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10-Man United hang on for 2-2 draw; take home 4th Carolina Challenge Cup

D.C. United survived a late push from the Seattle Sounders and hung on for a 2-2 draw, enough to see them through as winners of the Carolina Challenge Cup for the fourth time in five years.United needed only a draw to win the title due to goal differential through the first two matches.

Fabian Espindola’s 8th minute penalty staked United to the early lead before a blunder from United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra leveled the match at 1-1 in the 24th minute. Both teams were playing at a very high un-preaseason like pace and United nearly reclaimed the lead in the 30th minute. Cristian Fernandez’ perfect cross from the left flank met the forehead of Davy Arnaud but his header from 10 yards out went well over the goal.

After the restart United jumped all over the Sounders and deservedly took the lead in the 55th minute when Perry Kitchen volleyed home an Espindola corner kick. United continued to pile on the pressure but Seattle soon got back into the match and in the 63rd minute  whenUnited-killer Marco Pappa leveled the match with a shot from his less preferred right foot inside the penalty area.

United had to hang on for the remaining 15 minutes of regulation after defender Cristian Fernandez was sent off for a rash tackle on Deandre Yedlin. Seattle poured forward and nearly got the game-winner in stoppage time when Andy Rose headed a cross towards the back post where Lamar Neagle somehow managed to miss the open goal from about 3 yards out.

United held on those last few minutes to take home their 4th title in 5 years. United won the tournament in consecutive years from 2010-2012 before deciding to play in Florida last preseason.

United had decided to rest both Eddie Johnson and Bill Hamid who were both carrying very minor injuries that will not keep them from the lineup next weekend.

United will open up their 2014 MLS season next week at home against the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium at 7pm.

DC United repartió puntos frente a Seattle en partido SIN MÚSICA (Goles)

Washington DC .- Un partido con sabor a nada, y sin música (goles) –si de alguna manera tendríamos que calificarlo–, entre el DC United capitalino y el visitante Seattle Sounders en un magro empate a cero goles. En noche templada, un tanto fria, y ante algo más de 15,000 espectadores en el coloso de Anacostia, el RFK, ambas escuadras brindaron un espectáculo realmente soso.

La razón, la ausencia de goles. La pobre capacidad para pulverizar la carpa contraria, amén –para coincidir con las celebraciones de Semana Santa–, de una total falta de precisión para el manejo del balón tanto en la salida como para el puntillazo final, además de un excesivo e improductivo juego aéreo.

Un partido donde no solo la aunsencia del gol dejó el mal sabor, sino las contadas ocasiones de peligro que generaron las ofensivas de ambas escuadras.

Un detalle, conversando con colegas fotógrafos en la sala de redacción donde trataban de enviar sus imágenes, por cierto, con malestar porque el servicio de internet estaba lentísimo y que entre bromas le echaban la culpa al partido– lo cierto es que el consenso de los colegas fueron los pocos momentos que tuvieron de lograr fotos en acción.

Ambas escuadras generaron muy poca oportunidad en sus botines. DC United, por ejemplo, desperdició un golazo a los 23′ con un disparo fortísimo de Hamdi Salihi que por fortuna pegó en travesaño.

Fue un partido enredado, sin precisión en la entrega y abuso en el juego aéreo que cayó en el aburrimiento, salvo uno que otro chispazo. Si queremos rescatar lo positivo es que por lo menos se quedó un punto en casa, consuelo de tontos.

Los ‘verdolagas‘ de Seattle se fueron a casa mal parados, mostraron un equipo temeroso muy diferente al goleador el año pasado. Seattle, a cuatro fechas de iniciado el torneo, sus atacantes han bajado las revoluciones, ganaron sus dos primeros encuentros en el inicio de la temporada.

Al colombiano Fredy Montero lo vimos poco, incluso desperdició un golazo de cabeza cuando recibió un pase impecable pase, como con la mano, desde fuera del área del cubano de San Cristobal, Osvaldo Alonso, que creemos fue el jugador del encuentro por su esfuerzo y la cantidad de pelotas encendidas que puso.

Notable fue el batallar del mediocampista uruguayo del Seattle Alvaro ‘el flaco’ Fernández -del departamento de Soriano en el litoral uruguayo-, que sigue en su mismo ritmo desde que lo vimos con la casaquilla celeste uruguaya en el Mundial del 2010 en Sudáfrica. Lastimosamente su accionar no pudo ser capitalizado por sus hombres en la ofensiva verdolaga.

En el DC United lo rescatable es que la linea de cuatro defensiva capitalina mostró solidez en el rechazo y malicia para la marca anticipada. El guardapiolas, Joe Willis entregó su valla invicta por segunda vez, bien en el corte y la espera segura.

Hubo ganas pero no calma en la ofensiva capitalina. El brasileño Santos Maicon le costó una severa llamada de atención, por su actitud temperamental con la pelota frente al árbitro ante una dura marca que le hizo al artillero colombiano Montero. Destiemples que le cuestan al equipo por tratarse de un delantero que da la cuota de gol y que tanta falta le hace al equipo.

Al que no lo vimos aparecer fue a Dwayne DeRosario,DeRo, cayó en el desgano ante la marca zonal de Seattle, aunque se hizo sentir con fogonazo a los 88′ que pasó desviado por encima del ‘bendito‘ travezaño.

Al rookie, Nick DeLeon, si bien es cierto, lo vimos con muchas ganas y buen manejo de la pelota pero la falta de compañía en sus arremetidas lo dejaban sin espacio para el remate o el pase, aunque en el minuto 68 puso un disparo desde 22 yardas obligando al portero de Seattle a esforzarse para evitar un gol cantado.

Lo que pudo ser mortal par el DC United fue a los 3′ del tiempo extra cuando Alonso recibe una pelota a metros fuera de las 18, amaga al defensor del DC United, disparó certero, a media altura, pero que el portero rojinegro, Joe Willis, muy atento logra desviar, con esfuerzo, hacia Marc Burch que llegaba a velocidad y, que para buena o mala suerte, cabecea chocando el balón en el poste saliendo fuera de la cancha.

Burch, ex-united, pudo hacer historia en la capital, lastimosamente con la camiseta del rival. Fin de fiesta –que no la hubo–, con un encuentro que desencantó a la siempre fiel hinchada capitalina.

DC United juega de visita este sábado en el Gillette Stadium, la cita es a las 4:00 p.m. (hora del Este) frente al New England Revolution que está herido y con ganas de llevarse los tres puntos. ‘Los Revolucionarios’ no caminan bien en la tabla y vienen cargando en el hombro su derrota este fin de semana, ante el FC Dallas, por la mínima diferencia de 1-0, aunque dieron dura batalla.

Luego el DC United regresará a casa, el miércoles 18 de abril, para enfrentar al Montreal Impact. El partido está programado para las 7:30 p.m., hora del Este, y será transmitido por CSN+.

La capital estadounidense, Washington DC, se quedó con las ganas de ver su estrella del momento, al ‘catrachito’ juvenil hondureño, Andy Nájar. Andy ayudó a sacar los boletos a su escuadra nacional a los juegos olímpicos de Londres. Hizo un pase milimétrico para el victorioso gol después de dibujar a su marcador salvadoreño por la banda derecha. Nájar está con malestar muscular después de jugar cinco partidos en once días con la Sub-23 de Honduras en los preolímpicos. Entendible.

