaud for a wide open shot barely 12 yards out. Incredibly, Arnaud shanked yet another shot wide and KC was done for. Barely able to collect any more loose balls from United with any enthusiasm whatsoever.

Amazingly, as much as DC tried to lose the match, they nearly ended up winning by two or three goals as Emilio was set up twice in the final minutes only to have his chip over Hartman cleared off the line by Conrad, and minutes later have his open shot off a clever feed by Moreno smothered by Hartman.

So with the win, United tortures their loyal supporters with yet another gem unearthed from a pile of dung. The win staves off their inevitable playoff elimination for at least another few weeks as they now have improbably compiled 36 points, a scant four points off Houston for the league lead, and merely three points behind the Crew in the East. But all those teams have games in hand, so no doubt United’s weekend thrashing by Seattle should calm any heady thoughts about the post season.

On another bright note, DC should be mathematically out of the CONCACAF Champions League in less than a week with their upcoming loss in Trinidad to Jabloteh, so United’s masochistic fans have at least that to look forward to.

DC United’s Host Wizards to Start Five Match Home Stand

No doubt DC United is happy to be home as they approach their 8th of 10 games in 31 days, but despite the miracle 4 points they carved out of their past two road matches, the team is clearly struggling and now has to deal with the loss of another starting defender as well as hosting a KC side coming off a huge win in NE.

So first things first, Marc Burch, who was suspended anyway due to yellow card accumulation, was sent out to take advantage of the break to have scar tissue removed from a troublesome ankle. So, that’s the second starting defender who was suspended, but has stretched those absences into at least a few weeks due to the sudden need for surgery.

Now, on any normal team that would mean you slot in the understudies and away you go. Sadly for DC, the understudies have been woefully deficient and the situation has been exacerbated by Soehn’s waffling on formation and strategy, as well as the fact that the best reserve defenders are all recent acquisitions while the longer tenured defenders have pretty much played their way into the doghouse.

Now Soehn solved Jakovic’s absence down in Dallas by inserting Clyde Simms into central defense and sticking with the 4-4-2. It worked for the most part, but more because of what Dallas did, then anything DC did. If fact, James had a howler of a game and tried to give the game away, but Burch and Quaranta bailed him out with some timely plays to level the match. No, Dallas only played one forward so Simms and James had it relatively easy in central defense covering one guy while the midfield had to help chase the other. Of course both of them scored anyway, so perhaps Simms wasn’t so tactically brilliant after all.

KC will not do that. They play both Wolff and Arnaud high and also frequently send Claudio Lopez or Herculez Gomez deep into the attack from their wide positions. So, Soehn pretty much has to play a 4-4-2, or risk another debacle like the Open Cup match against Seattle, who plays a very similar system to KC (albeit with a lot more speed and precision). Still, KC has fired their coach and has nothing to lose, and are coming off their annual victorious visit to the Razor (where they are an astonishing 7-1-5 since Gillette opened!).

Unfortunately, it’s tough for United to fill out a four man backline when they have only one decent defender. Namoff is about the only guy that can be penciled in without any shudders and twitches. With Janicki banished and John caged, there really is no choice but to go with the same central pairing of James and Simms again. But KC will be a true test of this pair as James will have Wolff and Simms will have to pick up Arnaud, no place to hide in this lineup. Wolff will punish any more foolishness from James like he did scoring two goals in NE off defensive mistakes. Arnaud will make Simms work because he can shoot from distance and make dagger runs, so no laying off or getting too tight either.

But, the real conundrum comes in how to replace Burch on the left. John would seem to be the answer, but only if the question is who DC can trot out there who is most likely to break a bone and give up a critical freekick while at the same time contributing nothing to the offense. Frankly, if we’re asking that question, how did DC all of a sudden become Millwall?

Another option would be the delightfully named David Habarugira. (Best player chant ever: Ha Ba…. Ha Ba Rujeer Ra….. Ha Ba Rujeer Ra…… Ha Ba Rujeer Ra Ra! Repeat. Thanks to Bryan for that one. I still can’t get it out of my head and it’s been weeks!) Unfortunately, Habarugira speaks almost no English and if you think Wicks blew a gasket on Burch for not listening, and those two guys speak the same language, how can you send this poor Burundian, by way of Belgium, into that cauldron? The two have already cost the team a goal in CONCACAF too, that Toluca fiasco five minutes into the game.

Still, my vote is for Habarugira with Simms as mediator, but I suspect Soehn will go with John as the player more likely to slow down Herculez Gomez, maybe permanently. Soehn could throw a twist in too, by playing McTavish in central defense instead of Simms. I would like that much better or even McT playing right back and move Namoff inside. But McT had a dicey time in the defense last year and has not played well overall this entire season, so I can’t see Soehn doing that even though it would solve a major problem in midfield.

