Time for the rotation dance. Four days on from the Dallas win, and three days prior to meeting TFC at RFK, United take a brief trip to the "heartland" to relive the timesharing days with the Nats by playing on a baseball diamond. Let's get started with player availability and keys to the match before picking the team, shall we?
Injury & Suspension Watch
After having the whole roster to choose from on Saturday, Soehn gets somewhat slimmer pickings this time around. Wicks, Olsen, Burch, and Fred are all left in DC, meaning we'll need to shuffle the defense and midfield to account for the absences of Burch and Olsen. Not having Fred and Burch available will make for some interesting choices on the left. Wallace to left back? Barklage at left mid? Or do you give Avery John a run?
The Wiz are missing Cristman (F), Myers (D), and Kronberg (GK) to long term injuries, while Jewsbury, Wolff, and Arnaud were all carrying niggles when they went into their bye week. All should be ready to roll against us tonight, giving Onalfo options in attack and midfield.
Keys to the Match
* Special Teams? The games I've seen at KC's park haven't been slick passing affairs. Rather, they seem to be dominated by set pieces and chances on the break. Now, is that more down to how KC plays or the field they're playing on? I'll go with a combination of factors and highlight that we'll need to avoid giving up free kicks in dangerous locations (I'm looking at you, Rodney Wallace!), keep the corners to a minimum, maybe play a step deep to guard against the counter, and above all, close down the area just outside the box, because KC have some guys who can smack them from distance.
* Mix and Match. In the past couple of weeks, United has demonstrated an ability to play not just the short possession game, but a more direct style as well. Considering how condensed things look in KC home matches (and this could just be the camera angles), we might need to launch the occasional ball over distance to spread things out. Might this be a case for limiting the minutes of our technical, possession players, seeing as how they won't be as effective in this match, particularly if climatic conditions get nasty, as they are wont to do in KC?
* Key on Arnaud. Strange what highlights will do to you. I was under the impression that Lopez had been playing at a higher standard this year based on what I saw in highlights, but the KC boards over on BigSoccer are not so high on the dude. If he's not the threat, and if we bank on this being one of the 4 out of 5 games where Wolff squanders pretty much everything that comes his way, where is the threat? Hercules Gomez? Espinoza? Hirsig? More likely is Davy Arnaud, who can drive on from midfield and punish a ball from distance. Perhaps he deserves some special defensive attention?
Pick Your Eleven
So how does Tommy play this? Do we stick with the 3-5-2, hoping to win the possession battle, exploit the flanks, and rely on three to cover the width of a smaller pitch? How many new faces should we expect to see, or do we stick with what's been working? Do the conditions and opponent dictate the selection of a more high-energy team over a more technical one?
Tough choices. But, given the missing players and Tommy's (1) aversion to change and (2) sometime surprising selection choices, I'll hazard the following guess...
* I think you bring Jaime off the bench if you need him. It's tough to rule against him here given his performance last time around, but I think he's more valuable in a technical game at home. Actually, I'd probably bring him on for Gomez when the latter begins to tire, pulling Quaranta back into midfield. That limits the substitutions we're forced to make due to fitness issues, particularly...
* Avery John? Well, given how well Jakovic has been playing in the middle, I don't think you spoil that by bringing in Janicki and pushing Jakovic wide. Could Janicki play wide? I would actually prefer to see Janicki tried out on the left, but I don't know that he has the right tool set to succeed there. It might be worth a look, but John is a more natural fit. That said, you might also try McTavish on the right and push Namoff to the left, though I think we might see...
* McTavish in midfield. Yes, Jacobson has been getting the minutes here lately and I'd like to see more of Barklage, but, as with Jaime, I think a more rugged approach will be preferred to a technical one. Between McTavish and Simms, we can shut down the area in behind the forwards that KC will be looking to exploit and look to counter quickly.
* Still with the rookies? Do we ride this horse until it gives out? I'm not so sure. If Fred were available, I'd consider resting Wallace. Actually, I'd be really tempted to try Barklage on the left as well. Similarly, I might even try Khumalo over Pontius on the right, if we weren't forced into other changes. Despite having a policy over rotation over this tough stretch, I think it's vitally important to maintain some degree of consistency in the lineup. Having said that...
* N'Silu up top? Two reasons. (1) I think this might be the type of match that his abilities are well suited for. (2) Emilio could use a break. This is a tough run of games, and we saw how the minutes wore on him last year. Also, he wasn't exactly inspiring in the Dallas match, so let's see if a bit of pine time makes him hungry for goals again.
So that's how I'd line them up, though I'm sorely tempted to "Open Cup" this game and focus on winning at home against TFC. "Open Cup" it? Sure. How about Khumalo and N'Silu up top (strength and pace on the break) with Quaranta in behind, Barklage on the left, McTavish on the right, Simms and Jacobson in the middle, Kocic in net behind a back line of John, Janicki, and Namoff? That gives you a veteran core (Quaranta, McTavish, Simms, John, Namoff) while resting a lot of the older guys and the rookies who've been pickup up serious minutes.
How about you? Do you expect big changes or business as usual? Think we should experiment or play it safe? Have your say in the comments below and let's see your eleven.