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Desperate DC United Host Philadelphia Union

Well, no beating around the bush. Bottom of the barrel DC simply must win this home game against the expansion Union, who are five points above them in the standings, or they almost certainly will not win again this season as the games don’t get any easier than this one.

A win certainly won’t be easy for United however as DC is riding a five game losing streak and hasn’t won in eight games, since the eve of the World Cup break in fact. Philadelphia, on the other hand has their own four match winless streak including a 3-1 loss to Dallas too. They are also the worst road team in the league at 1-8-1 with a -13 goal differential, having won once (in Houston), but they are coming off a very respectable tie against Colorado last week and the Union won the first meeting between these two sides in their home opener back in April to boot.

For Philadelphia, rookie sensation and number one draft pick has all but sewn up rookie of the year with 7 goals since Nowak inserted him at his natural forward slot and Philly has lost only once when he has scored a goal (Fire). However, the key to the Union attack all year has been Sebastion LeToux who has 6 goals and 8 assists on the year including a hat-trick against DC in that first match back in April.

But while scoring goals hasn’t been a much of a problem for the Union defending them has been and so has finishing the game with all XI players as they lead the league with five ejections (tied with Houston and Toronto). Philly is also tied with DC at the very bottom of the league in defense too having given up 2 goals to date, 22 of them given up on the road. Although that may not be much comfort as DC has given up a painful 16 in 10 games at home, and has a mere one shutout in RFK too.

Looking at the matchups is not really any more promising either unless DC’s offense breaks out of its year long slump or Philly’s offense goes south or they get a player or two ejected. Nowak has settled on a pretty standard 4-4-2 with Mwanga paired with Curious George at forward, LeToux and Fred on the wings, Miglioranzi and newcomer Eduardo Coudet in the center and their regular backline of Harvey, Califf and Orozco-Fiscal with newcomer, Juan Diego Gonzalez. Seitz in goal has had a cruel season including getting burned by the crafty Moreno for what is likely to be his last goal ever, in that first meeting.

Olsen most likely counters with his usual suspects. Not because they deserve to stay on the field based on their play of late, but because they are pretty much the only talent DC has, so I expect almost the exact same lineup that cratered against Dallas last week. Maybe Allsopp is benched for Pontius or Cristman, for certain a now healthy Jakovic starts for Turtle Talley and possibly Zayner gets his first start in the defense, but Hernandez, Boskovic, Quaranta, Najar, King, McTavish, James, and Burch are the most likely candidates to start in front of Hamid in goal.

So, Allsopp (or Cristman) and Hernandez are good bangers to put in against Califf and the underwhelming Gonzalez, who had a painful introduction to MLS the last two weeks, but is still an upgrade over the disappointing Arrieta, who has really struggled since moving up from USL1. But, as hard working as Hernandez and Allsopp have been, Hernandez still doesn’t have a goal and Allsopp hasn’t scored since May. Nor is Cristman, or even Pontius for that matter, exactly lighting it up either.

In midfield, Najar going against Fred, in the Brazilian’s first game back in RFK since being traded for Perkins in the pre-season, could be interesting. But with Harvey on that side too and McTavish unable to help much considering he will be contending with Fred all game long, I don’t expect United’s leading scorer to add his fourth goal of the season. Nor will Quaranta have much joy against Orozco-Fiscal as Q will almost certainly will be forced back to help Burch, who will be hanging on for dear life against arguably the best and most relentless winger in the league right now in LeToux. The center of the field for both teams are pretty much place holders only, so nothing of interest likely to come out of there either.

Defensively, it really isn’t much better as Mwanga and their crafty Moreno will be a handful for Jakovic and James to control. Ideally, Jakovic picks up Moreno as he is smart enough not to get baited into the phantom fouls Moreno constantly creates and James is athletic enough to at least interfere with Mwnaga’s shooting motion. But lookout when those two get switched up as Mwanga’s quick moves and sudden shots might trouble Jakovic somewhat, but Moreno will absolutely eat up the reckless James for numerous dangerous freekicks at best, and a few PKs and maybe an ejection at worst. The only good thing about this matchup is that Prus is calling the game and he doesn’t call much, so maybe Moreno is the one who gets frustrated.

There’s no real intangibles as there is very little history between these two clubs obviously. Philly raced out to a 2 goal lead in that first match before Quaranta got a deflected goal and Moreno skunked Seitz with what should have been a disallowed goal to tie the game, but a LeToux freekick in the 80th gave the Union the win in their home opener. Still, this match does not seem likely to have such fireworks expected. Unless DC gets that all important first goal and opens the game up, both sides will probably look to keep the game tight and just try and build up some momentum to break their long winless streaks.

However, considering both teams are long shots to make the playoffs, it would be nice for the RFK Faithful to at least see a wide open game, with DC throwing caution to the winds in trying to jump start their moribund offense. Even if they give up a couple goals and lose again, to at least see a concerted effort to attack with numbers and pepper Seitz with shots hoping for a mistake since obviously United’s precision in front of goal is wanting, would be at least something to cheer for and might be the key to getting out of the death spiral they are rapidly cycling through.

