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.