As D.C. United gets set to face their most bitter rivals New York Red Bull this Saturday evening at 7pm at RFK Stadium, one can’t wonder what to think what has happened to both of these teams during the early portion of this season. Both teams were on the short list to fight for Eastern Conference supremecy with the likes of the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City, leaving the rest of the conference to fend for themselves.
Well, it hasn’t exactly started this way as United is mired in a two-game losing streak while Red Bull is struggling away from Red Bull Arena. Red Bull has lost three and drawn one match away from home while the Black-and-Red have lost two and drawn one away from RFK. At least Red Bull has managed to score some goals on the road which should give them a bit of hope heading into the match as opposed to United who have failed to score in any road game and has been shutout in 3 of it’s five matches so far.
Very few chances have been created through those five matches and blame is being spread all over the place from the usual scapegoat of Lionard Pajoy to pretty much anyone in the midfield positions going forward. All have had culpability in this very slow start to the season.
While I’m not ready to compare it to the start of the record-breaking 2010 season (for all the wrong reasons), there has to be some natural hesitation in thinking things are starting to play themselves out in the same fashion. Undoubtedly this current squad has oodles more talent than anything United could offer in 2010. However, the same type of struggles are currently being seen on the field. The offense simply isn’t clicking at the moment and that has to be the number one concern of head coach Ben Olsen.
Captain Dwayne De Rosario seems set to return to the lineup accoring to Olsen midweek and that could help things except that DeRo has been less than stellar in the two matches has has played for United this season. That being said, his game-winning ability, even in the face of an unproductive start to the season, is reason enough to put him in the lineup.
While most, if not all, United fans are in agreement that Pajoy needs to find some splinter time, Olsen disagreed earlier this week when he defended Pajoy in saying that everyone is struggling, not just Lio. Well, quite simply that dog don’t hunt for me. Pajoy does bring the grit and energy that Olsen desires, but he fails completely where it matters most, on the scoreboard. His first-half stoppage time miss this past weekend in Kansas City was a perfect example of the frustration in dealing with Pajoy.
That being said the offense, or what little there is of it, has become a teamwide disfunction so far this season. Olsen can’t quite figure out the combination of players to put out there because even his best players are struggling. Chris Pontius has two shots on goal through five matches. Pajoy has just one shot on goal through five matches. Let me repeat that, United’s “top” striker has one shot on goal in five matches. That in a word is pathetic. Trust me, you don’t want to know the rest of the stat line of the remainig players as it is very reminiscent of 2010 and we really don’t want to go down that road.
As for the opposition Red Bull, they have struggled as well but at least they are scoring goals and that to me is ultimately more tolerable than what United is producing at the moment. Three weeks ago these teams clashed in New Jersey and United somehow escaped with a 0-0 draw. United were dominated in that match, particularly in the second half, but managed to cling on to the point through the skin of their teeth. And Bill Hamid.
What can United do on Saturday to turn things around? Well, I actually liked the lineup we saw in KC last weekend, in spite of producing very few scoring chances. Inserting Raphael Augusto into central midfield with Perry Kitchen was a big step, although I thought for most of the match that Kitchen seemed the one who was willing to step into attack moreso than Augusto. I’d like to see Augusto a bit higher up in the field rather than Kitchen.
Additionally, we saw two forwards deployed by Olsen for the second straight match and it would have been interesting had DeRo been healthy and available to play. Would DeRo have supplanted Pajoy in the lineup? This weekend might just give us that answer. At least I hope it does.
Midfielder Marcos Sanchez wore the goat horns for his poor decision making that helped put in motion the game-winning sequence for Sporting last weekend, but I would like to see him continue in that outside midfield role. I’d also like to see Pontius get more involved in the offense. Just like many of his teammates at the moment, he’s trying to do too much himself and he’s getting turned over too often.
In the defense, we saw a surprise return with Daniel Woolard at left back and he excelled as he usually does in defending a very active Sporting side. However, what you also get from Woolard is literally no overlap play and with Korb being equally ineffective on the right side in terms of pushing the attack, it’s no wonder the offense sputtered as it did.
Now, that being said, let me say this in slight defense of what we’ve seen from United so far. Just look at United’s road schedule so far. At Houston, at Red Bull and at Sporting Kansas City. I doubt any team in MLS, even the defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy would like to have that road threesome to start the year. It’s not an excuse, it’s a reality that playing in those venues is difficult. United has already played at three of the toughest venues in the league and things just might improve because of that fact alone.
I felt that needed to be said to all those out there that have already given up on this team and have United slotted to pick 1st or 2nd in next years SuperDraft. Yeah, you’re out there. I read it every day on the forums. United still have 30 matches to play and plenty of time to right the ship. (PollyAnna portion of the preview is now complete)
As for Red Bull, they hope to add striker Fabian Espindola back into the mix so they can send French forward Peguy Luyindula back to the bench. Luyindula has been the target of Red Bull fans frustration (not unlike Pajoy) for blowing many sitters in his first few matches with the club. My guess is that Espindola slides into the lineup alongside Thierry Henry.
The midfield will most likely continue with Erik Alexander, Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill and Juninho in the fold while former United player Brandon Barklage will man the right back position with Jamison Olave and Markus Holggerson in central defense and Heath Pearce at left back. Luis Robles looks set to keep the goalkeeper spot warm until either Kevin Hartman gets in shape or long-time injured Ryan Meara returns.
I would think that United will start the same lineup as they did in Kansas City with hopefully the one exception being DeRo recalled into Pajoy’s forward position. One can dare to dream can’t he?
As for the match itself, I expect a better offensive thrust from United from what we’ve seen recently. If this does not happen within the first 20-30 minutes then I don’t expect United to get anything from this match as whatever confidence they have will evaporate if they fall behind. United’s lack of punch in the offensive third makes it almost mandatory that they take the lead just to instill a bit of belief amongst themselves. As I’ve said countless times, confidence and attitude is everthing in this game and if you have neither, you usually lose. I can stomach United losing this match against Red Bull if they can show me some signs of life offensively. At least you will have something to build on. But if they continue their seeming strategy of ‘we’ll only go forward looking to score until after we’ve fallen behind”, then this team will continue to lose.
Attitude folks, it’s all about attitude..
Rivalry matches usually take the current form of teams and throws it right out the window. I fully expect this to happen and I think we’ll see a much more entertaining brand of soccer from United. While I can’t bring myself to predict a win (because quite frankly there is no evidence so far that tells me United is ready to break out and score four goals), I will go the safe route and say this will end up in a 1-1 draw.
How’s that for fence sitting?