It’s safe to assume that everyone needed a little break from an eleven-game winless streak, but its back to the pit on Saturday with a trip to DC for the latest – in what have been far too many – battle for the basement.
The latter half of the table is a familiar setting for TFC; DC themselves are no stranger to those nether regions these days, since dominating the early years of the league.
Aside from a phoenix-like ascent to second in the East and the Conference Finals last season, DC’s suffering in recent history has only been surpassed by Toronto’s – prior to their run in 2012, United last made the playoffs in 2007, as conference and Supporter’s Shield winners, only to fall in the first round to Chicago.
Saturday pits two teams in desperate need of a fresh start against one another, separated by a mere two points and already at least fourteen adrift of the final playoff place in the East.
These three are important. A closer look at DC United is in order.
Former player, Ben Olsen, in his third full season as manager - after taking over on an interim basis from Curt Onalfo midway through the historically poor 2010 campaign - has tried everything to wrestle his side out of their franchise-worst twelve-game losing streak.
Goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards, all have been pulled out and pushed in to the starting lineup in search of that winning combination, but to little avail.
As such, predicting the starting eleven is a fool’s errand – have a look the solution provided by the oft-astute staff at philadelphiaunion.com.
Caveat firmly stated, the projected lineup for the match is as follows: Bill Hamid returning in goal, having relinquished the duties to Joe Willis in the Open Cup; from right to left: James Riley, Ethan White, Daniel Woolard, and recently-acquired former Whitecap, Alain Rochat, across the back; Perry Kitchen sitting deep with Nick DeLeon, John Thorrington and Kyle Porter ahead in the midfield; Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario paired in attack.
Carlos Ruiz, after riding the pine for much of the season, has been solid of late, starting their last three matches, but has been called into the Guatemalan National Team for a friendly against Argentina on Friday – after prematurely, it would seem, announcing his retirement last fall.
Chris Pontius may not be available; he left their Wednesday night US Open Cup match against Philadelphia at half-time after picking up a knock.
Should that prove so, one of Casey Townsend, a promising young striker acquired on the cheap in the Chivas USA exodus, who has spent the season between DC and USL PRO affiliate, Richmond Kickers, Lionard Pajoy, a Colombian forward, more renowned for his work-rate than his finishing, or Brazilian young designated player, Rafael, who has featured rarely thus far, but scored a long-range screamer against Columbus, may be used instead.
Sainey Nyassi, picked up after being jettisoned by New England, is more of a wide second half energy insertion at this point, while Raphael Augusto – nursing a knock of his own, is more a defensive-minded central midfielder – DC will be looking to win this match with an offensive mindset.
Both Lewis Neal and Marcelo Saragosa are currently listed as OUT.
On the back line, Brandon McDonald, who had a very impressive season last year, has been in the doghouse after a series of diminishing appearances culminated in a horror show against Houston.
Canadian International Dejan Jakovic, has also struggled, at times, this season and has missed their last three matches with a muscle problem – variously reported as groin or adductor – but has returned to full training and could push Woolard out to left-back or from the lineup entirely.
Rochat is a bit of a wild card selection, only having joined the club this week, but if Olsen continues to tinker, it may be worthwhile to just throw him straight into the mix.
Chris Korb is another outside left option and was rested midweek in cup play, so could well slot in there come Saturday.
Youngsters Taylor Kemp (midfield) and Conor Shanosky (centre-back) have seen minutes of late and will definitely be on the bench, if not on the pitch at kickoff.
For all the doom-mongering and nay-saying amongst the DC faithful – and there has been plenty – things are never as bad as they seem.
Granted, nobody wants a twelve-game winless run, but if one overlooks, for a moment, the whole series and focuses on the last few, there have been signs of the ship slowly turning in the night.
The woeful run began with a score-less draw in New York in which United were lucky to escape with a point, having been thoroughly outplayed.
Then came the string of losses – seven in total – the fifth and sixth of which where shutout defeats against Columbus (3-0 at Crew Stadium) and Houston (0-4 at RFK Stadium in DC).
Those two losses, the annihilation by Houston in particular, marked a turn.
They lost the next match, away to league-leading Dallas, in a close affair decided by a 77th minute Je-Vaughan Watson goal from a Michel corner kick, but it was a strong performance.
Next came a 1-1 draw against Kansas City, holding on for dear-life at home in the last twenty minutes for a sweet, sweet point, to end the cursed losing streak – by the grace of a horrible offside decision on Ike Opara.
Again they lost in a flat display at home against high-flying Portland – who are still undefeated on the road - and then away to Chicago on an unfortunate early own-goal – a Jeff Larentowicz swat tipped off DeLeon and looped into the top corner – and an 85th minute Mike Magee tally.
This past weekend, they committed to a hard-fought scoreless draw away to the impressive New England – the same Revolution who recently beat Toronto 2-0.
All the while slowly and silently progressing to the Quarterfinals of the US Open Cup – where they will face the Revs - having gutted out a scoreless draw away to Richmond in the Third Round (moving on after winning spot kicks, 2-4) and outclassing Philadelphia in the Fourth to a 3-1 win.
The second installment, reviewing game film – how they score and are scored upon – as well as highlighting some points of interest, will be available soon.