Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
What: Philadelphia Union at DC United
When: Sunday, Aug. 19 at 5 pm
Watch: NBC Sports Network
So, DC United. How does it feel to be this year’s version of the 2011 Philadelphia Union?
If you are a United fan, you probably think the team is doing exactly what they should do: Beat the teams below you, tinker with the lineup until you find one that works, try to put together a cohesive defense in time for the playoffs.
If you are a United opponent, you might be wondering how a team could have this much offensive talent and be so inconsistent. Yes, they can score. But not lately, and not against any good teams.
Luckily for DC United, the Philadelphia Union have not been a good team lately, and it doesn’t usually take many goals to beat them.
While DC has been quite stable, Philadelphia has been in a state of perpetual crisis all season. John Hackworth brought new life to the team by introducing to the lineup young players Peter Nowak must have been mistaking for life-sized posters of soccer players, but the new car smell is gone from the 4-3-3, and as good as Michael Farfan has been, he is still growing into his cape.
A distinct lack of production from the wings has been the most notable feature of the Union’s recent run of poor form. Freddy Adu, the perpetual poster boy of underachievement, has been challenged by Lio Pajoy, Josue Martinez, and Keon Daniel for Most Likely Halftime Substitute week after week.
So it’s goodbye Lio Pajoy and his powerfully directionless headers and hello Danny Cruz. A short dynamic wing player who stood out at the U-17 level? While the Union have dabbled unsuccessfully in that area before, Cruz had productive years in Houston and has a lot to prove. He has earned starts throughout his career, but a strong run at the end of the 2011 season was the first time he looked to be an impact player.
It shouldn’t take much for Cruz to earn his way into the first eleven. See, PSP’s Eli Pearlman-Storch does these post-match player ratings, and over the past five matches (2 wins, 3 losses) Union wingers have an average player rating of… 3.62.
That number includes a single rating above 5: Lio Pajoy’s performance in the win over Montreal; when he entered as a sub and missed a host of chances before Antoine Hoppenot set him up a yard out.
That old idea
Amobi Okugo in the midfield. It’s going to happen eventually. And though the impetus for the move seemed to be the return to health of Bakary Soumare, the struggling wingers may offer an even better reason to get Okugo into the middle.
Michael Farfan and Danny Cruz on the wings create instant matchup problems. Moving Marfan means the impetus is on Okugo to be the type of aggressive distributor that is more Michael Bradley than Maurice Edu. It’s a Kyle-Beckerman-in-MLS role, rather than the Kyle-Beckerman-international role, which seems to involve spinning the wheel of fortune for any ball played more than ten yards.
What to do with Adu
It’s unlikely, however, that these ideas will come to fruition against DC United. Freddy Adu’s continued inclusion will force the Union to figure out how to work the ball through the midfield with speed or resort to early balls downfield.
The DC United midfield is not strong defensively. While Perry Kitchen offers cover, Branko Boskovic, Andy Najar, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon prefer to stay high and wide to attack with speed off turnovers.
Heavy hand at home
It’s a system that has provided United with a fantastic home record of 9-1-1. And while they haven’t figured out how to make it work on the road (2-7-2), that won’t be an issue tomorrow.
One of those two away wins was at Philadelphia, of course. Chris Pontius knocked home a late Branko Boskovic free kick, dealing John Hackworth a loss in his first match in charge. The Union were the better team for most of the game, but in recent weeks they’ve lost the forward drive that characterized those early matches.
The last United game should be an instructive one for Philly. The team’s off-the-ball movement has regressed since the heady days of mid-June, and, with nothing to lose, this is a fantastic chance for a young side to take some chances and find out if they can both create offense and play defense in an aggressive 4-3-3.
Shutting down DC is not easy, but it has been done successfully in recent weeks by Sporting KC, Columbus and Houston. There is a formula out there; the Union need to use it as a template.
Of course, all the planning in the world can’t make up for a shaky goalie. And the unfortunate reality is that the Union are living that nightmare once again. Zac MacMath hasn’t made the blatant errors of late, but he hasn’t made number one saves either. The pipes remain his, and the young goalie has to rebuild his team’s confidence by finding his own. If he doesn’t, even a depleted DC United strike corps will be able to rip Philly’s playoff hopes away for good.
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Williams, Okugo, Valdes, Garfan
- MID: Carroll, Marfan, Adu
- FWD: Hoffman, McInerney, Cruz
- GK: “Wild” Bill Hamid
- DEF: Chris “The Orb” Korb, Brandon “Happy Meal” McDonald, Emiliano “Estevez” Dudar, Dejan “The Yak” Jakovic
- MID: Perry Kitchen “Emergency”, Nick “The Lion” DeLeon, Andy “Short For A Short Guy” Najar, Branko “The Box” Boskovic
- FWD: Long “and” Tan, Hamdi “TeeHee” Salihi
- OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms)
- QUESTIONABLE: FW Jorge Perlaza (low back strain); DF Gabriel Farfan (L ankle sprain); MF Michael Farfan (L foot contusion)
- PROBABLE: MF Jimmy McLaughlin (L shoulder labral tear); FW Antoine Hoppenot (L hamstring strain)
- OUT: MF Lance Rozeboom (L knee ACL tear); DF Robbie Russell (L plantar fasciitis); DF Daniel Woolard (concussion-like symptoms)
- DOUBTFUL: FW Dwayne De Rosario (L shoulder soreness)
- QUESTIONABLE: FW Maicon Santos (R toe soreness)
- PROBABLE: FW Hamdi Salihi (viral infection)