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Short-staffed United falls 1-0 in Portland

Portland, Oregon, May 27, 2015 – The script was almost written before kickoff of D.C. United’s match last night against Portland Timbers FC.

3 road games in 8 days, the last two on Field Turf – check

5,000 mile mid-week round trip to Portland – check

4 injured regulars (Fabian Espindola, Nick DeLeon, Michael Farfan, Luis Silva) – check

4 regular starters (Chris Pontius, Chris Rolfe, Davy Arnaud, Sean Franklin) left back in D.C. – check

2 more starters (Bobby Boswell, Perry Kitchen) on the bench to start the match – check

 

That United almost came out of Cascadia with a valuable point in their 1-0 loss last night was about as much as one could reasonably expect given the list of excuses referenced above.

United fell behind in the 5th minute when Taylor Kemp’s giveaway led directly to a quick strike from Max Urruti, the man who also had the game-winner in stoppage time last year against United at Providence Park.

United (6-3-4, 22 points) remains in first place in the Eastern Conference and the Supporters Shield standings despite the loss (their third consecutive game without a win) and the Timbers (4-5-4, 16 points) extend their winning streak to two matches, lifting themselves off the bottom of the Western Conference.

Head coach Ben Olsen made seven changes to the lineup coming off of last Saturday’s 1-1 draw in New England and with the crush of matches and travel bearing down on the team, the moves were necessitated and saw a patchwork lineup that gave season debuts to Luke Mishu and Jarred Jeffrey in midfield. The match also saw the return of Steve Birnbaum to the lineup after a two-month injury layoff.

Markus Halsti, Miguel Aguilar and Conor Doyle also saw their second starts of the season and to no one’s surprise the Black-and-Red struggled out of the gate with their fractured lineup. The Timbers took full advantage of that in the 5th minute when Kemp failed to deal with an initial defense of a pass to the corner and he got stripped of the ball. Gaston Fernandez quickly scooped up the loose ball and sent it square across the goal mouth just behind United’s defense where Urriti was waiting all alone at the back post. The Argentine striker easily pushed it past Bill Hamid for the quick 1-0 lead.

It took United about 20-25 more minutes to finally grab a foot-hold in the match and should have equalized in the 31st minute but Birnbaum’s header from six yards away on a corner kick somehow eluded the open goal after Timbers keeper Adam Kwarasey was caught out of position.

United created two other half-chances before the halftime whistle when Jairo Arrieta’s bid was blocked inside the penalty area and Conor Doyle’s shot from 18 yards straight out flew just over the crossbar.

After the break however it was United who would begin to grab hold of the match but failed to put together any meaningful chances to test Kwarasey. On the other end of the field though Bill Hamid was putting on a goalkeeping clinic in keeping the Timbers from extending their lead. With United pushing numbers forward to find an equalizer, it was the Timbers who were counter attacking with relish and nearly got their insurance goal if not for Hamid.

Hamid made consecutive stops on former United midfielder Rodney Wallace and Dairon Asprilla within a minute and then followed up minutes later with a sensational kick save on Asprilla late in the match.

It was not to be though as United just didn’t have enough cohesion and experience on the field to gain a valuable equalizer. The narrative coming out of this match is that despite the huge number of first-team players not involved in the match, Ben Olsen can take a few performances from individual players and use that moving forward as United will now have a trio of home matches in short order (yet another 3 games in 3 games in 8 day stretch) when they host Philadelphia (Saturday, May 30- 7pm), Chicago (Wednesday, June 3 – 7 pm) and Toronto FC (Saturday, June 6 – 7pm) in the upcoming week.

Wow, someone at United must have really cheesed off the league scheduler.

 

Depleted DC to face the teetering Timbers

Coming off a couple ugly games amidst a mass of matches, DC adds a cross country trip to face a Portland side reeling from a couple road losses themselves.

After dropping five points in East in their last two matches by losing to bottom dwelling Philly and barely scratching out a draw against nine man New England, DC will look to regroup in the West despite a mass of players being out injured or resting. Of course the injured Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva, Nick DeLeon and Michael Farfan will not be making the cross country trip, but added to that United’s aging midfielder’s Chris Rolfe and Davy Arnaud won’t be making the trip either. With United on the second match of five in 15 days and Portland being 5,000 miles roundtrip, it makes sense to leave some guys home. Luckily, Portland is a little dinged up and not playing that well either with playmaker Diego Valeri out with a rolled ankle as well as coming off two road losses and only four points in their last five matches.