If Soehn were to play McTavish in the back and keep Simms in midfield, he is a much better complement to Gomez than any other central player. Olsen might be up to the job, but he does not have the range he once had and while the mind is sharp, the flesh betrays. Jewsbury is not a guy who can be left alone for a second either as he has a cannon for a shot. But if Simms is in the back, it’s a lock Wallace plays that other central role (unless Szetela magically emerges from his own doghouse).

However if Wallace plays inside, that presents problems on the wings. Quaranta can surely play the right side as Lopez will not strain himself to defend his side of the field, but the left is a question mark. Fred or Pontius can line up on the left for sure, but Fred is playing hideously badly lately and Pontius is the only healthy forward besides Emilio and Moreno. Soehn has shown he does not trust Moreno to play 90 minutes, so Pilot is almost certain to play forward. Ely Allen is clearly not an option on the left either if his play against Toluca is any indication, so DC pretty much has no other player than Wallace who can reliably be expected to play the left.

Offensively for DC things should be much better, but that’s like saying an ugly dog is better than no dog at all. Emilio is a shadow of his former MVP self, and worse this offense is not designed to do the things that complement his game the best. He thrives on confusion in the box, but United barely wrinkles the brow much less confuses opponents. The offense is tragically predictable and completely lacking in any kind of decent wide play to open things up for inside players to capitalize on.

So, a year ago it would be nothing to say Emilio would have a field day against a rapidly aging Conrad or a rookie like Besler. As it is, unless Pontius returns to his early year form, DC’s forward line will go quietly into the night yet again. Maybe Moreno will spark a bit, but honestly he’s making plays and no one is there to finish them. Gomez too is trying, but it’s like those guys are playing chess while the rest of the team is skeet shooting.

That’s really the nub of the problem too. These guys are still not playing as a team literally two thirds of the way through the season. The offense isn’t out of ideas; they simply do not know how to support each other when someone has a thought. There’s so much standing around waiting for one of the big guns to win the game instead of reading and reacting to what each player is doing.

So to make a long story short, you see how difficult it is to play any kind of decent lineup when you have injuries to a team that already has veterans playing poorly, most of the reserves demoralized and denounced, newcomers who are struggling to fit in, and some promising rookies who are hitting the wall hard. A team managed right into the ground you might say.

Still, there is always hope and RFK can hide a multitude of sins. United is still undefeated at home in league play and as badly as they are playing DC is on a roll of sorts as they have lucked into 4 points in their last two MLS matches. Plus, KC has never really had much success in RFK, as opposed to NE where they are dominant and where they hung four on NE to break a five game scoreless streak. The opposite is true here, overall DC is 10-4-4 over the Wizards in RFK, and 4-1 since early in 2005, only that brutal season opening loss in 2007 is the only success they’ve had here in almost four years.

DC has to win too. The season is winding down and United is on the outside of the playoffs at the moment. This is the first of five straight at home, but it’s not quite as simple as that. DC plays KC, and Seattle four days later this Saturday, then has a break until the end of September. Six points is imperative because anything less and all the teams around DC in the standings will have played three matches in that same time frame to catch up their games in hand. If DC drops any points now, they could be miles down the standings in three weeks.

The one thing this team has shown is that they will show up to play once their backs are against the wall. You wish they would start the matches with such intensity, but there you go, this team is still a work in progress. However, one would hope they would notice their backs are against the wall right now, and some veterans are literally playing for the next contract. This is the more winnable game than Seattle will be, so the full three points is monstrously important.

United’s season likely rides on this weeks games. If DC wants to have any kind of control over their own destiny, they need to start this homestretch off with a win tomorrow night which hopefully will start a decent roll in MLS play. DC’s high dollar veterans simply have to show they are worth the money now that the chips are down. However, if DC tanks the next two matches, then it will surely be time to start saying goodbye to some long-time sacred cows on the roster as the youth movement will surely be speeded up for next year.

DC United and Kansas City Tie One All

It was another tale of two halves as DC held the edge for the opening 45 minutes and scored the opening goal for the fourth straight road match and seventh time in eight games overall, but unfortunately also failed to hang onto that lead for the fourth straight time as well.

United struck in the 27th minute as Santino Quaranta held up the ball well and flicked a nice heel pass to Jamie Moreno heading towards the penalty area, where he was crunched unmercifully by Jimmy Conrad. However, the ball squirted into the KC penalty area and caused a second of confusion between defender Lance Watson and keeper Kevin Hartman. That moment was all Wallace needed to reach in and poke the loose ball into the back of the net for his second goal in three games.