ESTADÍSTICAS DEL PARTIDO

Estadio: RFK Washington DC

Fecha: Sábado 7 de Abril; 7:30 PM

ALINEACIONES:

DC United.– Joe Willis, Dejan Jakovick, Emiliano Dudar, Daniel Woolard. Robiee Russell, Nick DeLeon, Dwayne De Rosario, Perry Kitchen, Danny Cruz, Hamdi Salihi, Maicon Santos.

DT: Ben Olsen.

Seattle Sounders.– Michael Gspurning, Jeff Parke, Leonardo Gaonzalez, Patrick Lanni, Zach Scott, Roger Levesque, Alvaro Fernández, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Fredy Montero, David Estrada.

DT. Sigi Schmid.

ÁRBITRO:

Edvin Jurisevic

ASISTENCIA

15,651 espectadores; Clima: Despejado, vientos frios, 60º F.

EL RESUMEN DE LA QUINTA JORNADA (Con notas de Prensa de la MLS)

EN CLÁSICO CANADIENSE MONTREAL HIZO RESPETAR SU CASA

MONTREAL IMPACT  2 – TORONTO FC  1

Fecha: Sábado, 7 de abril
Estadio: Olimpico
Goles: MTL – Ubiparipovic (’18), Wenger (’81); TFC – Koevermans (’88)
Asistencia: 23,120

En uno de los nuevos clásicos canadienses del 2012, Montreal Impact hizo respetar su casa al imponerse 2-1 a un malherido Toronto FC que aún no se recupera de la vergonzosa eliminación de la Liga de Campeones de la CONCACAF sufrida a mitad de semana a manos del cuadro mexicano Santos Laguna por goleada de 6-2.

Sinisa Ubiparipovic (’18) y Andrew Wenger (’81) fueron quienes marcaron los goles para un Impact que sobre el final pudo haber dejado escapar la victoria luego de queDanny Koevermans descontara para el cuadro torontiano al minuto 88.

Con el triunfo, Montreal abandona el sótano de la Conferencia del Este para con cuatro unidades ubicarse en la 8va casilla, mientras Toronto sigue de colista y con una mala racha que lo mantiene con cero puntos.

REDBULLS IMPARABLES. GOLEARON DE VISITA A COLUMBUS

COLUMBUS CREW  1 – NEW YORK RED BULLS  4

Fecha: Sábado, 7 de abril
Estadio: Columbus Crew
Goles: CLB – Marshall (’89); NY – Cooper (‘3,’13), Henry (’41, ’90)
Asistencia: 11,516

New York Red Bulls, esta vez de visita, extendió su invicto a tres partidos sin conocer la derrota.  Tras golear 4-1 a Columbus Crew en Ohio, los Red Bulls confirmaron el gran momento que viven en la actualidad dejando de lado el turbulento inicio de temporada.

Con dos dobletes de Kenny Cooper y el francés Thierry Henry, que viene haciendo de las suyas con goles a granel, el cuadro neoyorquino se impuso a un errático Columbus Crew que apenas si tuvo capacidad de reacción cuando Chad Marshall marcó el tanto del descuento al minuto 89.

NY se mantuvo arriba en el marcador desde el minuto 3, cuando Cooper solo en el área recibió el balón de parte de Henry y con un derechazo venció al portero Andy Gruenebaum.  Diez minutos después, el mismo Cooper  aprovechó un servicio de Dane Richards y de cabeza marcar el segundo para NY ante la mala salida del portero del Crew.

Columbus intentaba digerir la desventaja, cuando al minut0 41 Henry ingresó al área por izquierda a pase de Miller y con un toque suave marcaba el tercer tanto para NY, y su sexto en la temporada.

Marshall salvaría el honor del Crew al minuto 89 con el único tanto amarillo de la tarde, pero Henry selló la goleada taurina al minuto 90.

El triunfo deja a los Red Bulls en la segunda casilla de la Conferencia del Este con 9 puntos, mientras Columbus queda en la tercera ubicación con 6 unidades.

SAN JOSÉ NO PERDONÓ  NOVATOS CANADIENSES CON TOQUE MEXICANO-COLOMBIANO

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES  3 – VANCOUVER WHITECAPS  1

Fecha: Sábado, 7 de abril
Estadio: Buck Shaw
Goles: SJ – Wondolowski (68′, 78′), Gordon (72′); VAN – Le Toux (49′)
Asistencia: 10.525

San José Earthquakes supo remontar un marcador adverso en casa par propinarle a los Vancouver Whitecaps su primera derrota de la temporada por un marcador de 3-1 para los Terremotos.

Chris Wondolowski volvió a vestirse de héroe al anotar un doblete en la segunda mitad. Su compañero de equipo Alan Gordon fue el otro anotador azul.

Los Whitecaps sorprendieron temprano en la segunda mitad con un gol del francés Sebastien Le Toux, quien después de una gran combinación con Eric Hassli dentro del área, pondría a ganar a su equipo. Sin embargo, el show de ‘Wondo’ empezaría al minuto 68, cuando aprovechó un error defensivo de Jay DeMerit para empatar el juego. Cuatro minutos más tarde, Gordon anotaría con un cabezazo luego de un gran centro del mexicoamericano Ramiro Corrales.

Al 78, otro gran centro, esta vez del colombiano Tressor Moreno, encontraría a un desmarcado Wondolowski para que este sellara su doblete.

ESCARLATAS DEL REAL SALT LAKE, CON PINCELADA LATINA, IMPECABLES ANTE COLORADO 

REAL SALT LAKE  2 – COLORADO RAPIDS  0

Fecha: Sábado, 7 de abril
Estadio: Rio Tinto
Goles: RSL – Saborio (20′), Espindola (57′)
Asistencia: 16.870

Real Salt Lake se quedó con el Clásico de las Montañas Rocosas tras derrotar por 2-0 a su rival regional, Colorado Rapids en el Estadio Rio Tinto. El triunfo monarca se materializó gracias a los goles de Álvaro Saborío en la primera mitad y Fabián Espíndola en la etapa complementaria.

El club de casa fue muy superior a lo largo del certamen, dominando posesión y frustrando cualquier ataque de Colorado, quienes esperaban que Martín Rivero y Jaime Castrillón pudieran descifrar la defensa liderada por Jamison Olave, lo cual no pudieron hacer.

En el otro arco, Espíndola fue un peligro constante y fue recompensado con un controversial tanto al minuto 57, cuando le ganó una carrera a la defensa de los Rapids y puso el balón entre las piernas del portero Matt Pickens. Repeticiones muestran que el argentino llegó a tocar el balón con la mano antes de anotar su tanto.

Saborío, por su parte, fue inteligente a la hora de anotar, burlando la trampa del fuera de juego tras un gran centro de Tony Beltrán al minuto 20. El costarricense definió de excelente manera al quedar solo ante Pickens.

CHIVAS USA REMONTÓ CON SUSTO A DEBUTANTE

PORTLAND TIMBERS  1 – CHIVAS USA  2

Fecha: Sábado, 7 de abril
Estadio: Jeld-Wen Field
Goles: POR – Boyd (16′); CHV – Moreno (48′), LaBrocca (82′)
Asistencia: 20,438

Chivas USA remontó un 1-0 en su contra para llevarse un importante triunfo como visitante por 2-1 ante los Portland Timbers.

