3 more games, 3 more games. It'll soon be over. Nothing to play for, pride and a place on the team next year etc etc. That story got old a long time ago, even complaining about that story getting old has already gotten old. For a few weeks now, I and the other poor wretches like me who write these types of previews have resorted to looking to the past for some kind of worthwhile storyline. There was the obvious 6 month fall from the highs of the early season, handily brought into focus by the visit to L.A. Then there was the reliving of that 5-0 game against New York, and that other 5-0 game against New York, ahead of the trip to New Jersey.
So, what's the big obvious game from Toronto FC's history with DC United to dwell on, well there's only one option really and it's really quite a propos for TFC's current situation. September 11th 2010. There'd been a squad gutting and rebuild that initially brought good results with some no frills football, or Prekiball as we called it at the time. Injuries had exposed the woefully thin squad and led to a run of bad games. Supporters were surly, the end of this game saw the Red Patch boys break out into "we're not gonna take it, any more" and the tension between them and U-Sector came closer than ever to bubbling over into full on horizontal violence. All sounds familiar so far.
That day saw the 6th (seriously, that's all) winless game in a row, a particularly awful performance against a DC team that was the worst in the league at the time, the 1-0 defeat sealed by a Julius James goal, that pretty much guaranteed the early season playoff hopes would be dashed again. That's the game that picture of despondent Stefan Frei is from. 3 days later, Preki, along with Mo Johnston, was fired.
Things haven't really got better in this fixture since then, 2011 saw one of those games where Aron Winter's 4-3-3 looked thoroughly hopeless, 2-0 down inside 10 minutes, with Charlie Davies trolling the supporters groups, eventually losing 3-0 and the only thing Winter could think of to praise was the fans (I'd been in the press box for that game and attended the post game press conference, his accent confused the crap out of me. Defence? he though the defence was great? Ooooh, he meant the fans, that makes a lot more sense).
Moving on to 2012, and earlier this year, well that was the game where with Aron Winter scrambling for his job, we parked the bus hard, and unsuccessfully, going down to a 2-0 loss. Ryan Johnson had an on field argument with Winter over the lack of support he was receiving up front, a tactic he would describe as unbearable in his post game interview (check it out, it's pretty heart wrenching, he's so beaten down, that's just one out of the most depressing set of post game interviews ever, all linked within the article), while Torsten Frings left the field injured, throwing his captain's armband to the ground as he left. That made the season record 0-8, the next game was the return fixture, a 3-1 defeat that made it 0-9 and sent Danny Koevermans off on his 'worst team in the world' lament.
So, good times pretty much guaranteed right?
No matter what happens here, and as much as some may want it, no-one's getting fired after this one. Paul Mariner has a lot more friends than Preki ever did, and that's a good thing for Mariner at least, as he apparently thinks his is the best job in Major League Soccer (seriously, he does. Go read this article, it's full of all sorts of the outrageous hyperbole we've all come to love from Paul.)
The auditions to join him back here next year continue, and with Eric Hassli likely missing the game again, it'll be a very similar lineup to what we've seen in the last few games. With no travel involved, everyone's favourite triplet Daddy, Milos Kocic might get a start instead of Freddy Hall, whose previously omnipresent smile was replaced by the end of the New York game with the angry and frustrated 'are you guys fucking kidding me?' look we've seen a lot of from Stefan Frei and Kocic over the last couple of seasons.
The defence will no doubt be the same, with Richard Eckersley still in the middle, forming the most expensive Centre Back partnership in MLS with his fellow $300,000+ man Darren O'Dea. I'd be stunned if, despite all mounting evidence, the Aaron Maund DM experiment doesn't continue in midfield alongside Terry Dunfield. The wide midfielders and forwards, well it's any 4 out of Luis Silva (he was subbed off at half time against New York by an unhappy Mariner, should be interesting to see if he gets back in the squad), Ryan Johnson, Quincy Amarikwa, Reggie Lambe and Andrew Wiedeman. If and when it all goes wrong, then maybe we'll see Eric Avila thrown in there for some more garbage time, that seems to be the pattern.
As for DC, well they're in the thick of the playoff hunt, and could finish anywhere from 2nd to 6th. Goals scored may well come into that so they'll probably be looking at this as a chance to boost their total, similar to how New York did last week. They of course don't have Dwayne de Rosario, but they do have Chris Pontius, Lionard Pajoy, Nick DeLeon, and of course Maicon Santos so there's still plenty of threats.
It's all about playing spoiler of course for TFC, but there's really not that much to get the blood boiling in this one. The club themselves are generally inoffensive and coming off a few lean years, and though Maicon Santos annoyed me at times, I bear him no ill will really. If I wanted to get all grudgey and petty, and really at this stage in the season, that's about all I have, I'd bring up De Ro, but hey, given that the team was out of a playoff spot when Mr MVP got injured, for them to move up and claim a spot after he got injured would actually quite amuse me.
That run to a playoff spot is on the back of 10 points in their 4 games since De Ro went down in Panama, which sounds impressive until you read the fixture list, New England, Philadelphia, Chivas and Portland, and note the 3 wins in those games were all by just one goal, so they're hardly an unstoppable juggernaut right now.
They do though clearly know how to win against the weaker teams, and TFC's nothing if not a weaker team, so more than likely pick up another 3 points here. Given the recent history of absolutely atrocious performances at home against DC, if we can get another run of the mill, played ok, put in a decent effort but just don't have the quality performances, no doubt topped off with an inevitable late winner, well I'd actually consider that a step up.