Given the guys left home (midfielders as opposed to aging defenders such as Boswell and/or Franklin) it seems likely DC coach Ben Olsen will go with his usual conservative road lineup and seek to play 10 guys behind the ball and hope to pitch the shut-out and maybe get lucky with a goal for the draw or even pinch an improbable win. And who’s to argue with him? That’s been the formula for success on the road this year. Orlando mauled DC in Florida, but DC pulled out the win with a last second FK. Vancouver out shot DC 16-8 but a red card helped DC to a 2-1 win, and in NE in a game that should have been 4-0 for NE, they inexplicably earned two red cards to gift DC a point. Granted, the Philly and NY road matches were big fat zeros, but there you go. With Valeri out and Portland among the weakest offensive teams in the league, it has all the makings of another impossible point for the current Supporter’s Shield leading DC United and might well end with Olsen giving the finger to all his detractors including me.

So, looking at the lineups, it’s being tweeted DC will likely start Olsen’s old favorite 4-4-2 with Conor Doyle and Jairo Arrieta at forward, Chris Pontius, Perry Kitchen, Markus Halsti and Miguel Aguilar in for Arnaud and Rolfe respectively across midfield, then the usual suspects Taylor Kemp, Kofi Opare, Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin across the defense in front of Bill Hamid. Portland’s Caleb Porter will almost certainly start Fernando Adi as the lone forward in their hybrid 4-5-1. With former Darlington Nagby playing underneath and Rodney Wallace and Dairon Asprilla on the wings in front of two central teeth-rattlers in Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara. Across the back, it will likely be Jorge Villafana, Liam Ridgewell, Nat Borchers, and Alvas Powell in front of Ghanaian goalkeeper Kwarasay.

If that’s the case, it will take a miracle for DC to score as Doyle being on the field already makes it 10 on 11 as he will bring nothing to this match even remotely threatening for the likes of Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell. Portland is near the bottom of the West, but not because of defense. They can’t score, but they can defend no problem. So maybe Arrieta, Pontius or even Aguilar surprises them, but more likely than not, DC’s counters will get snuffed out like candle in the wind. I hesitate to point out also that Kemp is perhaps not the man to contain Dairon Asprilla either. I’ve been taking some heat for my bashing of Kemp’s defense, but the little train is scary going at good defenders and Kemp isn’t one of those no matter what anyone thinks, although he is getting better all the time to be fair.

No, if it was me, I’d turn a weakness into a strength. I’d play Chris Korb at left back specifically to kick Asprilla’s shins and then start Kemp at left midfield to get deep down that left hand side and force Asprilla to defend as well keep Powell back on his heels too. That would mean Pontius might have to sit, but so be it. He cuts inside too much to no effect and isn’t dangerous often enough or really good enough defensively consistently to allow DC to have any shot at controlling that left side.

Now starting Kemp in midfield might make it palatable to have Doyle in the match as presumably he’s good in the air and might well finish a Kemp cross. However, I have seen no evidence of him having such skills, nor really much evidence of him being able to get behind anyone or lose his marker at all, so simply having Kemp up there crossing to Borchers and Ridgewell seems a waste. No, starting Pontius at forward, or even another crafty guy like Facundo Coria up top looks like a much better option. Pontius (or Coria) have shown he will make deep runs and go at defenders which Portland’s tall trees won’t like and although he hasn’t really shown much chemistry with Arrieta, considering who’s out, he’s just a far better option than Doyle. Bring Doyle in to pound on those guys when the game is all but over, don’t start him unless there’s a shortage of molasses out there.

So, offensively DC could rule the left side and maybe even the right. Wallace and Villafana are not all that scary. I’d love to see Aguilar going right at Villafana and maybe going by him, but if nothing else it will cause Ridgewell to maybe cheat over opening room for Arrieta and Pontius to find joy in the middle. Aguilar being aggressive should also drag Franklin forward too and frankly he needs the practice in the offensive end of the field as his crosses have been terrible and he’s a better player than that. I’ve gone lightly on him this year as he has often had the most dangerous guy to defend and the toughest defender/winger to go forward against in many games this year, but he really should be a lot better than what we’ve seen so far.

Defensively, if DC contains Asprilla and especially Nagby, then I doubt Portland scores more than one if that. The have been shut out in 3 of their 5 home matches and 6 of 12 matches overall. Adi has been very pedestrian in front of goal and shouldn’t fluster Boswell or Opare, who’s been arguably DC’s best defender of late, at all. In fact, it shocks me Boswell even made this trip. Birnbaum and Opare should be fine handling the big Nigerian forward. Granted that would have meant no veteran leader if Boswell and Arnaud out, but what does that say about Pontius btw? Anyway, Wallace shouldn’t trouble Franklin at all and I think Halsti and Kitchen, who was Nagby’s team-mate at Akron will keep him under wraps for the most part. I love the glimpses of brilliance Nagby gives from time to time, but he still has yet to really show the prodigious talent he has and hopefully he doesn’t find the gumption in this game either.

