D.C. United travels north of the border on Saturday night to take on division rivals Toronto FC at BMO Field at 7:00 pm EST (match can be seen on Fox Soccer Channel) trying to pick up their first road win of the season. United, 1-2-1 on the season and in last place in the Eastern Conference need a win to boost not only their standing in the division but their morale heading into a fiery rival match at home versus New York Red Bull a week from Thursday.
United have not fared well so far this season on the road with a pair of losses in New England (2-1) and in frigid Colorado (4-1) continuing a disturbing road trend over the past 3 plus seasons. Including the two games so far this season, United has won only 7 of 32 matches on the road in that span and quite frankly it hasn’t been pretty. Ironically, United’s last road win was in Toronto last October on Julius James’ late second-half goal in a 1-0 win that all but thrashed TFC’s fading playoff hopes from last season.
Both teams have gone through big changes during the offseason that have altered their lineups considerably. TFC is without bona-fide United killer Dwayne DeRosario as he was traded to Red Bull three weeks ago. That trade has left a considerable hole in the middle of the admittedly weak offense of TFC. Alan Gordon and Maicon Santos have lead the front line this season but both were held out of last night’s 0-0 home draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the third consecutive draw for TFC in this early part of the season. Both are expected back in the lineup on Saturday night and along with the talented right winger Javier Martina and on-loan midfielder Alen Stevanovich, TFC can cause some problems for United and their defense which will welcome back defender Perry Kitchen who has missed the past 3 matches with the U-20 National Team and illness last Saturday night against the Galaxy.
United has offensive problems of their own as they created precious little against the Galaxy and have only scored one goal in each of their last three outings, two of which were stoppage time penalties converted by Charlie Davies. Speaking of Davies, this match will most likely see his first ever start with the Black-and-Red as he has been coming off the bench since the start of the season. Look for other changes in United’s lineup as Fred looks to be the man to take the suspended Santino Quaranta’s (red card against the Galaxy) right midfield spot, Kitchen slips back into central defense in place of Ethan White who had an outstanding MLS debut in effectively shutting down Juan Pablo Angel on Saturday as well as the aforementioned Davies taking the spot from Blake Brettschneider.
Putting on my prognosticators cap and trying to handicap this match isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I will take one for the team and make a prediction none the less. I see United coming in against a tired Toronto team (third match in 7 days) that simply hasn’t figured out what they want to do offensively just yet, aside from lumping the ball forward. Their preferred 4-3-3 formation is almost alien to MLS as most teams stick with the traditional 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 lineups.
So far this season United has been able to control the tempo in most of their matches, bending the play to their will, but not cashing in on the admittedly few chances they have created (i.e, – lot’s of possession, not much to show for it). However, I see an opportunity for United to build some confidence by getting an early goal (United haven’t scored in the first half this season yet) and forcing TFC to scramble. If United can somehow prevent that back breaking lack of concentration on defense that has been prevelent this season, I see them frustrating the home side and United adding an insurance goal late on for a 2-0 win.
As always, do not take this for Gospel as my record as a predictor is mediocre at best, which by the way pummels anything Mike Martin predicts on this site.
UPDATE: It now appears that Perry Kitchen might not make the trip now as he is still feeling the effects of his return trip from Guatemala. According to team officials he’s lost some weight and had to sit out a few training sessions this week. If Kitchen is unfit to go, expect Ethan White to step back into the lineup on Saturday.