As long as United keeps with a predictable attack without numbers forward, they will struggle to score since they apparently lack a game changer on offense. Frankly, I hope Olsen benches McTavish, Burch and King in order to add Pontius to the midfield, and bring in Graye from the doghouse and give Zayner a shot at running up and down one of the wings. That would be a gamble of curse that could backfire spectacularly in the one truly winnable game DC has left, but it might be the best chance to get out to a lead too against a team that hasn’t had much road success.

Still, either way DC simply has to find a way win or they might not win again in the regular season. It doesn’t get any easier going forward and if this chance slips away at home in front of fans that are almost ready to revolt, the team will literally have nothing left to play for outside their jobs and that hasn’t proven very much incentive so far. Perhaps they just want this season to end too.

DC United's Jaime Moreno notched a bizarre goal agains i-95 rival Philadelphia Union, but it wasn't enough to give United the vicotory

United nightmarish start continues with 3-2 loss to expansion Philadelphia Union

DC United's Jaime Moreno notched a bizarre goal agains i-95 rival Philadelphia Union, but it wasn't enough to give United the vicotory

DC United’s Jaime Moreno notched a bizarre goal in the second half of his team’s match against i-95 rival Philadelphia Union to tie the score at 2, but it wasn’t enough to give United a point or the victory. (Photo: Rafael Crisostomo)

Sebastion Le Toux scored a hat trick and powered the  Philadelphia Union to their first ever MLS victory in their home debut over D.C. United by a 3-2 scoreline. Don’t let the close score fool you, United were outmatched for 80 of the 90 minutes as the home side took only four minutes to take the lead. Le Toux got on the end of a cross from Roger Torres to power an unmarked header past Troy Perkins for the early deficit. Lax marking from United allowed the lanky Frenchman to simply walk through the penalty area.

Things didn’t improve for the visiting Black and Red as the first half saw a no rhythm or sense of composure on either end of the field as the expansion side passed triangles around the befuddled visitors. Philadelphia extended their lead in the 40th minute on a devastating counterattack. United were pushed up field playing their first corner of the game and Torres got hold of a clearance and sent the ball up field to Alejandro Moreno. Moreno did well to shield off Kurt Morsink and then fired a laser precise pass across the field to Le Toux who sprinted all alone into the box. As desperate United defenders converged, Le Toux fired low and hard to Perkins right and it was 2-0 for the Union.

After halftime head coach Curt Onalfo made the obvious choice to insert Jaime Moreno into the match. The Bolivian sparked United immediately creating a few dangerous opportunities but it was the Union that almost increased their lead to 3-0 when Le Toux was sent in alone when Dejan Jakovic fell pray to a dummy move from Alejandro Moreno. Perkins did well to come off his line and thwart the challenge and keep the score at 2-0. In the 63rd minute United finally broke their seasons duck when Santino Quaranta picked up a bad pass from Michael Orozco and let loose a left-footed blast from 22 yards that took a slight deflection and got past the diving Chris Seitz to halve the lead.

In the 70th minute Jaime Moreno tied the match on one of the most bizarre goals in MLS history. Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz was just about to punt the ball out of the box when Moreno faked a move towards Seitz just as he dropped the ball to volley it. Since Moreno never actually made contact, the move froze Seitz in his tracks and the ball fell to the ground. The Bolivian swept it up, put a fake on Seitz and easily slotted the ball into the empty net to give the visitors a highly improbable tie match at 2-2.

That all changed in the 81st minute when Alejandro Moreno was adjudged to be taken down in an obvious goal scoring opportunity. A red card was show to United’s Dejan Jakovic and the resulting free kick was placed easily inside the far post giving the Union their first ever MLS win by a 3-2 margin. United must now find a way to pick themselves up and get back on track as they start a 3-match home stand starting next weekend against the Chicago Fire on Saturday, April 17th.

United Notes

– defender Juan Manuel Pena was subbed out of the match early in the first half with a hamstring strain

– Dejan Jakovic will miss the Chicago Fire match with his red card

DC United First to Visit Philadelphia Union

DC United has more US Open Cup trophies than the Union have games played, but that’s the way it goes when a new expansion team opens at home for the first time. However, more importantly for both teams is the fact that each are looking for their first goal of the season, much less their first point, so on top of everything else this game should be about as intense as it gets this early in an MLS season.

Obviously United does not want to be the first team to lose to the new guy in the league, but there’s also the added edge of playing their old coach, The Emperor Perfect Peter, who led DC to its last MLS Cup in 2004, as well as facing a couple players the Union picked up from DC in Fred and Andrew Jacobson. Plus, with new DC assistant coach Ben Olsen from the eastern PA area and having played in the Philly area growing up, there is obviously some serious bragging rights at stake as well.