All the makings of a 0-0 draw for sure and that would be a good result, but if Olsen goes a little unconventional, DC might well pull off more than that. If Halsti shows more of that eye toward quickly springing guys going forward, if Kemp gets enough crosses off to at least two runners in the box often enough, if DC plays relatively mistake free defense and Hamid only has to clean up a few mistakes, DC could win this one easily. If they go out with the lineups and the mentality they have had the last two on the road, it will be a 0-0 slog at best. More likely a 1-0 loss. Of course if they get their requisite beneficial red card or Portland shoots as badly as Orlando did, well then give the soccer gods their due. All hail their friendly nudges to the side of all that is good and pure in the world, long may it continue.

As for the intangibles, they are not too bad for DC considering the game being on the road. DC has lost the last two matches to Portland, but are 1-2-2 against them all time and have actually beaten the Timbers in Portland, something they have never done in RFK. Of course after that 3-2 win in 2011, DC is 0-2-1 in Portland since, but are coming off a draw there last time they visited. Obviously current form favors DC even with the dismal results lately as Portland has been reeling even worse, but it would be good to note that Portland has played 7 of their 12 matches so far this year on the road while DC has played 7 of their 12 at home. Portland is also tough to beat in the Rose City even this year at 1-1-3 on the year, but DC has been decent on the road at 2-2-1 even with criminally wasting points the last couple trips outside RFK.

So, everything points to a 0-0 draw, but I’d like to see some gumption shown by Olsen and DC to give themselves a shot at some unlikely points. Olsen begrudges the rest of the league not giving DC what he feels they are due. Well, now would be a good time to show some imagination and take some points instead of seemingly getting them handed to you. In Vancouver, DC showed a glimpse of what they can do when they are aggressive on the road. So what if all your best offensive players are out, unleash the hounds and see what happens. Might just find out the kids can play if you let them.

Heartbreak for United as they concede last-second goal in 3-2 loss in Portland

Max Urutti’s rebound shot off the post in the 94th minute clinched the Portland Timbers first win of the season, 3-2 over crestfallen and shorthanded D.C. United. The loss snapped United’s five match unbeaten run and continues their road woes as they have not won a road league match since October 2012 in Toronto.

Portland, winless through eight matches to start the season, scored 33-seconds into the match to stun the visiting Black-and-Red but United managed to put forth a brave effort and twice came back on the Timbers before conceding the late game-winner. United were playing without injured starters Eddie Johnson and Sean Franklin as they were replaced by Conor Doyle and Chris Korb respectively.

Gaston Fernandez and the Timbers benefited from sloppy play by United defender Cristian inside the first minute to put the desperate home side in front. Cristian was a bit too casual on the ball and was hoping to be bailed out by the referee for a foul but no call was made and Diego Valeri crossed into the goal mouth where Portland’s leading goal scorer (4 goals on the season) beat Bill Hamid to the ball. The Argentine took a touch to avoid Hamid and acrobatically touched the ball into the goal despite the diving lunge from defender Chris Korb.

United however responded with a touch of good fortune as Davy Arnaud’s 21st minute blast from thirty-five yards out was deflected up and over the outstretched arms of Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. A few minutes before the equalizer United nearly scored as Jeff Parke, Perry Kitchen and Arnaud all had good opportunities to equalize if not for Ricketts and the crossbar.

After the game-tying goal, Portland began to reassert themselves and took the lead in the 38th minute from a corner kick. Once again it was Valeri providing the service as defender Futty Danso beat Bobby Boswell to the ball and volleyed home from eight yards out.

After the break, United started to regain the possession battle it lost easily in the first half. That hard work paid off when United grabbed the equalizer in the 78th minute. Good fortune reared it’s head once more for United as Danso returned the favor as he headed into his own goal from a United corner. Initially it appeared that defender Cristian scored the goal but subsequent replays confirmed the own-goal.

With United quieting the normally raucous Providence Park crowd, it seemed they were poised to grab a valuable draw if not an improbable come-from-behind win. However, Urutti damaged those hopes with his last-second heroics. United has now given up five goals past the 80-minute mark this season and it has cost them valuable points. Quincy Amerikwa’s late equalizer at RFK denied United a win over Chicago in early April as well as the 90th minute goal from Hector Jimenez in Columbus two weeks ago.

