With United’s decimated defense limping back to health, now it’s DC’s midfield that is being gutted with injuries. Add Santino Quaranta with a leg injection, Brandon Barklage with an unspecified leg injury, and Andy Najar, who rolled an ankle against NY and hasn’t played since, to the extensive list of injured United starters. However, only Tino (in a sub role) played in United’s win over KC so United travels to Dallas with the same potential set of starters, albeit a thinner bench even though Julius James is back from a groin injury and should be available.
However, the key players responsible for United’s win will all be starting down in Dallas including the beginning of a genuine controversy in the one position DC thought they had settled permanently heading into the season, goalkeeper. But, with Hamid making his first ever MLS start and collecting a highlight reel of game saving blocks to become the youngest goalkeeper in MLS history to win his first start, Onalfo almost has no choice but to start his hot hands again down in Dallas over the shaky veteran Perkins.
Obviously, Perkins can’t be simply cast aside as Hamid is still too raw to survive starting the rest of the long MLS season, and if the yougster is kept out there too long and gets shelled his confidence could be badly rocked. Plus, if Perkins is benched behind a teenager for too long, his attitude won’t improve either. But, rewarding Hamid for a huge first win and giving Perkins a 2-3 game rest while he sharpens his focus and earns his job back by regaining his old, edge of the National Team pool form could be a very good thing for both players and more importantly United in general as it sends a message to a somewhat lackadaisical team that no one is sacred.
Even more important was the breakout precision and partnership of Cristman and Aussie Rules Allsopp at forward. Granted, KC’s Pablo Escobar gifted United both chances, but Cristman’s quick thinking and Allsopp’s dead eye shooting was the early lead that United needed. Then, as KC fought their way back into the match, it was stout defending by Pena and Talley to keep the shutout until the closing minutes, and all of them should be starting down in the Oven as well. Of course, if either of United’s ancient center backs is unable to hobble along for the full 90 in their second match in three days, then James should be able to cover as he needs minutes to get back to full fitness.
But Onalfo does have to ponder his tactics going against Dallas in their house. At home against an anemic KC without their best player, he gambled by giving up the center of midfield by playing a 4-4-2 against their 4-3-3. Because Jewsbury, Hirsig, and Auvray clogged the middle against Morsink and Simms, United generated nothing down the middle and barely managed to survive ceding quite a bit of possession to KC because they thankfully were not able to capitalize on United turnovers. But, it’ll be a different story against Dallas’ central three of Hernandez, McCarty and Ferreira. If DC gives them too much possession, those guys will punish DC for certain.
Also, United’s four man midfield meant they had to get production wide or over the top by Castillo and Khumalo and that by and large didn’t happen. Castillo held on to the ball too much and Khumalo hustled and got deep, but his final pass would have made Hejduk blush. Nor were either particularly helpful on defense, and Shea and Pearce for Dallas will be more effective than Smith or Myers were for KC. However without Tino, Barklage, or Pontius solving those problems are a bit tricky, but McTavish or the newly acquired former Maryland midfielder Stephen King could be very useful depending on which direction Onalfo decides to go.
Given that Dallas plays a 4-5-1 with either Atiba the Hun or the crafty Cunningham at forward supported by Ferreira and a very solid midfield overall backed up by a very big and athletic defense, and that DC being the road team, United really needs to shore up the central midfield, as well as provide help against Shea and Pearce on the outsides. So, it surely would be tempting to go back to a 4-5-1 and simply negate what Dallas wants to do. However, sitting one of DC’s forwards doesn’t sound too promising either for a team that really needs a win as opposed to hoping for a tie, so sticking with two forwards is probably the way to go. So, when going forward themselves, rather than going toe to toe with Dallas in the center of the park, DC probably needs to bypass midfield altogether and go over the top right to Allsopp and Cristman to hopefully get the better of Ihemelu and George John I the center of Dallas’ defense.
Now, if that’s the plan, then starting King and McTavish for Castillo and Khumalo should be massive in helping to keep Dallas in check, even though DC will be outmanned 5 to 4 in midfield, while still having some energy on the field for deep runs out of midfield in support of Allsopp and Cristman. Both King and McTavish are far better defenders and both can pinch in centrally some as well to help out. Now maybe Khumalo gets another chance as he does try to defend more and is much better going forward than King, but Castillo really needs to sit this one out as he simply plays too slow and his lovely freekicks aren’t enough to keep him out there on the road when DC needs a solid two way performance.
Plus, DC has some confidence against Dallas having recently beaten them in the Open Cup qualifier, although Brek Shea did give United rookie right back Jordan Graye fits (and set up Ihemelu’s game-winning goal in Houston). But, DC’s only draft pick this year rebounded well his last two matches and might be relishing a chance to return the favor on Billy Idol. Also, Dallas’ starting left back, Jair Benitez is suspended for elbowing Landin in the head in Houston, so likely Anthony Wallace will be slotted in for him, and he had an abysmal Open Cup match as Dallas’ reserve defense was torn apart in that 4-2 win for DC.
DC even has some intangibles going their way which is rare for them to have an edge away from home. But incredibly, DC has only lost once in the Oven since it opened in 2005 going 3-1-1 over the last five years. Long gone are the horrible days of the annual 3-0 loss in the Cotton Hole, although DC’s only loss recently was a crushing 3-0 loss there in 2008. Still, aside from that defeat United has outscored Dallas 9-3 including a 2-2 tie there late last year that kept their faint playoff hopes alive at the time.
Unfortunately, Dallas is working on a long home unbeaten streak themselves as their latest tie against Seattle drove their home record to 6-0-4 in their last 10 home matches dating back to last year, including DC’s 2-2 tie and ominously the 6-0 win over the Wizards that got Onalfo canned in KC. But, Dallas has only managed three ties at home this year so far and needed a dubious last second PK to secure a point from Seattle in their last home match. So, maybe they are approaching the end of their string despite their big win in Houston Wednesday night.
So there you go. DC does have a good shot at winning this match despite their terrible woes to date. Dallas has been struggling this year too and were the last team to notch a win in MLS (two hours after DC), so it’s quite possible they haven’t got their act together completely yet either. With a bit of luck, and maybe some more thunder from Down Under, DC might get the jump on Dallas and grind out another rung on their climb back to respectability.