With just four matches remaining – some may say mercifully so – the season is coming to an end.
Preseason 2014 has been a tough one in Toronto: the continued rotation of a random cast of temporary characters, Danny Koevermans’ he’s-fit-no-he-isn’t flirtations, signs of life followed by soul-sucking disasters.
And there are some signs that next year may not be much better.
But spare a thought for the one team that has had it worst than TFC - DC United.
On the verge of setting franchise records for most losses – tied with 2010’s total of twenty; fewest wins – two short of six that same tough season; goals scored – currently on nineteen through 29 matches, with 34 in a thirty-game season (2007) their worst, and set to finish in their lowest ever final rank, both in the East (tenth versus eighth in 2010) and overall (nineteenth versus sixteenth that same year), though of course, the league’s expansion does factor.
That said, they, at least, have something left to play for this season – Tuesday’s US Open Cup Final in Salt Lake.
Of course, the usual clichés will be trotted out about Toronto: They’re playing for contracts – they’ve been doing that all season and those decisions have most likely already been made, though not announced; they’re playing for pride – there is very little evidence of that; for the fans? Well, that’d be nice.
Only two more visits to BMO Field this season; two more funerary processions, less a march than a trudge to the match; willingly sacrificing hope – and money – for the right to sit out in the rain and relish the disappointment, but hey, at least some folks are getting breakfast out of it.
Enough of that, there’s a match to be played. Saturday; Toronto v DC; be there.
Much of what was written before rings true – or does it (more on that shortly) – a closer look at the enemy, DC United, is in order.
Saturday’s meeting comes barely a month since the last, in that time DC has played four matches, managing one draw – against Los Angeles, no less – and three losses.
They currently sit in last place – both in the league and the conference – on fifteen points through 29 matches with three wins, six draws and twenty losses.
The 1-1 draw against Toronto ended a two-match losing streak for DC, but a 2-1 loss in New York and a 1-0 defeat at Chivas put them straight back into that same hole.
In New York, Lloyd Sam got the scoring started early with a delicate chip in the eighth minute, but Nick DeLeon found an equalizer in the 36th collecting a Dwayne De Rosario cross at the back-post and cutting back on the falling David Carney before beating Luis Robles.
But Tim Cahill responded within two minutes, nodding in a header – of course – from a Jonny Steele cross. De Rosario had a chance to level from the spot, after forcing a red card on Ibrahim Sekagya, but Robles denied the opportunity.
In Chivas, Cubo Torres’ goal proved the deciding factor – an Edgar Mejia cross bounced off DeLeon, then Ethan White, before falling kindly for Torres to chop into the net.
A spirited comeback – twice – against Los Angeles at home would follow.
Robbie Keane gave the visitors the lead in the seventh minute after a crisscrossed run with Landon Donovan and a drop pass allowed the Irishman to leave Dejan Jakovic and Bill Hamid biting on a fake, before finishing into the opened net.
Chris Pontius, finally fit after a season of setbacks, stole the ball off a hesitant Omar Gonzalez and stole in alone, rounding Jaime Penedo after selling a fake, and finishing for his second goal of the season.
Michael Stephens put LA back in front in the 81st minute with a low shot from the top of the box that nestled into the bottom right-corner of the goal, but Kyle Porter – good ol’ Canadian boy – re-equalized three minutes later on the end of a Perry Kitchen cross.
Then, this past weekend, DC fell 2-1 in New England under controversial circumstances.
A Scott Caldwell own-goal put DC ahead in the eleventh minute, but a dicey penalty call on Jakovic in the 55th minute – for clattering into Lee Nguyen in the box, appearing to get a whole lot of ball – signaled doom, though Hamid made the save.
Diego Fagundez scored a clearly offside goal three minutes later and Nguyen added the winner from the spot after Lewis Neal upended him in the box.
August 24 – DC 1: Toronto 1
In a battle for the basement, De Rosario – of course - put DC ahead after ten minutes from distance with a right-footed blast that curled beyond the reach of Joe Bendik after cutting in-field around a clearly injured Jonathan Osorio.
Bobby Convey would level on the hour mark after Reggie Lambe fortunately received a poor back-heeled clearance from Jakovic and squared across the top of the DC box, where Convey hit a low left-footed strike past Hamid.
