Part One was posted previously, examining DC United’s lineup and form
It is always very difficult to scout such a reconfigured side early in the season; there simply is not a substantial enough body of work from which to glean information. Especially after only one match, let alone with a full two weeks of training to fine tune their intentions and redress whatever mistakes they may have made.
No doubt Ben Olsen and his assistants will have poured over the game film from both their match against Columbus and Toronto’s match in Seattle; they will be prepared, but are they ready? That is the question.
First, rest assured that DC, stocked with so many proud professionals, will be eager to put such a poor home performance behind them as quickly as possible, regardless of the opponent. Enhancing that desire is that a good number of their off-season acquisitions – Fabian Espindola, Eddie Johnson, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, etc. – were essentially castaways from their previous clubs, who made them available for the re-entry draft by not re-signing them in the first place.
Players such as this have a point to prove and the loss to Columbus will have wounded a lot of egos – wounded foes are often the most dangerous.
Without much footage, it is best to focus on the nature of the likely starters.
Up top, Eddie Johnson is physical and quick, with a knack for getting on the end of good aerial service in the box – be wary of him from restarts.
Fabian Espindola is a Tasmanian devil of a forward. Though perhaps not as active as he once was, he will still put in a shift, closing down defenders on the ball, while always looking for a chance to chase down a long pass, cut in from wide positions to finish across the keeper – the enduring image of his time in Salt Lake and not unseen in New York.
Toronto was caught on a fast-break by Seattle, Olsen and company will have spotted that vulnerability and may look to unleash Espindola whenever possible.
Luis Silva, as all Toronto fans know, can be majestic at times, but flits in and out of matches – that said, he will definitely be fired up for the return to BMO Field. He should be closed down on the ball and treated a little rough (nothing dirty, just get in his way); he won’t like that one bit.
Davy Arnaud will similarly be looking to put one over on Toronto, as a former Montreal captain he will have imbued a little of the old rivalry and taken it with him to DC. Arnaud, who scored a memorable brace against TFC back in 2009 for Kansas City, is as feisty as footballers come - if he and Jackson go toe-to-toe, they may not see out the match.
Perry Kitchen too has a lot of grit, as do Jeff Parke and Bobby Boswell – they will take a bite or two out of Jermain Defoe if they can get close enough.
Sean Franklin is a real driving force up the right flank, a key part of the Cup-winning Galaxy sides of the past few seasons – he will get forward whenever he can and hits a good cross. Their left-sided full-back, Cristian Fernandez is less well-known, but looked lively enough against Columbus.
Nick DeLeon is a bit of an enigma; immensely talented, he has struggled to find himself after an impressive rookie campaign in 2012. The same could be said of Conor Doyle, who is an excellent finisher, but has not really shown his full ability in MLS.
The only memorable threat they posed against Columbus, which can be backed with evidence, were shots from distance – left-back Cristian Fernandez had this wonderful attempt from near half:
While Kyle Porter is not afraid to have a go from any angle.
One possible spanner in the works is that Olsen could pull a bit of a tactical fast one on TFC.
In his fourth full-season as DC manager, Olsen has pretty much been married to playing with a diamond 4-4-2. But having taken in how Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, and Defoe flourished against Seattle, he may choose to shake things up a little bit and reinforce the midfield with either Jared Jeffrey or Lewis Neal alongside Kitchen in front of the back-line.
That would require removing a forward - Johnson seems the more likely to thrive as a lone forward, though Espindola would run his socks off; give them a half each.
Equally possible, or in conjunction with that switch, Olsen could observe the limited two-way play of DeLeon as a liability on the road; maybe Neal slides in there, while he and Arnaud tuck in to further clog up the middle.
Such considerations could open the door for Porter to get the start in his hometown. He provides a little bit more athleticism and defensive work than DeLeon has of late from that wide position and one should never underestimate the ability of a hometown kid to liven up his game when visiting.
With an entirely new back-line, miscommunication and unfamiliarity was always likely to be a problem through the early season for DC.
Individually, the four who started against Columbus were solid enough, but half of playing defense is moving in unison with one’s teammates.
Columbus’ first goal showed a few fatal flaws that Toronto can hope to exploit:
That Fernandez is drawn way out towards the ball in midfield is one thing, but for DeLeon to just watch as Josh Williams continues on into that space is either a lack of awareness, poor communication, or both.
If as prophesied, DC looks to clog up the middle of the park, whether or not Olsen tinkers with his formation, there will be a narrowing of the outside midfielders, creating just that sort of space for Alvaro Rey or Jackson and the Toronto full-backs to exploit.
That dangerous low ball into the corridor between the keeper and the centre-backs is a killer for back-lines, especially those with more than a few miles on the legs.
If that space is being granted wide, watch for Defoe to mark darting diagonal runs from the back-side to the front, hoping to steal in front of a defender for a slight nick on such service.
That same problem of too much space in the wide areas and a scrambling, disjointed defense also brought about Columbus’ third goal, exacerbated by the failure to properly track the late runners into the box.
Giving up the outside so easily is not great, but for both Kitchen and Doyle to let Higuain get in front of them as he arrives into the box for a simple finish from a nice cutback is just unacceptable, let alone from two players.
That seems a lot like territory for Bradley, Osorio, or dare-it-be-said, Dwayne De Rosario – oh, how he loves to punish former clubs. Don’t forget, Do Rosario has a flare for the dramatic, and the home opener, his return to BMO Field, feels like one of those moments.
There was one further play that caught the eye, Bill Hamid, who is as fine a shot-stopper as there is, made a slight error, bobbling a ball and handling outside his area as he scrambled to collect, conceding a free-kick in the process. It is something he does on occasion, so TFC should stay sharp for rebounds and gifted chances.
Points of Interest
The two met in preseason at the start of February while training at Bradenton in Florida, with TFC winning 1-0 on a goal from Bright Dike, or so the reports say, it was rather foggy.
The two last met in the league last September, when DC were preparing for the US Open Cup Final (which they would win), fielding an inexperienced eleven in Toronto, losing the match 4-1 – it was one of the few highlights from 2013 for TFC.
TFC has a three-game unbeaten run (two wins and a draw) going against DC, with their last defeat coming at the end of 2012 when DC won 0-1 in Toronto, courtesy of a Milos Kocic error that gifted Hamdi Salihi a goal in the waning moments.
The clubs have met eighteen times all-time, of which Toronto has won five and drawn three. This will be their tenth match at BMO Field, DC has won six such visits, including the four prior to last season’s loss.
They will meet two more times this season, both in July – DC returns to Toronto on the 5th, while Toronto heads to the American capital on the 30th.
Former Red, Nana Attakora joined DC United in the off-season. It would be nice to see him at BMO Field again.