United will have to regroup and turn their attention to another tough road match when they visit the Philadelphia Union next Saturday at 4pm. Philadelphia lost 2-1 in Seattle last night after holding the lead at halftime and are now winless in eight matches. There is no better time to break their long road winless streak next weekend against a downtrodden opponent. But, you could have said the same thing last night in Portland too..

MLS announces new club on the eve of conference Semifinal matches

On the eve of the second leg of the MLS Cup Semi-finals Major League Soccer announced that Orlando City SC will become the newest member of the “club.” Orlando will join the league as the 21st MLS franchise and is set to debut, under a “purple banner,” in 2015.

Orlando will join the league’s 20th franchise, New York City FC, in league play at the same time. This is the first time since 1998 that MLS has added two clubs in one year. Back then the league added the Chicago Fire and the now defunct, Miami Fusion.

The excitement of the addition of MLS’s 21st franchise comes at a time when four teams remain in the hunt for the 2013 MLS Cup. Still in play are Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers in the West, and Sporting KC and the Houston Dynamo in the East.

Heading into their second legs respectively each team still is capable of advancing to the League’s premier event, but in my opinion, Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC hold the edge in their respective series.

Houston and Sporting will face off on Saturday November 23rd at 7:30 pm in Sporting Park to conclude their series. The teams have played to consecutive scoreless draws, including a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series and Kansas City has only won once against the dynamo in the last five meetings at Sporting Park. Coincidentally the win came in the second leg of last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals – Houston would prevail 2-1 by virtue of their 2-0 win in the first leg.

The teams are obviously no strangers to each other and Kansas City looks poised to avenge their Semifinal loss from last year to advance to this year’s MLS Cup.

In the West, Real Salt Lake holds a slight advantage over the Portland Timbers as they head into the “confines” of Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon on Sunday November 24th at 9:00 pm. Real leads the series by virtue of their opening leg 4-2 win at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT.

All Kreis’ guys need to do is not loose by more than 1 goal (to avoid extra time) to a Portland team that has not lost a competitive match in their home field since March 9, when they fell 2-1 to the visiting Montreal Impact. For Portland, overturning a 2 goal deficit is by no means impossible, but they will have to accomplish something that has not been done since 2004 when the then Kansas City Wizards came back to defeat the San Jose Earthquakes 3-2 on aggregate to win the series.

Real holds the advantage by virtue of their 2 goal lead and the fact that Kreis’ squad is ready to forget this year’s Open Cup debacle.

If I were to place a bet on the official William hill website my money would be on a Sporting KC vs Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup Final, with Sporting edging the boys from UT to win their Second MLS Cup, their first since becoming Sporting KC. A prediction I mad earlier this season on the UnitedMania.com Podcast.

United vs Portland: “Soft” goals contribute to 2-0 loss to Timbers

To say that D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen was agitated after tonight’s 2-0 loss to the Portland Timbers is a bit of an understatement.

Any confidence from United stopping their club-record seven-game losing streak with a draw last Sunday against Sporting Kansas City quickly evaporated after falling behind early once again and failing to have the fortitude to fight back into the match.

Calling his team “soft” after the match was just the tip of the iceberg as Olsen first remained tight-lipped with one word answers before finally opening up and speaking his mind in assessing where his 1-9-2 team stands after the first third of the season had completed. ”

Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe scored on either side of the break as Portland extended their team record unbeaten run to 11 matches while extending United’s run of futility to a team-record 10 matches without a win. Defensive errors were once again the death of United and Brandon McDonald was at the center of both goals. In the 22nd minute, McDonald took a poor angle on a seemingly innocent throw-in and Timbers forward Frederic Piqiuonne took advantage of the misplay and moved towards the top of the penalty area. With defenders Ethan White and Chris Korb closing on the Frenchman, he easily slipped the ball to a wide-open Wallace on the left side and his left-footed blast beat goalkeeper Bill Hamid to the near post for a 1-0 lead.

Unfortunately for United being behind has become a dangerous habit as the club has not held a lead in a league match since their 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake in the second week of the season. United has led for only 30 minutes out of 1080 minutes this season, a streak that has come to typify United’s season to date.

United managed to create a number of scoring opportunities during this match thanks in part to the efforts of Carlos Ruiz, making his first ever start for the Black-and-Red. Ruiz had a shot saved early on before the Wallace goal and was in the middle of nearly every dangerous attack on the evening.

