Well, I must eat some crow for my brutally pessimistic preview of the Rapids match since DC won fairly handily (for this year anyway) in Colorado, so optimism is the word of the day today, especially as the scorching heat and raging storms of the summer have passed on leaving the perfectly crisp fall evenings to enjoy soccer as the gods intended. Now, if only DC had some players for me to work with, I’d really be able to spin pages of rationalizations as to how they will vanquish even the best of foes.
But, that is not the case as DC’s roster has thinned to the point of anorexia, and not the good kind of bulimia where violent purges have expelled unwanted elements. That will have to wait for the off-season. No, we must make bricks without straw as not only is the usual cast of characters still injured, but it’s a FIFA date too, so Boskovic, James, and Jakovic will be out too, as will Najar, DC’s co-leading scorer who scored against the Quakes earlier this year in that 1-1 tie, due to yellow cards. In particular the loss of James and Jakovic is cruel as Pena and Rice remain out as well meaning there is not one natural central defender on the roster.
However, while the central defense is decimated there is hope there which we get into presently, and while the offense is gutted, there might even be reason to hope there as well as you will see. Still, it would be nice to have at least a full 16 players to work with without being forced to resort to a USL call up defender, John Paul Rodrigues from Miami FC to round out the roster. But, it’s just nice he’s not a Riverhound retread I suppose.
Looking at the absences and frankly the current roster itself with only 13-14 healthy options, it should be pretty easy to call the starting lineup as there are very few choices. Defensively, Graye, Zayner, and McTavish going right to left as three of DC’s customary back four should reprise their roles from the Colorado shutout as Bennie has shown he is nothing if not loyal to something that worked. The only question is who fills in for Jakovic, and smart money says Simms will since anything else would require too much juggling or playing too many people out of position. Now, Simms did screw up the LA game last time he came in as defensive cover, but then again he has played defense very well in the past and the way SJ plays their forwards with one underneath will help him and DC.
In midfield, replacing Najar will be problematic but Varela is the obvious choice and Olsen might as well see if the Spanish winger is worth keeping around next year by auditioning him in a starting role right now. The veteran of the Swiss league has been a bit of a spark off the bench lately, but not all that memorable to put it bluntly, so if he wants to stay in America, now would be his chance to earn it.
King and Morsink have played decently together in central midfield with Morsink lately playing with the heart of an Olsen and growing into being a very credible two way central player. Not the most skill or athleticism, but he fights and that’s something. King has disappeared lately with ironman Simms back from injury, but he was solid for most of the summer and he could be a wild card attacker as his insightful forays into the penalty area have been exceedingly dangerous if not always as successful as they deserve. Quaranta should play the left as well and will be a key player on both sides of the ball if DC is to win.
At forward, Olsen actually has some real choices to make. He could and probably should go with Allsopp and Hernandez as the first choice starters without question, but Moreno is healthy and has only two more home matches, so the temptation for Olsen to start his former team-mate could be overwhelming. If so, a Moreno – Allsopp combo could be devastating, and offering further options, it looks like Cristman is back in the mix too.
San Jose has some missing players to call ups too, but none of them were starters, so their line up is very likely to be similar to the one that tied the Crew last week. The biggest difference being that it seems pretty likely based on the news out of San Jose that these callus and the recent form of others like Sealy, will give Yallop the chance to start his two Brazilians, Geovanni and the hulking Eduardo, together at forward for the first time this year.
Almost certainly the midfield will be Convey, DC’s first “Najar” drafted in 2000 at the age of 16 (when Yallop was DC’s assistant coach for you youngsters out there), Stephenson, Cronin, and Wondolowski going left to right. Now, if I were Yallop, I’d play Wondo at forward and Geovanni in the hole behind the strikers, bumping Stephenson to the bench and bringing in Gjertsen (or maybe even Alvarez who is rumored to not have made the El Salvador travel roster shockingly) on the right. But, Yallop has had plenty of chances to play his leading scorer at forward and refuses, so there you go. They’re on the verge of the playoffs and I’m writing on a website pro bono, so what do I know.
Defensively, SJ has been consistent with Ward at left back ever since Coarrales tweaked a knee, and Hernandez and McDonald have been impervious to challenges from the bench as well with Leitch rounding out the defense at right back, and United killer Busch chillingly in goal.