Kris Boyd abrió el marcador tras un imperdonable error defensivo del portero Dan Kennedy y su defensa James Riley, quienes después de estrellarse, dejaron a Boyd libre para definir con el arco abierto. Sin embargo, dos cabezazos le cambiaron el destino al partido. Alejandro Moreno abriría la cuenta para los Rojiblancos poco después del inicio del segundo tiempo, mientras que Nick LaBrocca le daría el triunfo a los visitantes al minuto 82, dejando a los Timbers con su segunda derrota consecutiva en casa.

Por su parte, Chivas llegó a seis puntos y ahora ocupa el séptimo lugar de la Conferencia del Oeste.

PARTIDOS DE LA QUINTA JORNADA JUGADOS A MITAD DE SEMANA

ESCARLATAS DE LAGO SALADO VICTORIOSOS CON LA MINIMA

REAL SALT LAKE  1 – MONTREAL IMPACT  0

Fecha: Miércoles, 4 de abril
Estadio: Rio Tinto
Goles: RSL – Paulo Jr. (’13)
Asistencia: 20191

Real Salt Lake continúa en la senda victoriosa  tras cosechar otro triunfo en casa ante Montreal Impact por la mínima diferencia, acumulando así cuatro encuentros ganados de cinco disputados en lo que va de la temporada 2012.

El solitario gol lo marcó el joven atacante brasileño Paulo Jr. al minuto 13 de tiro penal, después de que el árbitro central Ricardo Salazar una clara mano en el área del delantero del Impact Justin Braun y decretara el penalti.

RSL tuvo varias chances para aumentar la ventaja en el marcador tras el primer tanto, con varias llegadas del argentino Fabián Espíndola y otros intentos del volante estadounidense Kyle Beckerman, pero estuvieron fallidos en la definición.

De esta manera, Salt Lake se mantiene en el liderato de la Conferencia del Oeste con 12 puntos mientras Montreal continúa en el noveno lugar de la Conferencia del Este con apenas un punto.

DALLAS SUFRE CON NEW ENGLAND 

FC DALLAS  1 – NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION  0

Fecha: Jueves, 5 de abril
Estadio: FC Dallas
Goles: FCD: Ihemelu (95′)
Asistencia: 11043

Un gol en tiempo de descuento le dio a FC Dallas tres puntos a expensas de un aplicado New England Revolution. El defensa Ugo Ihemelu fue el héroe de los texanos al marcar con golpe de cabeza después de un cobro de falta de Zach Loyd.

Fue un partido que se abrió solo en los últimos minutos. El resto del encuentro fue una lucha en el mediocampo, que terminó destacando a los defensas de cada escuadra. Los veteranos arqueros Kevin Hartman y Matt Reis respondieron cuando fueron exigidos con remates de larga distancia.

Por FC Dallas reapareció Fabián Castillo mientras que en los Revs debutó el delantero José “Pepe” Moreno. El colombiano entró de cambio en el segundo tiempo y tuvo un remate que obligó la estirada de Hartman. El técnico de los Revs, Jay Heaps, se quejó por el tiempo que repuso el árbitro al final del partido, cuando cayó la anotación de Dallas.

Match Gallery: DC United vs Seattle Sounders

D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders battled to a hard-fought 0-0 draw tonight at RFK Stadium in front of 15, 651 fans. United’s only real chance at goal came in the 23rd minute thanks to some great work from in-form Nick DeLeon. All photos: Martin Fernandez.

Nick De Leon

United and Sounders battle to a 0-0 draw

D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders battled to a hard-fought 0-0 draw tonight at RFK Stadium in front of 15, 651 fans. United’s only real chance at goal came in the 23rd minute thanks to some great work from in-form Nick DeLeon. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders battled to a hard-fought 0-0 draw tonight at RFK Stadium in front of 15, 651 fans. United now has a three game unbeaten streak after dropping the first two matches to start the season. Joe Willis recorded his second shutout of the season and saved the match with a diving save of an Osvaldo Alonzo  blast in stoppage time only to see the rebound from former United player Marc Burch rocket off the crossbar to everyone’s relief at RFK, including head coach Ben Olsen who jokingly muttered, “That son of a bitch”, after the match when he realized it was the much scrutinized left-back who nearly laid a second devastating injury-time loss on United this season (Sporting Kansas City scored in stoppage time of the season opener).

United’s defense, much maligned from last season, came out with it’s third consecutive solid effort limiting the visitors to only two shots on goal through the rough and tumble match. Both sides were very physical, especially in the opening forty-five minutes with United being very fortunate not to have forward Maicon Santos sent off. After a deserved yellow card tackle in the 12th minute, Santos was nearly sent off late in the first half if not for the level-headed thinking of referee Edwin Jurasevic. Santos had made a seemingly legal tackle on Sounder forward Fredy Montero but was whistled for the foul. The Brazilian grabbed the ball and slammed it down right in front of the referee who, to his credit, realized the situation and probably didn’t want to send a player off in this game due to an fleeting act of petulance.

United’s only real chance at goal came in the 23rd minute thanks to some great work from in-form Nick DeLeon. The winger from Louisville blazed past Seattle defender Zach Scott and sent in a low hard cross that met the sliding left foot of Hamdi Salihi. The Albanian’s shot slammed off the convergence of the near side crossbar and post much to the relief of the Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning who would have had no time to even get his hands up had the shot been on target.

After the break, the Black-and-Red picked up the tempo and had the Western visitors on their heels for most of the second half. United came close on several occasions, the best being rookie Nick DeLeon’s 22-yard blast in the 68th minute forcing an awkward punch-out save from Gspurning.  Second-half substitute Chris Pontius should have given United the lead just five minutes later when sent in by Santos on a lovely back heel pass. Pontius glided into the box and his shot from the left side of the goal area skittered harmlessly through the goal mouth and wide of the far post. United’s last effort to grab a game-winner came from a Dwayne De Rosario free kick in the 88th minute but the effort was just over the bar.

That last opportunity set up a rare chance by the Sounders in the 3rd minute of stoppage time that would have stolen three points had it come to fruition. Alonso got a hold of a ball out in front of the penalty area and sidestepped a United defender before unleashing a wicked 24-yard shot headed for the far side netting. Joe Willis extended fully to his right and parried the shot  into the path of onrushing Seattle defender Marc Burch. Burch’s reaction header rocketed off the crossbar and was eventually cleared by the United defense and nearly gave Burch a storybook return to the Nation’s Capitol.  Burch subbed into the match in the last five minutes and was met with a full-throated booing from the RFK faithful upon his entrance into the match. It was Burch during the course of the week who had a lot to say about why he was no longer with United and it would have been very cruel for United had that goal gone in.

United Notes

  • Brandon McDonald was suspended for this match during the week after a weekly video evidence hearing brought about his one-game ban for his tackle on Blas Perez last week versus FC Dallas
  • Andy Najar did not make the 18-man roster due to his midweek illness and him playing 5 matches in 11 days with the Honduran U-23 team that did qualify for the London Olympics later this summer
  • While United got their second shutout of the season, they have failed to score in 3 of the 5 matches played so far this season. It could be argued that United has had the toughest 5-game stretch to open the season in MLS
Josh Wolfe vs Seattle Sounders

Crucial Stretch for DC Begins in Seattle

DC United started another one game win streak with a rousing 3-0 victory in LA against Chivas, and now faces a critical run of 5 games in 16 days starting with the match tomorrow night in Seattle against a Sounders team that has only lost once since the end of July and Josh Wolff (pictured) could be the difference.