With Jaime Moreno getting an assist on the play, he now has 101 for his career tying his legendary compatriot Marco Etcheverry for the most in team history. Steve Ralston has the most in league history at something like 130 and counting. It was Moreno’s record 300th game as well. The next closest player is Olsen with 207. Moreno is the eighth player in league history with 300 games played. Ralston leads with 360, while Kevin Hartman, Chris Klein and Jesse Marsch are the only other active players with more games played than Jaime.

However, that play should have been United’s second goal of the night though, as United’s other first round draft pick pounded the post with a lovely shot five minutes earlier after collecting a slick return pass from Quaranta in behind Conrad down the right hand side of the box.

The tight field and general scrappy play from both sides kept the game close for most of the match, but United clearly had the best of the few opportunities in the first half, only to see that situation totally reversed in the second half as KC came out with a lot more energy and determination playing in front of 9,000 or so at CommunityAmerica BallPark.

Unfortunately, Wallace giveth and he taketh away as the saying goes. Just minutes into the second half, Lance Watson swooped in to cleanly steal the ball away from a hesitant Wallace, and feed Jack Jewsbury down the right hand side behind John who got caught out by the turnover. Jewsbury’s first time cross found Wolff who beat United’s defender Greg Janicki to the near post to slam in the ball to finish up the scoring.

KC was to have two more half chances but United got some more good fortune on the road to preserve the tie. The first was an extremely good (or lucky) non call as Simms tugged a bit on Jewsbury in the box, but his flop was way over the top and the referee refused to buy it. Then in the 62nd minute, Wolff had the game winner on his forehead but banged the ball high and wide after a nice cross by Lopez found him on the back post where he easily out-muscled Simms to get his head on it mere yards from the goal.

Given this as the middle match of three in eight days, coach Tommy Soehn used it to show off some of the depth the team has developed this year. Brandon Barklage and Andrew Jacobson got the start in the center of midfield which meant United had three players from this year’s draft, and one newly returned after being drafted last year in the midfield to start the match.

Also, Avery John got his first start since being signed in April, and Greg Janicki got his first start since his concussion in the opening match of the season. All of which meant United started the match with Christian Gomez, Luciano Emilio, and Dejan Jakovic on the bench, while Olsen, Fred, and Marc Burch didn’t even make the trip. That’s six starters for those of you keeping score at home.

So United retained a valiant point on the road, which considering their abject failures on the road last year is a pretty good sign, especially considering the judicious use of bench players. However, United has now surrendered the lead in five of their eight matches, and has only one clean sheet on the year which has to be a concern, although a minor one considering the team remains on top of the Eastern Conference and still has only one loss.

At eight games into the season, this is the deepest into the season the team has gone with only one loss since 2006, when DC didn’t collect their second loss until July.

Next up for DC is second place Toronto at RFK this Saturday night. A win over the Canadians would put DC a minimum of two points clear of anyone at the top of the table in the East.

Scoring Summary:
DC — Rodney Wallace 2 (Jaime Moreno 2, Santino Quaranta 3) 27
KC — Josh Wolff 3 (Jack Jewsbury 2, Lance Watson 1) 52

D.C. United — Louis Crayton, Bryan Namoff, Greg Janicki, Avery John, Rodney Wallace, Brandon Barklage (Christian Gomez 61), Andrew Jacobson, Clyde Simms, Santino Quaranta, Jaime Moreno (Thabiso Khumalo 87), Chris Pontius (Luciano Emilio 46).
Substitutes Not Used: Dejan Jakovic, Milos Kocic, Devon McTavish, Ange N’Silu

Kansas City Wizards — Kevin Hartman, Lance Watson, Jimmy Conrad, Aaron Hohlbein (Michael Harrington 83), Matt Besler, Josh Wolff, Santiago Hirsig, Jack Jewsbury, Davy Arnaud, Herculez Gomez (Roger Espinoza 60), Claudio Lopez.
Substitutes Not Used: Michael Kraus, Rauwshan McKenzie, Kurt Morsink, Boris Pardo, Abe Thompson

DC United Off to See the Wizards

Now, in the early days of the league, DC United could pretty much count on at least one hard truth, their semi-yearly beating in Kansas City. Incredibly, it took until 1998 for DC to register their first win in Arrowhead. DC had won games in both expansion cities Chicago and Miami before they won at the Tomb for goodness sake. And the losses were heinous too; DC was outscored 14-4 those first three years, before a couple shootout wins and shockers eventually pushed the record to merely bad at 4-8 by 2004.

However, that has been turned around lately despite DC’s ugly loss there last year. Prior to last year, DC hadn’t lost in KC since 2004, a quite respectable 3-0-3 until the debacle in last year’s season opener. Surely, one of the best away records for DC in any other league venue. So, KC has certainly lost its air of invincibility.