After the break United started to push players forward in an effort to gain the equalizing goal but another costly misplay in defense stretched the lead to 2-0 in the 57th minute. Timber midfielder Darlington Nagbe beat Brandon McDonald to a loose ball at the top of the area and sent his shot through the legs of Hamid for the dagger goal. Nagbe, at least five inches and fifty pounds slighter than the muscular McDonald, simply outhustled the defender and left United in another desperate situation.

“It’s embarrassing how soft we were everywhere on the field. The lack of anger a few of our guys play with, it’s mind-boggling,” said Olsen after the match. While Olsen said he did not want to single any players out, it was clear that he had McDonald and the continually ineffective Marcos Sanchez in mind (Sanchez was subbed out at halftime). “DeLeon, Kitchen, Ruiz, any day of the week. The rest of the guys – we have a long way to go,” Olsen lamented. It did not stop there.

“We have to get new guys in here. We’re not good enough,” said Olsen. “We only had a couple of individuals show up and show that it (expletive) matters. I’ve had it with that part.”

United did have an opportunity to cut the lead in half but a non-call from referee Jose Carlos Rivero put an end to any comeback for United. A clear handball on Timber defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste somehow managed to go unseen by Rivero or either of the assistant referes’s. Perhaps a bit of kharma was dealt to United for the goal that was called back for offside this past Sunday against Sporting Kansas City.

United now turns their attention to the Open Cup on Tuesday evening when they travel to Richmond to face the Kickers. United’s next league match will be next Sunday in Chicago.

United vs. Portland: United extends unbeaten run to four with 1-1 draw in the Rose City

D.C. United and the Portland Timbers battled to a 1-1 draw tonight at Jeld-Wenn Field in Portland, Oregon. The point for United extends their late-season unbeaten run to four matches and builds a bit of a cushion on their current fourth place position in the Eastern C0nference with three matches to go in the season.

On a night when United received little help from their adjacent playoff pursuers (Red Bull, Houston and Columbus all won home matches), United did themselves the slightest of favors by at least extending their lead over Houston and Columbus to two and three points respectively. Red Bull’s 4-1 win drew them level with Chicago (who lost on Friday night to Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City) but technically ahead by virtue of MLS’ tie-breaking procedure of Goals Scored as the decider. Chicago however does have a game in hand on Red Bull, which will be played in New York next weekend.

Chris Pontius’ controversial 60th-minute penalty conversion gave the Black-and-Red brief hope of extending their winning streak to four matches in the absence of injured captain Dwayne De Rosario. However, Portland did find the equalizer when Bright Dike struck a narrow angled shot into the roof of the net after a defensive scramble in United’s penalty area in the 79th minute.

The goal for Pontius started on a quick throw-in that caught the Timbers napping and left Perry Kitchen all alone deep down the right sideline. The second-year man from Akron crossed a ball that took the slightest of touches off the extended underarm of Portland defender David Horst before it was safely cleared out of the penalty area by Portland. The assistant referee right in line with the play made the penalty call as referee Michael Kennedy was unaware of the play.

Pontius stepped up and blasted his team-leading 12th goal of the season past Portland’s goalkeeper for the 1-0 lead against the run of play. Portland, surged on by a conceived wrong doing from the officials, started putting numbers forward but rarely put any meaningful shots on against United goalkeeper Bill Hamid. That ended in the 79th minute when a poor clearance from Andy Najar started the goal scoring sequence. Portland left-back Steven Smith’s overlapping run and subsequent cross was stopped by Najar right in front of Hamid. While on the ground, Najar attempted a clearance that Dike picked off and took towards the end line. Just as Dejan Jakovic was closing to block the tough-angled shot, Dike lifted it over the shoulder of Hamid and into the roof of the net to level the match at 1-1.

United brought on a few subs to help alleviate the pressure that the Timbers were forcing forward and nearly had a few opportunities of their own to take back the lead but it was not to be.

United now will turn their attention to a very winnable road match in Toronto next weekend. Toronto is currently on an 11-game win less streak and seems the perfect opportunity for United to bolster their chances at making the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

DC Could Use a Draw in Portland

Last year, a late season draw doomed DC from the playoffs, but what a difference a year makes as DC is riding a three game win streak this late in the season for the first time since 2004, so a road point is more than enough for DC.

OK, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I’ve been convinced white is black and black is white. DC is playing uglier than a mud fence, but they are winning and now truly hold their playoff destiny in their hands. I’ve been critical and skeptical waiting for fate to crush our hopes like every year, but there’s no denying United’s success in spite of their deficiencies and their history.