United, which still hasn’t strung together two straight wins since 2008 and is playing perhaps the hottest team in all of MLS the past 6 weeks without Chris Pontius who broke his leg in the Chivas win, might just be in position to pull off somewhat of an upset given the circumstances surrounding this match.

DC stayed on the West coast and has no appreciable travel to wear them down, while Seattle have had a mid week trip to Costa Rica and back to deal with. Of course the result down there for Seattle was the worst possible for United, an easy Seattle win with no injuries, but a 5,000 mile round trip to play at home is surely more grueling than DC’s short flight to this match.

Also, Seattle is in the middle of the CONCACAF Champions League, made the finals of the US Open Cup for the third year in a row, and has a relatively crowded MLS schedule left as well, so they are currently well into a stretch of 9 games in 32 days. And to top that off, the Sounders are all but assured an MLS playoff berth already, likely only needing 4 points out of their last 6 matches to qualify, so this is a match they don’t really need to focus too much on.

DC, on the other hand is in a far more desperate situation. Although the win against Chivas did secure them the last wild card slot for the moment, and a win in Seattle would likely vault them into third place and a guaranteed playoff slot for a couple weeks with two homes games coming up, but anything less than 3 points in Seattle ratchets up the pressure instead as they will likely fall out of the playoff picture yet again, with the weight of three straight barren years out of the playoffs looming above them and inching downward.

DC also has some injury concerns again after seemingly getting healthy over their recent 20 day idle stretch. Obviously the loss of Pontius for the season is killer given his play of late and especially the way he has torched the Sounders in Seattle in the past, but also the nagging hamstring injuries to Bill Hamid and Dejan Jackovic, as well as the availability of Josh Wolff are all up in the air too. All are listed as probable, and DC has capable replacements if they can’t go, but the situation clearly isn’t ideal.

Thankfully, Seattle will be missing a couple key players as well, although arguably they are pretty much the deepest team in MLS. However, the loss of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado in central defense due to suspension and Erik Friberg in central midfield will hurt. Also, the effectiveness of Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans just becoming available coming off injuries is in question, as will be the effectiveness of anyone who played the full 90 down in Costa Rica midweek, Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez, etc.

So, with all that in mind taking a stab at Sigi’s lineup for the Sounders is a bit of a leap of faith, but here goes. I suspect Montero and Mike Fucito start at forward with Montero on a short leash. Fernandez, Mauro Rosales, Alonso, and Evans across midfield going left to right, and Sigi has plenty of options in the attack off the bench too with Nate Jaqua, Roger Levesque, Pat Noonan, or Neagle to slot in anywhere needed. Then Tyson Wahl, Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni, and James Riley across the backline from left to right and in front of Kasey Keller.

Olsen just has to replace Pontius for certain, and it seems a dead certainty Santino Quaranta moves into the starting lineup. Now where he plays likely depends on Josh Wolff. If Wolff’s balky hip allows him to start, then Q plays left midfield for certain, if not, then Olsen might be tempted to play Tino at forward alongside Davies and slot in Austin Da Luz or maybe even Marc Burch on the left. Perhaps the better option if Wolff can’t go would be to play Blake Brettschneider at forward and leave Q out on the left, though. We’ll see. My money is on Wolff starting though. This match is huge for DC psychologically heading into a tough stretch, so Wolff needs to be out there if he’s even close to being fit.

Which means DC goes with Wolff and Davies at forward. Quaranta, Dwayne DeRosario, Clyde Simms, and Andy Najar from left to right across midfield, and Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Jakovic or former Terp Ethan White, and Perry Kitchen across the backline in front of Hamid or possibly Joe Willis.

So, looking at the matchups, DC is actually in pretty good shape offensively. Wolff and Davies sliced and diced Ianni and Hurtado earlier this year in the win in RFK, and are certainly faster and craftier than Ianni and Parke, especially with Najar having an edge over Wahl down DC’s right side, and with Quaranta beating Riley at least a few times (Tino has had some of his best games on turf, btw). Also, DeRo has as good a chance as anyone at getting around Alonso in central midfield, especially if the Cuban is slowed by his balky adductor, but I wouldn’t count on that.

Still, DC should be able to score, especially on a field where they have never lost (including against Real Madrid) and where they average 3 goals a game in MLS play, although it hurts that Pontius scored 3 of DC’s 6 goals scored there, would have scored 4 if Cristman hadn’t poached one of them, and he even forced a Seattle own goal so arguably he caused 5 of those 6, but it’s a good omen that Tino had a hand in 3 of those goals himself, assisting on the game winner last year, and helped force the Seattle own goal which was DC’s last goal in the 3-3 tie in 2009.

Now, on the other side of the ball, DC still has some decent matchups. Obviously Montero is a United killer and tricky enough to beat anyone any given time, but McDonald and Jakovic or White (both of whom played in the DC win over Seattle earlier, and of course McDonald coming from SJ knows Montero quite well) are savvy and physical enough to keep him and the rugged opportunistic Fucito quiet if they make no serious mistakes.

Where the real problems lie for DC is in midfield. Fernandez is a handful for anyone, much less a rookie right back in Perry Kitchen. Kitchen is smart and more athletic, and he’ll need every bit of that to shut down the cagey Uruguayan World Cup veteran. Evans going up against Woolard isn’t much better. Evans has none of the pedigree of Seattle’s cadre of internationals, yet all he does is win games and score big goals. And Simms might have the toughest assignment of all as Rosales has been the key to Seattle’s recent run up the Western table and I believe Sigi uses him to replace Friberg in the center. Perhaps it’s Evans inside and Rosales outside, but either way it’s tough sledding for DC.

You have to figure Seattle’s midfield wins more battle than they lose, which starts a chain reaction of bad things for DC. It pulls back Santino and Najar to help out, allows Wahl and Riley forward, forces DC’s defenders to step up or out to cover, leaving more space for Montero to exploit, or leads to fouls and free kicks that DC doesn’t particularly defend all that well, etc. On the bright side, it does force DC into being more of a counter-attacking team however, and Davies, if he continues on his roll could net another triple running behind Parke and Ianni.

The current trends don’t really help DC out either despite the fact Seattle is coming off their only loss in the last six weeks last week to RSL at home last weekend. Yes, DC has never lost in Seattle. DC is also one of the best teams in the league on the road with an away record of 5-4-4, and is coming off a big win as well as having scored 3 or more goals in 3 of their last 5 games to boot. DC has also has 5 shutouts in their last 8 on the road, outscoring their opponents 11 to 5 since the bitter loss in Houston.

But, Seattle is slightly better at home with a 7-3-4 record, and even worse the Sounders have thrashed the Eastern Conference with a 6-0-1 record at home this year outscoring the East by 19-7 including hammering the Crew 6-2 three weeks ago. From the East, only Houston has escaped Seattle with a point, and with only DC and Philly left, Seattle will want to complete their roll over the East. Plus, while their playoffs are pretty secure, they have a shot at the Supporter’s Shield if the Galaxy has a late season swoon and will want to snag points every chance they get.

Bottom line given the two teams history in Seattle and the way this match seems likely to play out, expect quite a few goals. Formerly Qwest Field but now Century Link Field, affectionately known as the CLink, DC has outscored Seattle 6-5 in two games there since Seattle entered the league, and I fully expect another ripsnorter tomorrow night.