So, looking at the matchups, DC does have some decent chances and some truly nail biters for the RFK faithful. Allsopp and Hernandez rally should start as they have the best combination of brawn and determination to make headway against the beast McDonald and the steady Hernandez, but maybe Jaime’s trickery would be a nice curve ball for them and he did score the only goal against those exact players last year in that loss, and bringing Hernandez off the bench would be an intriguing option and maybe help sharpen up his focus in front of goal.
Midfield will truly make or break DC though. Quaranta especially must not only threaten their weakest defender Leitch, but likely he must help out McTavish against the deadly Wondolowski who will crash the back post relentlessly. If McTavish gets pulled inside because a cobbled together central defense falters, say, then Tino simply has to cover or Convey will play pitch and catch with Wondo at United’s open goal. Varela, on the right has the same problem as Convey has been deadly attacking for SJ and Varela must attack the limited Ward forcing SuperBobby backward or DC is in trouble, but Varela should have the old world savvy to pull this off, or if he doesn’t then he’s ahd a nice American vacation to tell his Swiss buddies about on the long winters in Geneva.
In central midfield, Cronin is really a more polished version of King and Morsink will need all his scrappy tenacity to contain SJ’s formidable Jamaican playmaker. United’s central duo is definitely fighting up a class, but they do have a good chance as SJ’s central midfield has been inconsistent. However, Geovanni does not really play as an out an out striker preferring to drift back. If he continues to do that, allowing Simms to help in midfield more (and isolating Eduardo as a bonus), then the balance might swing to DC.
Defensively, things are less promising, but still cautiously hopeful. DC’s defense kept the brute Casey at bay and contained the speedy Kandji well, so there’s hope against a similar duo in Geovanni and Eduardo, especially if Geovanni drifts instead of staying high and trusting his midfield. Also, if the central defense holds, McTavish should be OK covering a similar type player, albeit a scoring machine this season, in Wondolowski. Same with Graye, he’s athletic enough and has the skills to blank Convey as long as Graye’s almost certain brainart isn’t held against him as it so often has this year.
Now, granted a lotta ifs, but seriously, DC has a chance and I’m not just saying that because of the roasting I took last week. Mark my words, DC needs a bit of fortune, of course, but they can surprise SJ easily with the merest of good bounces from the soccer gods.
Speaking of those guys, the intangibles are pretty much against United sadly. DC is of course the worst home team in MLS this year at 3-9-1 outscored a brutal 20 to 10, and SJ is becoming a fearsome road team, 2-0-1 in their last three road matches (undefeated in their last 5 overall to boot) and 5-4-4 overall on the road with ties in LA, RSL and Columbus on their resume. Incredibly, they are averaging more goals away than they are at home too which doesn’t bode well for DC’s among the league worst defense. Even the recent record is spotty as DC is 1-1 against SJ since they were reincarnated (DC beat them in 2008 behind Gallardo’s two assists and the wayward Martinez with the winning goal, his only for DC).
So, there you go. About as fair a breakdown as you can get. DC has a decent shot if things go their way. I think DC’s ability to spoil lately and SJ’s wildly inconsistent Brazilian forwards gives United a decent chance, but then again evidence to date says otherwise. However, DC is playing for pride and will be circling the wagon without some truly key players, so instead of waiting for those guys to bail them out, maybe the step up collectively to give their suffering fans something to cheer for. Conversely, SJ has another two games to clinch their spot and could even get an enormous boost if Seattle steals the points in KC, so they might be a little bit more inclined to slack just enough against the worst team in the league. Colorado did. SJ might too.
Should DC or tie, they will avoid the record for most losses in a season. So, really the only futility record left for them would be least goals scored and DC could go a long way toward staving that one off if they drop a couple on SJ tomorrow. DC needs 7 out of their last 3 matches to avoid the worst ever total of 25 by Toronto in 2007.
A win would also be huge towards not finishing last in the league as well. DC would have 24 points with an away game with the Fire and finishing up at home against TFC who will be out of contention by then, while Chivas at 25 points hosts a desperate TFC tomorrow, and then finishes at Seattle and at SJ. Even NE is catchable with a win tomorrow as the Revs are in Houston Sunday, host KC and finish at NY.