One thing it hasn’t lost though is KC’s shockingly unpredictable weather and they are calling for storms in KC Wednesday night. “Storms” in KC means anything up to and including the odd tornado that might randomly appear, so set your DVRs to run an extra hour or two, because the chance for a weather delay has better odds than Sean Wheelock saying “It’s on for KC!” every time they cross midfield. KC has already had some shocking weather this spring, so expect the worst.

The Wizards will be well rested too, having just come off a bye week, which gave Arnaud and Wolff to get over some nagging injuries, neither of which is good news. Nor is the fact that KC has tightened up their defense considerably since the opening weeks of the season. After giving up 5 goals in the first two games, they’ve only surrendered 3 goals in the last 5 matches (2 of those in Chicago) giving them 3 shutouts over that 5 game span, despite just coming off a 1-0 loss in Toronto last time out.

DC, on the other is riding an 3 game unbeaten streak and have a share of the Eastern Conference lead for the first time since winning the Shield in 2007 (thanks to Tyrone Marshall!), but they will be missing Olsen, Fred, and Marc Burch, none of whom made the trip to KC. It is a bit troubling Olsen is still not taking any plane flights, but better safe than sorry, I suppose, and it’s understandable Fred doesn’t want to get too far from home given his recent family emergency (and given the travel concerns going to and from KC, you never know exactly how long you will be gone or when you will return!).

The loss of Burch will be interesting though. This could be the first match for the recently signed Avery John, or Soehn could insert Janicki and maybe shuffle the backline a bit. I think its even money either way. This is a good time to see if John is going to be a solid option, but Janicki really deserves to see if he can get his starting spot, that he had in the season opener in LA, back. Given the 3 man back line having pretty specific marking assignments, shuffling the players around a bit shouldn’t be a problem, nor would simply slotting him on the left, for that matter. Although Jakovic’s passing ability would be more useful on the outside, but whatever.

I think Jacobson will get the nod in place of Olsen as he brings a bit of height and ball winning, as well as a wicked outside shot, to the table that would be very handy against KC. Which leaves the rookies, Pontius and Wallace on the outsides, and Gomez and Simms rounding out the midfield. I also think Moreno gets the start alongside Emilio too as his leadership will be that much more important on the road without Olsen.

So, given the lineups expected with five against four, DC should be able to win the midfield for the most part, so their biggest worry should be speedy counterattacks by Arnaud and Lopez or long balls to Wolff. Which admittedly are serious concerns. But, KC’s offense has really gone south as much as their defense has gotten better. Still, DC’s defense has been prone to the odd mistake that has been punished unmercifully, which is why they only have one shutout so far this year.

Going the other way is a concern too. Emilio might be coming off the boil a bit and the predicted cold and rainy doesn’t inspire much hope his Brazilian bones will enjoy this road trip. Then, Moreno rarely seems to string together two exceptional games in a row these days. Gomez has been relatively quiet this year aside from that brilliant assist coming off the bench against Dallas which is a very promising sign. Pontius and Wallace are still doing the job offensively (defensively maybe not so much, but that’s merely a quibble for now), but will not break down KC’s rock solid defense on their own to be sure. Plus, DC doesn’t seem to have shaken that cautious road mentality, unless maybe the wild win in NY has shown them the light.

So soccer and weather gods willing, this has all the makings of a hard fought 0-0 or maybe 1-1 tie, which I will gladly take given the more likely alternative, a one goal loss. DC has scored first on the road in every match this year, but I’ll gladly forsake that honor if it means a earning a shutout on the road.

As for the rest of the league, it was the most painful week of the year so far. Only DC and LA held up their end of the bargain. Toronto was lucky to escape with a tie, much less beat the Crew. Tyrone Marshall spoiled my Chicago pick, but I forgive him as his goal let DC stay at the top of the East. RSL and SJ both laid down like dead dogs on the road, while Houston shockingly came up with goals in NE. All of which left me at 2-5 on the week and 25-28 on the season. (Hey, this stuff is tough to handicap, I’m telling you!)

This week’s blind guesses for the midweek matches, the rest in Friday’s preview for Toronto. For sure bet the opposite considering the way I’m running.

DC and KC 0-0
LA and RSL share four goals 2-2. Donovan and Buddle are too fast for Borchers and whoever they trot out for the suspended Olave (Horst?), but Mathis and Morales save the point for the home side.
SJ gets hammered in NY 2-0. Angel and Kandji are too good for SJ’s woeful defense, and despite NY having a poor defense of their own, SJ is the epitome of impotent, especially on the road.