DC could certainly tie or even win it if their luck in the Clink holds up, and all the travel and games catch up to Seattle in a bad way. But a valiant high scoring loss seems a bit more likely to the odds makers. Unless of course Keller lets a few goals slip through his fingers. Fingers crossed.

Josh Wolfe vs Seattle Sounders

United snaps two-game losing skid with gritty 2-1 win over Seattle

Charlie Davies vs Seattle Sounders

CHarlie Davies. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Josh Wolff and Charlie Davies (left) both scored on either side of halftime to help D.C. United to a hard fought 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders last night at chilly RFK Stadium. A season-low 11,254 fans turned out in brisk 52 degree weather to see the Black-and-Red snap a two-game losing streak in which they had given up 8 goals and a 3-game losing streak to Seattle at RFK overall.

Josh Wolff got the scoring started in the 31st minute of sloppy first half between both sides. Andy Najar set Charlie Davies loose down the right flank and Davies appeared to have gotten away with a slight push which sent Seattle defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to the turf. Davies raced towards the end line and hit a perfectly weighted square pass along the ground to far post where Wolff buried his second goal of the season. United nearly doubled their lead four minutes later when rookie Perry Kitchen’s low line drive was somehow saved by Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

After the half time break, both teams settled into the match with a much more crisp display of soccer and United did indeed double their lead thanks to a eerily similar build up to their first goal. This time though, Najar dribbled his way seemingly through the entire Seattle defense and tapped a ball out to the wing for Wolff who one-timed a beautiful curling pass to the far post where Davies’ sliding effort poked the ball home for a 2-0 United lead.

Considering recent events with United’s defense, things were going to get interesting especially after Seattle was awarded a penalty in the 70th minute, just two minutes after United were denied what seemed to be a sure penalty when Kitchen was steamrolled in Seattle’s penalty area. Brad Evans stepped up and sent United keeper Bill Hamid the wrong way to halve the deficit.

United’s much maligned defensive unit however did a good job of keeping Seattle off the scoreboard for the final 20 minutes of the match but not without difficulty. United’s defending on free kicks continues to be an adventure as Seattle nearly equalized on numerous occasions only to see the ball go narrowly wide of goal or deflect off a player and go out of bounds. Bill Hamid came up with a number of saves to keep United on the winning side of the ledger, the best of them coming just two minutes after Seattle had scored their penalty. A Seattle counter attack saw the ball played from the right flank over United’s defense to the back post where an unmarked Alvaro Fernandez’s bullet header was tipped over the bar by Hamid to keep the match at 2-1.

With Seattle pressing forward, United did a very good job of keeping possession of the ball and out of the hands of the visitors over the final 10 minutes and rode the game out and gained a valuable three points to help soothe the frayed nerves of the players, coaches and fans. Up next for United is FC Dallas on Saturday night at RFK Stadium.

 

United Notes

– Marc Burch failed a late fitness test and was out of the 18-man roster. Daniel Woolard started at left back and played very well

– Chris Pontius left the match in the 49th minute when his calf tightened up on him. Pontius got kicked in the calf last week against Houston but it lingered after the halftime break and he was removed as a precaution. My guess is that he won’t be available on Saturday

– Clyde Simms cramped up late in the match and was replaced by Steven King who got his first MLS minutes of the season

Dismayed DC Face Surging Sounders

Coming off a hideous ten days, DC comes dragging home for a welcome three matches in a row in RFK. Unfortunately, first up is the Seattle Sounders who are coming off thumping Toronto to go to six games unbeaten, and have never failed to beat DC in RFK to boot.

It is gut check time for DC United. A pretty nice start to the season has degraded recently into a horrific three game stretch that saw United lose handily in MLS play to two conference rivals, NY and Houston, by at least three goals each becoming the worst defense statistically in MLS in the process, and get bounced from the Open Cup by a New England reserve squad. Up next is Seattle that hasn’t lost since March and is coming off a resounding 3-0 win over TFC.

Obviously, the first thing a clearly angry United coach Ben Olsen has to do is stop the bleeding and tighten up United’s suddenly shocking defense, and the only way to do that is to find, or encourage strongly, some players to actually compete at an MLS level. DC’s defense is young, and the team overall is new and still finding its way, but Olsen said it best after the Houston debacle, basically, that you may be inexperienced or whatever, but you can at least show up and work hard, you know try to make it difficult for other teams to score.

Now, you could argue that United started the season keeping things pretty tight in the back, and even snagged a shutout earlier this year on the way to 7 points in their first 5 games. But I would counter with the notion DC did indeed shutout Toronto, who barely threatened DC’s goal at all. They did whup the Crew, who played horrible and it was DC’s home opener too. Then United luck-boxed into a point against LA, who scored early and didn’t bother to attack again the rest of the match.

Against actual teams who have played in anger, and with the hardness expected of an MLS team fighting to get above mediocrity, DC has been overwhelmed and humiliated. Seattle, they are on a mission for an MLS Cup this year or they know Sigi will break up that team if they don’t at least come close, so expecting them to come in here and lay an egg is a long shot. And that’s not even including the fond feelings Seattle must have for RFK having beaten United all three times they have visited including snatching away an Open Cup.

Now, the question becomes what is the best lineup to staunch the gaping wound that is United’s defense. Now, to begin with all of DC’s defenders have made absolutely painful mistakes at some point this year, so it’s not so simple as to say play the “best” defenders on the team. But, on balance and considering Jed Zayner is out vacationing his hamstring again, DC’s best defense is Chris Korb, Dejan Jakovic, Perry Kitchen and Marc Burch. Although I’d be sorely tempted to see if Ethan White could play left back instead of Burch, who should be setting pins in a bowling alley. But, the spirited Burch does compete at least, even if it is ineffectively done too often for his experience level.

However, that is only half the battle. DC’s defensive problems are just bad, if not worse, in the midfield. Clyde Simms has been atrocious, simple as that. He needs to be way more of a physical presence or he should be shown to the bench. Dax McCarty hasn’t really been much better, but he has maybe done enough to keep his job, especially now that Branko Boskovic is now going to be out essentially for the rest of the season (hey, he didn’t come into camp in shape twice when he had two healthy knees, now after ACL surgery? Please).

As for the outside positions in midfield, considering Chris Pontius and Andy Najar or Fred or even Santino Quaranta, none has shown much in the way of helpfulness defending on the wing, but Fred and Santino have at least tried. Najar is certainly capable, but his personal life funk couldn’t possibly have come at a worse time, so he’s perhaps a bit of a hope to recover in time to bail DC out again after doing it most of last year. There’s precious little on the bench, either. Brandon Barklage is an option, but he has only seen Open Cup play and that in the defense, where he hasn’t looked that good.

In this game, Olsen has to be sure to have midfielders who will work very hard on the defensive side of the ball, even to the expense of the offense. For me that means McCarty, Fred, Najar (fingers crossed), and Morsink (I never thought I’d ever write that!). And even then, I’d have Barklage and Santino ready to go as soon as it’s obvious a starter is not doing enough. But, no matter what, midfield defense must get a lot better or this defense will continue to bleed like a leaky paint bucket.

Interestingly, the forwards have not been a problem defensively. Josh Wolff, Charlie Davies, Blake Brettschneider, even Joseph Ngwenya for the most part have been pretty active defensively, so any of them is a good bet. But, obviously, if DC is going to pack it in and counter, then balls over the top to Davies or worked quickly up field to the savvy Wolff would likely be more effective.