So, for the first time in a long time, DC fans just sit back and enjoy the match on Saturday night. No chewing nails worrying about a win, and frankly even a draw is unnecessary. DC has 50 points and needs essentially 55 points to pretty much assure themselves of a playoff spot barring a staggering win out by two of Columbus, Houston, or Red Bull which is unlikely. Houston maybe, but not either of the other two.

Basically, DC needs two wins, or one win and two draws. Now, of course it would be grand if DC rolled the lowly Portland Timbers as well as dropped TFC like a stone to wrap things up before even facing Columbus or the Fire, but I say that’s the coward’s way out! Win in Toronto for sure, but put some pressure on that Crew home match. What’s the point clinching a playoff berth against skells and heading into the playoffs against, you know, other playoff teams and not having had any real pressure or experience in producing against a playoff team this season.

Now, just for grins, I’ll break down the match for you. Of course DC on paper should win, and of course given their road form should lose, but as the Philly game showed Ben is simply magic lately, so what’s to worry about? If the game is going badly, good old Benny will sub in the the goal they need to win or tie. Even if the breaks finally go against DC, so what? They got the cupcakes in Toronto and need to show their bad intent on the Crew at home after that, so those are the crucial matches.

As usual, Olsen’s lineup decisions are pure speculation.  They are for Portland too I might add, so pretty cagy of Olsen I am coming to realize. For instance, Branko Boskovic, Marcelo Saragosa, Lewis Neal, Mike Chabala, and Long Tan have all started two of DC’s last four road matches, with Andy Najar two starts in midfield and two at right back, so good luck guessing Olsen’s midfield or tactics.

My guess, Olsen goes conservative like he did in Philly and rolls out the 4-5-1 again, both to reward Boskovic and to confound a Portland team that is pretty darn decent at home, as much as possible.

So, with Maicon Santos looking hobbled again limping out of the Chivas game and Hamdi Salihi firmly planted back on the bench, I see Pajoy the magic man lately trotting out again as the lone forward to ensure 87 minutes of crap surrounding one glorious play that decides the game.

In midfield, I see Chris Pontius, Boskovic (for only 60 min of course! He’ll come off so Santos can score the winner off the bench), Lewis Neal, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon stretched out from left to right. Now, Olsen could very easily plant Boskovic right back on the bench, and perhaps justifiably in this particular match as it sets up better for him to come off the bench rather than slog away at their 5 man midfield for the first 60 min. However, Olsen says he rewards production and Boskovic made the play that got DC all the points in a game they did not play particularly well. For Olsen to bench him after that sends an ugly message, especially if he starts the dreadful Pajoy again, but not Boskovic.

Almost certainly, Olsen sends out Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, and Andy Najar from left to right in front of Bill Hamid. Maybe, Olsen gives Robbie Russell the start, allowing Najar a shot in midfield, pushing Neal to the bench so he can come on for Boskovic and score the winner, and giving Pontius a start as the lone forward. Oh be still my beating heart, no chance of that.

As for Portland, with their misfiring big gun, Chris Kris Boyd done for a while with a groin injury, Portland has been rotating former Union forward Danny Mwanga and the lumbering Bright Dike as their lone forward. Currently, Mwanga is the more successful with the two goals that tied the league leading Earthquakes in San Jose and the lone goal in the RSL loss at home recently, so it will likley be him to start, but DC better be ready to get their fingers on the Dike or it could be trouble. He’s a beast with a poor touch, similar to oh say, Lenhart who lit up DC for 3 a while back.

In midfield, it’s been Frank Songo’o, Darlington Nagby, Jack Jewsbury, Rodney Wallace, and Sal Zizzo going left to right in more of a 4-2-3-1 than a true 4-5-1. In the back, it’s been pretty consistently Steve Smith, Hanyer Mosquera, David Horst and Koske Kimura going left to right in front of third string keeper, Joe Bendik. Although Lovel Palmer got a shot at right back recently, it was rather unsuccessful, so I doubt Portland reprises that. Also, both Donovan Ricketts (shoulder) and number two Jake Gleeson (hand bruise) might be coming close to returning to the field, but the youngster has played well so unless those guys are 100%, I doubt either starts.

So, looking at the matchups, it’s another jammed up midfield with 10 players clawing and scratching the ball back and forth hoping for a breakthrough, probably pretty similar to the Philly match. So, barring an early goal to shake things up, it’ll be another 60 minutes of crap TV until the game opens up late and one play decides the match.