The less said about that match the better.
With the US Open Cup Final scheduled just three days after Saturday’s match, projecting Ben Olsen’s lineup is a bit difficult.
It has been indicated in several reports – The Washington Post – and speculated in others – Black and Red United – that Olsen will likely go with a largely, if not entirely, reserve side against TFC.
With that in mind, it is best to look to a match they played on August 10 – three days after their Open Cup Semifinal win in Chicago – where Olsen went with a highly-experimental lineup featuring the depth of the roster.
In that vein, their projected lineup is as follows: Joe Willis in goal; from right to left – Taylor Kemp, Ethan White, Conor Shanosky, and Dennis Iapichino across the back; Lewis Neal, Jared Jeffrey, Collin Martin, and Kyle Porter through the midfield, with Conor Doyle and Casey Townsend paired up top.
Simplicity dictates that they line up as a 4-4-2 – most players grow up in this system and find some comfort in its rather defined roles and solid structure, though, of course, situations like this often throw curveballs into the mix. Olsen has run a 4-2-3-1 for most of the season – including that match against Philadelphia, so could stick with that standard.
Hamid could possibly see the start, to stay fresh – or he could be rested to avoid any possible injuries – or Olsen could throw Andrew Dykstra a start; why not?
Across the back, options are pretty thin, but veterans Jakovic and James Riley will almost certainly be rested, while Kemp is only just recovering from an injury, which could force Chris Korb into the right-back position.
Jeffrey too is nursing a knock, though he has returned to training; Marcelo Sarargosa is still on their roster but has not featured since May and underwent knee surgery in July.
Speedster Sainey Nyassi is another option, either wide in the midfield or up top and then there is Carlos Ruiz, the savvy veteran fish, who has seen very limited minutes this season and could feature – either from the start or as a substitute.
Conor Doyle, on loan from Derby County, who has been in and out of the starting lineup, could be required in the final, especially should it go into extra time.
Should he indeed start, it would likely be for an hour at the most, opening some time up for Michael Seaton, a Jamaican youth international, who would be making his first MLS start, if Doyle is rested.
A quick note on Seaton, the seventeen-year old became the first player born after the start of the league to feature when he made his debut, subbing on against Philadelphia.
Given the complete reconstruction of their lineup, it seems somewhat futile to highlight how they’ve scored and been scored upon in recent weeks.
So rather than focus on players who are unlikely to feature, here are a few random videos that should be a little more helpful.
Highlights of the aforementioned match featuring a similar to projected lineup:
Both Union goals came from Conor Casey - a handful for even the most experienced of defenders – and both came on service from wide areas that got DC looking wide making space for Casey to exploit.
Toronto should look to get balls into the box, pressuring the young lineup, forcing mistakes, and, as with every week, get some numbers in the box.
Against Philadelphia, DC’s back-line got very compressed, even midfielders began to drop incredibly deep when threatened. That should open up space for shots from distance and to move the ball around.
Porter, who has lost his starting spot to Pontius, will likely be very motivated and energized to take the pitch in his hometown. He has two goals on the season – a bullet header against LA:
And a sneaky-stretch at the back-post against Kansas City – a regular trick from United:
Note both came at the off the shoulder of defenders and at the back-post, more or less, while pushing the envelope of offside.
Toronto needs to be aware of that movement inward from the forwards.
Doyle is a very good finisher, if given half a chance. His goals against Montreal were well taken and he was very lively against Philly.
DCunited.com’s VW Keys to the Match:
If Korb does indeed feature, he has been a weak spot on the back-line, particularly when caught up-field and sauntering back.
His failure to hurry back has repeatedly left Jakovic and the other centre-backs exposed and stretching into places they should not be.
The half-hearted jog back, then flinging the arms in the air in disgust… pull up your darn socks, man.
Toronto and DC have met seventeen times in MLS, United winning ten, Toronto four and drawing the other three.
Counter-intuitively, DC has won six of the eight meetings in Toronto, despite scoring just eight goals at BMO Field, with Toronto scoring a mere four goals in those same eight matches at home – winning just twice.
Toronto is unbeaten in their last two versus DC, but DC has won the last four meetings in Toronto by a combined score of 0-7, stretching back to 2009.