Those also give DC its best matchups against a pretty deep Seattle squad that lost Steve Zakuani horrifically and O’Brien White unexpectedly to surgery this past week. Seattle is facing three games in eight days (DC has three too, but an extra day of rest having played Friday instead of Saturday), so Sigi might change things up. Heck, it would be understandable if he took the DC game lightly considering the way they’ve owned DC here and in order to focus on the likely tougher away match in Columbus on the weekend. But, I think he goes with his best for most of this match to secure the more sure points, and adjusts for the Crew match which he shouldn’t expect too much from anyway.

That said, I expect Seattle to field Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales at forward. Maybe Nate Jaqua instead, but he and Montero have not really ever played well together, well except in RFK so maybe that should be qualified, but seriously I think he saves Jaqua a bit to batter the bigger, meaner Crew defense.

In midfield, it’ll most likely be Erik Friberg, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alsonso, and Alvaro Fernandez going right to left across midfield. Perhaps Evans stays on the right where he lit up TFC, but I think Sigi likes him pushing up the middle, and he’s a better two way player in there than either of the two imports. The defense almost certainly will be Tyson Wahl, who’s taken Leo Gonzalez’s job on the left, Patrick Ianni, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and James Riley going across the backline. Perhaps Mr. Irrelevant Jeff Parke gets in there, but I doubt Sigi breaks up a defense that pitched their first home shutout of the year. And they have had plenty of rest to date anyway as Sigi has played a number of combinations back there so far this year.

So looking at the matchups, it’s tough for sure, but maybe doable for DC. Montero has not really broken out yet this year and Rosales is a wild card so far, so Kitchen and Jakovic could keep them to one goal or less, if they cut out the obvious mistakes of course, if they don’t it’s blood bath anyway so it doesn’t matter who they face.

In midfield, McCarty and Morsink or maybe an inspired Simms are a decent match with Evans and Alonso, Seattle has a slight edge of course, but not huge and easily negated if DC plays with some heart and intensity. I like the idea of Najar going against the aging Uruguayan Fernandez. Fernandez is crafty and has two huge goals for Seattle this year, but if Najar is back to himself, he is way feistier and will run the World Cup veteran’s legs off, likely keeping Wahl in check too. Fred against Friberg is also pretty decent for DC. Both are offense first players, but Fred is the more experienced in MLS and I think good enough to cause the Swede trouble and keep Riley pinned back too. Friberg is also the only player to Fred a ball over the net worse than Fred ever did too. So he’s got that going for DC too.

Going the other way, obviously DC will need some luck, but Davies can outrun anyone they put in central defense up to and including El Presidente, Hurtado, if DC has the presence to send him as often as possible. I also like the crafty Wolff against Ianni or Parke, especially in RFK. If Fred or Najar, or Santino or Pontius, or McCarty, whoever, can win their midfield battle too and add more to the attack, then that’s even better. McCarty’s freekicks will be huge too.

Obviously, the trends do not favor DC. Seattle is 2-0 here in MLS play outscoring United by 2 goals, 3-1, which is ironic since they’ve never beaten DC at Qwest field, and so are 2-1-1 lifetime versus DC, but even that win took two monumental gaffes by Kasey Keller, thinking that will happen again is even more remote than Seattle just laying an egg. Possible, but unlikely.

Also, Seattle is tough on the road even this year when they didn’t start out so hot. But after losing to NY in the Red Bulls home opener by a lone goal, they have gone 1-0-2 on the road since then outscoring opponents 4-3 having tied SJ and Philly, and beaten Colorado 1-0 their last time out of Seattle. United on the other hand is a shaky 1-1-1 at home after that rousing start against the Crew, but that 3-1 win was negated brutally by NY’s 4-0 thrashing the last time in RFK, so DC has now been outscored 4 to 6, with two PKs one of them pretty lucky Abby was calling the game.

All signs point to a loss for DC, so now’s the time for the soccer gods to intervene on the side of all that’s right in the universe. Now’s also the time for DC to put in the work and compete hard enough to give the soccer gods reason to smile on them too. We can moan and groan all we want about teams like NE or Houston stealing points, but until we work as hard and as disciplined as those teams do, we will continue to be robbed like blind beggar.

Time to see some heart from DC. I doubt they win, but at least a tie is imperative. Another multi-goal loss and this season could be heading into the crapper at warp speed.

DC United and Seattle Wrangle for Respectability

For two proud and arrogant franchises this season has been a nightmare with both teams wallowing in seventh place in their respective conferences at the moment. But, changes are in the wind and both teams will be looking to jump start the second half of their seasons with some new faces to get themselves back to respectability at least.

DC United returns to RFK for the first time in almost two months and after collecting a promising 5 points in their four game road swing starting with that win in Seattle just before the World Cup break, so they can claim at least a modest amount of momentum. Even more promising is the game being played on the first day of the transfer should allow the Black and Red to unveil their shiny new attackers, Argentine forward Pablo Hernandez and midfielder Branko Boskovic, as long as their paperwork comes through on time.

Seattle has a shiny new attacker too, Blaise Nkufo, fresh off playing for Switzerland in the World Cup. But having just joined the team here in DC, it’s unlikely he plays more than some sub minutes if at all. For United, Hernandez has been practicing for weeks and surely could start if he’s earned it, but Boskovic has only recently been introduced to the legendary suffocating Washington heat waves, and almost certainly will come on as a sub at best.

For once, DC will be facing a team with worse injury concerns than their own too. Seattle will be missing winger Freddy Ljungberg ostensibly for an ankle injury, both central midfielders as Brad Evans is out with a knee and Alonso has been slow to come back from hamstring injury although he did play some minutes in their last match. Rookie Mike Seamon replacing Evans rolled an ankle too in that last match too, but is expected to play. The loss of Hurtado to a season ending knee injury has severely weakened their central defense as well.

So, with Sigi shuffling his lineups fairly regularly due to injuries and trying to break out of four match winless streak dating to United’s shocking win in Seattle, it’s tough to say exactly how Seattle will line up. For sure, it will be a 4-4-2 because with Jaqua finally back, they now have a partner for sophomore slumping Freddy Montero. It’s a lock last year’s number one draft pick and current Seattle leading scorer, Steve Zakuani, will start on the left.

For the rest of the midfield it seems likely Sigi goes with the same team that tied Dallas last week to break their three game losing streak. Which means Seattle will go with a complete second string midfield with Seamon and Nathan Sturgis in central midfield, Sanna Nyassi starting on the right for the suspended Miguel Montano, their newly signed young Colombian who was introduced to the league and sent to the showers in the same match for a wild tackle on Brek Shea.

In defense, Sigi still has some concerns though. Gonzalez has been solid, but Ianni and Parke have been sketchy at best, with Tyrone Marshall strangely absent of late. Then Riley is attacking well but defending abysmally as usual. That group held on gamely for 88 minutes, but also gave up the late goal snatching a draw from almost a certain win. It’ll be interesting to see if Sigi controls his natural instinct to strangle them for that lapse and gives them the benefit of the doubt, or brings back Marshall and maybe some other faces like Tyson Wahl or Taylor Graham. Keller in goal will be a lock though, and he won’t be likely to give up any soft goals like he did last time the two teams met either.