Oh, right! The matchups! Let’s see. The aging, but still clever Songo’o will pose problems for DeLeon and Najar, and Nagby is usually good for a silly play or two that might surprise Kitchen who was selected one place behind him in the draft. But, other than that all other matchups sway DC’s way. Just not by very much.

I can see Pajoy slipping around the towering Horst for his usual one good play. Pontius will cause Kimura enormous troubles, but I can see Jewsbury or Wallace sliding out to ease that concern. Which might leave more room for Boskovic or Neal to operate inside, but that’s a stretch really given the way Portland plays at home and DC plays on the road. DeLeon could pull off surprise as he almost did with some cagey shooting against Chivas, etc. But overall, no big advantages for DC.

But none really for Portland either. Mwanga or Dike is a handful and Nagby is tricky, but Jakovic and McDonald should be solid enough to snuff them out for the most part. Songo’o as mentioned could be tough, but Najar is nothing if not combative, Zizzo might get a sniff catching Korb out a couple times, but overall nothing too horrible should happen for DC.

DC even holds the edge in head to head as they tied them here 1-1 and won the match there 3-2 in the only two times they have ever played in Portland’s expansion year. Of course this year, Portland is 7-4-4 at home including wins over San Jose and Seattle earlier this summer and KC earlier this year. They also are currently 2-0-2 at home since losing 1-0 to Chivas back in July including a tie with Seattle in their last home match.

On the other hand, DC is a dreadful 4-9-1 on the road overall and outside of two stolen 1 goal wins in Philly, United is 0-7-0 with 5 of them shutout losses since back to back wins in NE and TFC back in the Spring. Even counting that startling win in Philly ten days ago, DC is 1-6-0 in their last 7 on the road. Although DC is undefeated this year against the Pacific Northwest with two 0-0 draws with Vancouver and Seattle so far, so they got that going for them.

So, nothing to see here folks. The game is shaping up as a 0-0 tie and that would be just fine with DC.

United trades for Mike Chabala; Kurt Morsink retires

D.C. United announced today that they have acquired veteran left-back Mike Chabala in a trade with the Portland Timbers. The Black-and-Red sent a 2014 first-round Supplemental draft pick to the Timbers in exchange for Chabala. Portland announced the signing of New Zealand U-23 Olympic team left back Ian Hogg today which made Chabala expendable.

In order for United to make roster room for Chabala the squad announced the retirement of midfielder Kurt Morsink. Morsink had not seen any time this season and only made a handful of appearances last season. Morsink was later named the Director of Scouting for D.C. United, a position opened up largely in part to the inclusion of the new owners Erick Thorir and Jason Levien last month.

The injury to left-back Daniel Woolard last weekend against the Columbus Crew opened up this opportunity for United and they jumped on the chance to take the two-time MLS Cup winner with Houston (2006 and 2007). With no timetable for Woolard’s return due to concussion symptoms, United were left without a bona fide replacement. Chris Korb or Lewis Neal could have been replacements but hardly suitable over the experience and the quality of Chabala.

 

 

Brettschneider, Ngwenya - Photo: Tony Quinn

Tie Eliminates DC from Playoffs

DC United kissed the MLS Cup playoffs goodbye for the fourth straight year due to a 1-1 draw with the visiting Portland Timbers last night at RFK Stadium. United had a flurry of chances to keep their hopes alive in the final 5 minutes, but it was too little too late to salvage another dismal season.

After conceding a first half goal to Portland on a Kenny Cooper header in the 24th minute, United rallied in the second half somewhat against the run of play as league leading scorer, Dwayne De Rosario created his 16th goal of the season with a brilliant individual effort to level the match.

However, as the game and their season dwindled away, a desperate DC finally began hammering away at the Portland goal in the last 5 minutes and appeared to score the winning goal on a header from substitute Blake Brettschneider, only to see it correctly disallowed as offside.

United was also denied multiple times in a frenetic finish to the match as De Rosario rounded Portland keeper, Troy Perkins, only to see his shot to the open net blocked miraculously by a sliding defender. Brettschneider also flashed a header barely wide, and Perkins denied Joseph Ngwenya in the 94th minute with an incredible block and managed to leap back up to smother Brettschneider’s shot off the rebound to end the match and United’s playoff hopes.

Needing to win their last two games to even have hope for the playoffs, United coach Ben Olsen fielded his strongest attacking lineup, inserting Charlie Davies and Santino Quaranta, a move which pushed DeRo back to a playmaking role in midfield and sent Austin Da Luz to the bench. Olsen also brought back rookie central defender Ethan White and stayed with rookie Chris Korb at right back which allowed rookie Perry Kitchen to move up to midfield sending veteran Clyde Simms to the bench as well.

