Top o' the table clash, my friends. Best in the west vs. best in the east. Organized opportunism vs. error-prone swashbuckling. Any other cliches we feel like digging up, popping in the sumptuously appointed display casket, and parading around the town square? The immovable object vs. irresistible force bit? MLSNet.com takes that gambit and garnishes it with a sprig of "Clash of the Titans." Still nothing? Well, then I suppose we should get on with the preview...
Rack 'em Up!
DC United comes into this match with most of the roster intact. Jacobson and Olsen are carrying dings but are "probable." Chivas have more issues, particularly at the back, where they've got some long-term wounded in Burling, Jazic, Kennedy, Suarez, and Vaughn. Ante Razov is also still on the shelf, as will be US international Sacha Kljestan, who, shocker of shockers for a Chivas player, has picked up one too many yellows thus far...
FBF Key to the Match
Stay Focused! Why are Chivas so far ahead of the pack this year? Is it a high-powered offense? Nope. Is it dominance of possession and stifling other teams? Nope. Is it a rock-solid defense that has only allowed three goals over the course of nine games? Getting warmer, though I'd argue that a handful of Thornton saves and goal-line clearances have aided that particular stat-line. What makes Chivas so tough is that they make few mistakes, instead preferring to frustrate the opposition. And when that frustration breeds an inevitable mistake...BLAM! Game over.
That's a big problem for DC United because they're pretty much the Bizzaro World Chivas. High-powered offense? Check. Dominance of possession and stifling of other teams? Check. Rock-solid defense that makes few mistakes? (Crickets). With the creative force of Kljestan missing through suspension, it's even more likely that Chivas will play a compact, simple game that requires patience and guile to break down. But not so much patience that they catch us napping on the break. Nor can we expect to attack in waves and escape unscathed.
I don't expect 90 minutes of mistake-free ball. But we need to cut out as many of those brain-farts as we can, because Chivas are a side built to pounce on wounded animals and tear their throats out. Quite literally. Have you seen some of their tackling? Hell, I only need two words here to prove this point. Atiba Harris. Check and mate, my friends. Check and mate.
Assemble the Troops!
Once again, we're faced with having a three games in eight days stretch. Fortunately, the midweek game happens to be an Open Cup game, meaning scrub time, right? Probably, even if we're facing the Metrobulls at RFK. Of course, it helps in no small measure that United have a much deeper team than they did last year. Enough that they could probably swap out half the pieces and still be confident in their ability to get a result.
With that in mind, am I going to get any argument that we run out the best eleven against Chivas? The big question, of course, would be Olsen. How does the flight treat his battered body? Do we risk him, knowing we'll have a week to rest him up before RSL's visit next weekend? Given that this is a chance for United to really put a stamp on their surprising early run, I think you do. And so...
I think Crayton, the defense, and three-quarters of the midfield are all pretty much a given (assuming Benny can go). That leaves right midfield and the attacking triumvirate in question. Now, granted, I would actually prefer to see N'Silu start to absorb some of that nasty brutishness from the Chivas center backs, and then bring a hungry, if somewhat slump-bound, Emilio on in the second to try and grab something, but I don't think Tommy's ready to sit Emilio yet.
What I do hope he has the courage to do is to sit Gomez and get Quaranta in the middle of the park. Saying that, I think it's about 75% likely that we see Gomez in attacking midfield with Quaranta at right mid and Pontius as the super-sub. Still, Gomez has only provided a couple of moments of danger this season. Quaranta is the type of wild card we need to unlock a resolute defense. I think our attack is most dangerous, at the moment, with Tino and Jaime interchanging fluidly behind a frontrunner and Wallace and Pontius coming in from wide areas.
So what do you think? How would you line them up? Think it'll be tough running out in La-La Land, or are United going to pull another surprise out of the hat? I wouldn't be shocked if we got something from this game, but it's not going to be easy. As long as we minimize the mistakes, we should have some chances. At that point, it just becomes a matter of capitalizing on those chances, because Chivas won't be so kind as to spurn those that fall to them.
Prediction: 1-1, with a boatload of cards.