Then there’s the bad blood that was created when Nowak and Co. held Perkins for ransom just before draft day and exacted well over their pound of flesh in snagging Fred as well as DC’s number one pick. Of course now there’s a bit of karmic backlash as now Philly is in the market for a scorer and United is holding Emilio’s rights for ransom, no doubt hoping to get as good as they gave. But, no question a deal will not be reached until after the match this weekend. No chance DC’s brainstaff wants their former MVP scoring against them this week.

Then there’s only the little thing of about 1000 or more DC fans heading up to Lincoln Field which obviously caught the Union stadium staff by surprise as they have interestingly moved the DC fans from their original seats near the Philly supporter’s section to all the way across the stadium. Now, the cynic in me says their original plan was to drown out the DC fans with their own SOB’s, but when the actual numbers got crunched, they punted that plan and banished the Eagles, Barra and La Norte to the upper deck probably hoping the legendary cheering of the DC fans doesn’t dominate their entire stadium.

But enough of all that backstory, the important stuff is in the match itself where DC is facing almost a must win situation. There are few teams in this league DC has the talent edge over, and Philly is one of them, so they can’t afford to waste these points like they did last week to NE. Starting the season 0-3, all of them Eastern Conference losses including an expansion team that got blasted in their first match almost as bad as DC did, would be darn near catastrophic for the once proud Black and Red.

It’ll be interesting to see who Onalfo starts at forward as both Moreno and Pontius have been ineffective and Allsopp has barely cracked the lineup at all. My feeling is that Allsopp and Pontius should start as I explained midweek, but I have a suspicion Moreno will be out there come time for the opening whistle. Considering Califf and Orozco are likely to start in central defense for Philly since the serial back kneer Stahl is suspended, this is a huge decision for Onalfo as I don’t think Moreno or Pontius will have an easy time with either one of those guys, while the Aussie battering ram might have a bit more luck, but we’ll see.

I’d be shocked if DC’s midfield or backs changed at all though. Maybe McTavish or James for Talley, but I can’t really see that happening. DC showed excellent improvement in the midfield and backline, so I can’t see messing with that. Barklage on the right was very effective, while Tino and Castillo are developing some very nice chemistry, and maybe Morsinck has turned the corner on his previously lackluster career.

Nowak, however should be making some changes from his bizarre lineup in their opening loss in Seattle, and he’ll have had over two weeks to implement his changes too since they haven’t played since the opening game of the MLS season. It was tragic the way he wasted Mwanga in midfield and marginalized Torres and Jacobson playing them wide in positions not really suited for them. Hopefully he does that again of course, but I suspect Mwanga plays forward with Curious George, while LeToux drops back to right midfield, which will allow him to put Torres and Jacobson (or maybe Miglioranzi) into their more natural central roles, since Fred comes off suspension and is likely to man the left side for them like he did for DC for three years.

Nowak will also have to do some shuffling in his defense too as not only is Stalh suspended, but he flat out cut his starting right back David Myrie after that opening match performance. Now, granted Myrie stunk, but playing Zakuani is tough for anyone and not only that, Philly has no other obvious choices to play there. He could maybe slide the lefty Harvey over there and play Orozco on the left to bring in Sharvar Thomas into the middle, which might be his best bet, but that’s a lot of shuffling and Thomas isn’t nearly as good as Orozco.

Now, it would be just bitter if somehow Philly manages to land USL defender of the year Christian Arrieta before this match as he would own that right side immediately, but with nothing signed as I type this, maybe DC catches a break there and Nowak is forced into some makeshift juggling in his defense that should be advantage DC. We’ll see.

Anyway, if all that comes to pass, there will be some lovely matchups to watch. Barklage and Talley against Fred and Harvey on DC’s right side, then LeToux and player X against Castillo and Wallace on the left. Since I don’t see either team with any real obvious advantage down the center, how those wing matchups play out seems likely to determine the match, and I like DC’s chances.

Even the intangibles favor DC. Despite never having played the Union, when DC has faced an expansion team for the very first time, United is 6-0-1. The tie coming last year in Seattle 3-3, but DC soundly beat the Fire and Fusion by two goals each in 1998, Thrashed RSL and Chivas in 2005, squeaked by TFC in 2007, and beat SJ easily in 2008. Twice it was the expansion franchise’s home opener too, Miami and Chivas, so DC has never been the first team to lose to an expansion side ever and they average a two goal cushion overall.

Hopefully, that trend continues in Philly. Good thing it’s at the Linc, too as no MLS side has ever lost their stadium opening game. So, perhaps the gods are favoring DC by steering them clear of the opening match in Chester that some poor team is going to have to endure come June.

As for a prediction, this match has 0-0 written all over it. Nowak will keep it tight and frustrate DC hoping for a break on the counter using the Nicol playbook that worked so well last week, but I can’t see DC falling apart like they did to lose that one. I also can’t see any obvious ways DC will score either, unless a wacky MLS referee sticks his nose in their with a PK or two. Both teams should be close to playoff intensity, so goals are likely to be hard to come by and neither offense has showed much promise so far. So, maybe it’s a barnburner, but I doubt it. I think they share the points in a small step forward for both sides.

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