The moves appeared to pay off as United began the match with a lot more vigor than they had shown during their four game losing streak leading up to this match. Unfortunately, while the effort level was much better, the overall level of play was still as sloppy as ever with DC struggling to complete passes and suffering from almost continual turnovers.

The lone bright spot of the first half for DC was mainly from the play of Andy Najar as he earned corner kick in 10th minute that Quaranta curled to Brandon McDonald steaming in on goal, but his powerful header flew just over the bar. Then in the 34th minute, Najar danced past two defenders into the box and ripped a hard shot forcing a good save from Troy Perkins. Then two minutes later Najar ripped another hard shot from distance forcing Perkins to smother smartly as United attackers hovered ready to score any rebound.

In the 40th minute, Quaranta pulled off some similar fancy footwork to free himself deep in the Portland penalty area, but his shot flashed just wide as Wolff just missed being able to stretch and re-direct it into the net.

Portland, also needing to win to brighten their playoff hopes, wasn’t much better in a very choppy first half, but did manage the lone goal of the half in the 24th minute as DC’s poor defense was exposed yet again. Santino Quaranta allowed the Timber’s Rodney Wallace to roam freely down their left side, and Korb was late and soft on the coverage allowing the former DC defender to line up a perfect cross deep in the box to a wide open Cooper to nod easily into the net for the lead. Copper had split DC’s Brandon McDonald and White far too easily, but one wonders why Bill Hamid failed to come out and challenge a free header inside his six yard box, too.

Olsen was quick to go to his bench mere minutes into the second half inserting rookie forward Brettschneider for an ineffective Charlie Davies, who appeared to limp slightly coming off the field, and may have been injured forcing the substitution. However, the substitution did inject some life into United’s attack and put Portland on their heels for pretty much the remainder of the match as United slowly began to up the pressure.

Their perseverance was rewarded in the 74th minute as it was again DeRo, who scored his 13th goal in 17 matches for DC, who single handedly kept United’s hopes alive. After collecting an innocent ball inside the left edge of the Portland penalty area, DeRo who was well covered on the play, turned brilliantly to create space on his defender and crushed a near post shot that flashed over Perkin’s shoulder to tie the match, and touched off a fuse that inspired DC to an incredible finish to the match.

Leaving caution to the wind as United frantically attacked over the last 10 minutes, Portland was also allowed some space to create opportunities of their own, but Hamid made some of the biggest saves of his career, and United got some luck, to keep them in with a chance to pull off the win.

In the 83rd minute, Portland’s Diego Chara tormented the left side of DC’s defense and found substitute Brian Umony in the box, but his shot deflected off Hamid’s fingers and hit the underside of the crossbar before bouncing away and being cleared. In the 87th, Portland’s Bright Dike found space in the area and ripped a hard shot well blocked by Hamid.

Then in the 89th minute DC surged forward as DeRo collected a loose ball spilled by Perkins way out at the edge of the box, and he drifted a cross to Brettschneider to nod into the empty net, but he was behind the last defender and it was disallowed.

The game became even more thrilling in stoppage time as in the 93nd minute, Hamid rose to snatch away a rising shot from Jack Jewsbury tagged for the top corner of the net. Right from that Hamid rolled the ball for Korb to launch into Portland’s penalty area, where it was misplayed by the defense and dropped to DeRo who rounded Perkins easily only to see his sure winner blocked by a late arriving defender.

Then in the 94th, Kitchen sent DeRo again behind the Portland defense and he crossed the ball perfectly across the face of goal where Ngwenya was perfectly placed to tap into the open net, unfortunately Perkins scrambled back across the goal to paw away the golden chance, then sprang up to block Brettschneider’s rising shot off the rebound to end the match.

DC has now missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, a feat only accomplished by two other teams in the 15 year history of the league, San Jose in 1997-2001 and Toronto currently, who have never made the playoffs in their 5 year history. This is also the 7th time since in the 11 years of this century that United has missed the playoffs after dominating the early years of the league.

DC finishes their season Saturday night in a meaningless match (for DC) against Sporting Kansas City. SKC has a chance to win the Eastern conference with a win over a deflated DC United side.

De Rosario has a good chance at the golden boot with a one goal lead over SJ’s Chris Wondolowski, the defending golden boot winner from last season, with one game to play for each. It’s possible DeRo could be considered for the league MVP but with United out of the playoffs, that chance likely is very slim although it’s tough to imagine any player more important to his team than De Rosario with 13 goals and 7 assists in 17 matches since joining the club in July.