Going against that DC is far more settled and has had plenty of time to adjust to their myriad of injuries, so they are virtually full strength. The only question will be the starting forward, whether it is Hernandez or Cristman or Allsopp, and how many minutes Boskovic gets if any. The rest of the team is almost set in stone at this point.

So, looking at the matchups, Cristman (or Allsopp) and Quaranta have been anemic to say the least, but maybe Hernandez breathing down their necks as well as the complete lack of fear in facing Ianni and Parke will spark some efficiency from them in front of the net. Pontius and Najar have been pretty lively in the attack as well, and Pontius should have an edge in confidence based on his two goals against them last time out as well as facing their weakest defender in Riley. But Najar doesn’t seem likely to find much joy going against Gonzalez. Nor does it seem likely King will get upfield too much against his recent former teammate, Sturgis.

Defensively, Jaqua and Montero will be a handful, but James and Jakovic have been very solid of late. As long as James keeps his cool and doesn’t give up too many free kicks or catch a probably well deserved red card, they should be fine handling the rugged but rusty Jaqua and the lone surviving frustrated Freddy. Zakuni is a serious concern for McTavish, but Graye will have no problem with the speedy, but woefully inadequate Nyassi. Simms too shouldn’t have too much trouble with the hobbled Seamon, maybe enough that he can help out McTavish.

Seems likely whoever scores first will be the winner though as both teams have serious offensive problems of late. DC has only a pitiful one goal in their past three matches since hanging 3 on Seattle, while the Sounders come into this match with a mere goal a game over the past three matches. However defensively, DC has been much better only giving up 3 goals, with one shutout last time out in NY, in the three matches since the world cup break, while Seattle has given up 7 in the same span. So, the trends favor DC somewhat and become a huge advantage if they score first. But, having been shut out 10 times already this year, that first goal has obviously been elusive.

Which leads us into the intangibles. DC has been horrible at home until recently, but they have won 2 and tied 1 of their last 4 at RFK outscoring opponents 5-4, so that’s trending up. Seattle is trending the other way as they started the season 1-0-2 on the road, but have lost 4 straight on the road since May 15 being outscored 9-2 in the process.

Interestingly in their short history, DC has met Seattle only four times and neither team has won at home yet, with bunches of goals scored at Qwest in the 3-3 tie last year and the 3-2 win this year, while two very tight losses here in RFK as DC dropped a couple 2-1 losses to Seattle within a four days last August including the snarling Open Cup final. So, a United win would break tradition but might well be in the cards if they can find that pesky first goal. Perhaps Hernandez gets introduced to MLS with a bang and ignites a moribund DC offense. Now that would be respectable.

DC Heads to the Emerald City Needing a Win

When talking about Seattle, discussing their fabulous fan support dominates the conversation and for sure it will be daunting for a hobbled and desperate United side to face, but Seattle is a bit hobbled too and certainly nowhere near the dominant home team they were last year. Unfortunately given DC’s piddling success so far this year, United might need divine intervention to pull off a result against any team in any venue this year, but DC is undefeated with some startling successes in Seattle over the years, pulling off improbable ties with Real Madrid in 2006, and a 3-3 tie after falling behind 3-1 almost exactly a year ago.

Now that said, considering DC’s hideous road performance to date, especially the anemic offense on display most of this season, expecting anything other than a loss in Seattle would really take the promise of gifts by the great and powerful OZ. Still, maybe there’s something in that since DC has pretty much followed the yellow brick road in away matches this year. Meekly losing all four so far this year and being out scored 10 to 2 (both goals coming in Philly and was of those should have been disallowed anyway).

Adding to DC’s woes is the loss of two or arguably three starting defenders now that Pena has been ruled out with a groin strain, Talley with a concussion, and Wallace has come down with a broken leg. Talley got clocked in practice and already missed the RSL match with a concussion, then the Mummy pulled up lame with a groin strain in the RSL tie, while Rockin’ Rodney ill-advisedly stuck a leg in front of Saborio as he was shooting and paid for that with a crack in his fibula that will likely take two months to recover from.

However, Seattle has been nothing to cheer home about either. Until a thumping win over hapless NE this past weekend, the Sounders had gone over two months since a win at home and that was a miracle last second result when an end of the bench rookie improbably pulled Seattle’s ashes out of the fire. True, they are 3-3-1 at home, but they started well and yet were on an 0-2 slide until the big win over NE.

Even their wins are unimpressive (Philly in the league opener, Fucito beating KC at the death, and crushing a decimated NE this past week), and their home losses have been epic. The refund game against LA in addition to SJ and NY shutting them out with 1-0 wins can’t have the Seattle faithful feeling confident. Especially as 3 of the 5 times they have been shutout this season have been at home. Really their only quality home result was the 2-2 tie with RSL in April, but DC just tied the defending champs at home too.

Granted, DC has even less to crow about overall, but they are coming off a banner two weeks that saw them go undefeated in four in a row in all matches starting with the unlikely win over AC Milan and carrying on to last second wins over Chivas and RSL (in the Open Cup) and getting their first shutout of the year in the 0-0 tie with RSL last week. So, while no doubt tired, DC does have a bit of momentum carrying them into the World Cup break.

Interestingly, both teams have just recently solved their lineup problems to jumpstart both of their moribund offenses. In DC’s case the return of Pontius, and the breakout of Najar, allowed United to play a 4-5-1 with Santino as a withdrawn forward which has been the key to unlocking United’s scoring problems. Seattle has had similar problems scoring recently going over a month without a goal, but the emergence of former Rev Noonan alongside Montero has allowed Evans and Ljungberg to return to their more natural midfield positions and now their 4-4-2 is clicking a lot more efficiently.

Which leads us into the matchups for this one. For once, DC seems to be in good shape to weather some key injuries, while Seattle has maybe the more crucial losses. With Hulking Hurtado out with an ACL tear and both Alonso and Vagenas out with Quad injuries, Seattle is down to relying on Mr. Irrelevant, ex-NY defender Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni playing out of position in central midfield. United, on the other hand with the welcome return of Jakovic, can simply slot in James and McTavish, moving Graye to the left, to cover for the loss of Pena, Talley, and Wallace.

So, offensively, DC does have some hope. Allsopp is whole new animal for Marshall and Parke to deal with and Santino could be ready for a big time road performance. Now, Najar and McTavish going against Zakuani and Gonzalez is not so promising but maybe DC’s young phenom will continue to surprise. Maybe Pontius and Graye can edge out the enigmatic Ljungberg and Riley too as neither of those guys relish actual defending and Pontius and Graye can be a handful going forward for DC. King in the middle has been a revelation the last two weeks and he has the revenge factor going against his old club, but even so expecting King and Clyde to overcome Evans and Ianni is probably a stretch, but playing even with them is not.

So, with luck maybe United holds an edge offensively, which would be out of character for a DC road side, but is something which they will desperately need. DC simply must keep Seattle back on their heels because defensively United has some real struggles looking at the matchups on paper. Montero and Noonan are both smooth and tricky as well as deadly when they put their minds to it, so Jakovic and James could easily be in trouble. The speedy Zakuani going against McTavish and especially the rookie Graye hoping to contain the savvy Ljungberg are really a stretch unless Seattle’s funk continues, or Hamid (or Perkins) stands on his head.

