Play to Win | a DC United Match Preview

Well, howdy. My time has been getting crushed of late, but the weekend beckons, and, with it, a long road trip in the Fullbackmobile with Mrs. Fullback and Barçagirl. "Where to?" you might ask. To which I'd be obliged to reply, "to the nation's capital for a bout of museum-going and a doubleheader at RFK." Needless to say, you shouldn't expect my "match reaction" post until Sunday, let's say late morning-ish, since I'll be doing the caffeine-injected night driving until 1 or 2 AM as I return the clan to our Pennsylvania mountain aerie. Enough about me...

Player News
  • United looks pretty clean on the injury front, with the Bearded Bombardier being upgraded to "probable," while the Fire have defenders Conde and Prideaux dinged up, but probably in uniform.
  • United will be without striker Luciano Emilio after his bottle-kicking incident last week. The Fire will be short defender Bakary Soumare, also out with a red-card suspension.
  • The Fire's Designated Hunchback, Señor Blanco, played a couple of qualification matches this week for Mexico, so he might not be ready for another 90 minute turnout.

What to Watch
  • Find a Predator. With Soumare out and Conde carrying an injury, the center of the Fire defense is their weak link. Sadly, our Designated Predator, Emilio, won't be able to test them. So which direction does Tommy go with his front five: patient unlocking (Moreno, Quaranta, Gomez, Fred, Pontius) or run 'em ragged (N'Silu, Pontius, Fred, Quaranta, Wallace)?
  • Weather Eye on the Counter. Chicago have the tools to break quickly on the counter via the likes of Mapp, Nyarko, and Rolfe. Our defense has been getting stronger, but they are vulnerable to (1) occasionally being out to lunch mentally, (2) speed through the middle, and (3) the no-man's land cross (think McBride is licking his chops?)--all potentially the sharp end of a fat counter stick.
  • 1-0 is not enough! I hope Tommy remembers the last time we attended this particular dance. I also hope he's reconsidering that lame quote I heard sometime in the last week or two about 1-0 being a result we could protect. Our defense, while improving, is not our strength. Or strength is in possession and attack. If Tommy bunkers at 1-0, I may try to beat the rush to the Metro, because we all know the misery that awaits down that sorry trail.

Line 'Em Up

Oh, quit wrinkling your collective forehead at me, assorted netizens! What I'm looking for here is dynamism in the midfield and attack, a maelstrom of activity around the driving runs and passing of Gomez. The back three + goalkeeper pretty much writes itself, as does the inclusion of Simms in the holding midfield. After that, I'm sure there will be questions, so...
  • Wallace brings range, energy, and athleticism that none of our other options to pair with Simms (Olsen, Jacobson, McTavish) bring. That combination makes certain that Gomez doesn't have to do much defensively. Instead, he can focus on orchestrating the attack.
  • No Moreno? Let me flog my crappy theory again that Quaranta fades when Gomez and Moreno are on the field. Of those three, I think Moreno brings the least energy initially. He can make his impact as a possession sub, likely for Gomez, allowing Fred to take over the attacking mid role.
  • Fred at striker? Not really. We've been playing more with one advanced striker and two central attacking mids tucked beneath. Fred is given more license to roam where he will, interchanging with Quaranta and Pontius on the wings to pull the Fire's defense apart such that Gomez can look for the dagger-ball or dribble into vacant space.

Do I think this lineup is a likely one? Probably not, but then again, Tommy has been more than willing to experiment and surprise us this season, so I can see him throwing a bit of a curveball here. Whatever the case, I hope he swings for the fences. It's early enough in the season that a single loss against the counter won't derail us completely, but the potential benefits of a convincing win are considerable. We could hit the midway point atop the East, put a hurting on a team that's generally had our number, and, most important of all, such an approach hammers home to the team, and to the league, that in our house, we play our game, and we play to win.

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