Bottom line, DC would be most fortunate to come away with even a point in this one. But, maybe someone behind the curtain bestows the heart and courage it will take to overcome the road woes that have plagued the team for years, or maybe Seattle will overlook lowly United being overconfident from that breakout win over NE, whatever. There’s no real reason to think DC will get points in this one, but DC is virtually playing a playoff match right now, while Seattle isn’t nearly in that much trouble yet and might not match DC’s intensity (presuming they play intense on the road, which I realize is rare, but at some point they have to realize their backs are against the wall, don’t they?).

Given the trends and the motivations and recent history, United will be lucky to pull off another valiant 0-0 point, but smart money says this is a stone cold 2-0 loss. Now, if that happens, DC is all but out of the playoffs as they head to Columbus, San Jose, and Red Bull Arena before returning to RFK to face this same Seattle side in mid-July. Not a pretty picture, but there you go. Realistically, even a win won’t be enough unless it translates into a few more, but that’s the hole they’ve dug. It’ll be interesting to see if they can find their way back out.

DC United Hosts Sounders in Grudge Match

As much as it hurts to lose a trophy contested on your home field, it would hurt even worse to have that very same team come in your house barely ten days later and deliver a swift kick right into DC’s playoff hopes if Seattle was to win again. Make no mistake, this match is crucial to both teams playoff hopes.

No question United should be primed and ready to administer some payback for that pitiful Open Cup loss, but United has some troubling issues in the personnel and performance department, as well as tired legs facing their ninth match in 28 days, while Seattle is rested and returning to health. But, with a mere five matches left in the season, DC has to find a way to win, or for the second year in a row, DC could be on the outside looking at Seattle playing in the post-season.

As incredible as it sounds for a team that has a ridiculous 7 points in their last 3 games (two on the road), DC is playing incredibly badly and still has lineup and tactical problems this late in the season. But, Seattle has been struggling too and both teams are solidly on the playoff bubble so the winner has a distinct advantage at making a run for the another much more important Cup.

Of course I think even Tempestuous Tommy will have to acknowledge the fish upside his head and play four in the back against Seattle, but unfortunately Jakovic and Burch are no closer to playing and while United’s back four against KC got the shutout, I think we can all agree that perhaps that was more providence than performance.

However, Soehn may well have hit upon a lovely solution by putting Wallace in the back and playing McTavish in central defense. Yes, McTavish was beaten like a rented mule by Claudio Lopez, and James had his worst outing yet (and that’s saying something), but McTavish is a competent player who hasn’t played in the back in a while, so he will rebound and James is athletic if nothing else. He may not have much of a soccer IQ yet, but he can bang bodies and has the speed to recover from mistakes. Plus, Wallace adds a very nice element when attacking out of the back.

Seattle on the other hand does lose Freddie Ljungberg to yellow cards, but welcomes back Nate Jaqua and Tyrone Marshall from injuries as well as Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who was suspended from that Open Cup final. So, I think overall, they are in a lot better shape than the team that dominated DC in RFK for the Dewar Trophy.

Apparently Jaqua does not have a serious concussion, so it’s very likely Seattle starts him and he has been crucial to their attack lately scoring or assisting on 7 of their last 8 goals in league play. Thundering Nate alongside Montero who has scored both times he’s faced United, and enticed Wicks into that appalling stomp last week, is not a pretty prospect for DC. Sigi the Hutt can also replace Ljungberg realatively easily with Seattle legend Sebastion Le Toux, and of course number one draft pick Steve Zakuani hasn’t gotten any slower over the last ten days either. All of which is not good news for a fragile DC defense.

But Wicks appears to have come back from his meltdowns a much better person and despite enormous provocation to excoriate his woeful defense in the KC match, he kept his calm and even boosted a few flagging defenders when they needed it. Wicks might really be the key too as he has 3 shutouts in the last four matches and five overall for the season, the most for a DC keeper since Troy Perkins was in goal for the Black and Red.

It’ll be interesting to see what Soehn does offensively though. Playing the 4-4-2 limits his choices in central midfield. Simms obviously must play to help the sketchy defense, but Gomez struggled to contribute and was subbed out for Olsen. Unfortunately, almost all imagination in the attack went out with him. Plus, moving Wallace to the backline limits the options on the wings to Pontius and Quaranta, which is fine, but means Moreno must start at forward and play most of the game, something Soehn has shown reluctance to do twice in one week. Plus, Quaranta and Pontius are the most dynamic players DC has in the offense right now, so pulling them back farther from goal is not good.

So, all in all, I fully expect Soehn to trot out the same lineup as KC and expect the same result. That might be the definition of insanity, but DC seems to have very little options at this point unless he throws out Habarugira, or the newly acquired Lawson Vaughn right into the fire from the waiver wire which could unlock DC’s midfield conundrum, but then again Vaughn was waived from Chivas for a reason. It’s not like he’s a misunderstood artist or something like that, and it’s really sad that DC appears to be depending on the scraps from the waiver wire instead of coaching up the promising young players they have tossed aside like Janicki who will end his United career with “back spasms”.

So, let’s break it down assuming all the assumptions on lineups are reasonably correct. Obviously, Emilio and Moreno have a stiff challenge ahead of them in Marshall and Hurtado, not to mention Keller who is hands down the best keeper in the league (and that’s saying something too). They will almost certainly be negated by that withering central defense, so the crucial difference will have to come from the midfield.

Gomez against Alonso is not a good matchup for DC, but United’s playmaker did wriggle away for a dynamite goal in the 3-3 draw in Seattle, so there is hope. Much more promising are Quaranta and Pontius on the outsides. For Quaranta, Zakuani is an indifferent defender and Gonzalez is a bit dodgy too. Both are light’s out going forward, so Q will have to defend more than he likes, but going the other way he can get loose on those two as well. Pontius on Riley is even better and the Pilot tore up Seattle in that 3-3 draw too scoring and hitting the cross that Marshall nodded in for the tying goal.

Defensively, DC will have to cross their fingers a bit. Now that’s worked for going on a month now in league play, so there’s merit in simply hoping for more shots right at Wicks or into the signage behind the goals. No question Seattle has the attacking talent to overwhelm DC, but then again aside from the Open Cup match, Seattle only has 3 goals in their past seven matches in MLS going 1-3-3 over that span. So they are hardly frightening especially without Ljungberg.

Even the intangibles do not favor Seattle. DC is 6-0-5 at home outscoring 16 to 8, Seattle is 2-4-5 on the road with a negative 1 GD having given up 14 in those 11 matches. Whether or not Seattle scores is really the key to this match. So far this season, if they score a goal, they get points, if they don’t score, they pretty much lose as all of their 6 losses are by shutout. So, if DC pitches another bagel (soccer gods clearly with their thumb on the scales), then they’re in pretty good shape.

But both teams are equally desperate for points too. While DC has been improbably collecting points lately, Seattle has been dropping them like manhole covers in league play. However, DC has played almost their entire season already having only having this match and a mere 3 more matches at home where they can dare to expect points. Yet, Seattle is actually in even more desperate straits as despite their juggernaut start to the season as they are barely in the hunt right now and finish with four of their last six away starting with tomorrow night in RFK.

So there you go. If the soccer gods continue to smile on DC for another week, the good guys have a chance at their best four game run so far this season. Better to be lucky than good at least right at the moments in MLS play anyway. However, if dominating DC for that Open Cup trophy breaks Seattle out of their recent funk, then United could be in serious trouble and completely overmatched like they were bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Hope Wicks is wearing his body armor.