Update: So when I was writing this while Sporting KC and Philly were playing but since that match ended in a 1-1 draw that ensured that both Seattle and Real Salt Lake would make the playoffs this year. I believe this is the earliest either team has clinched a playoff spot. Now for both teams the goal is to stay in a top 3 spot and try to catch the LA Galaxy for the Supporters' Shield.
Back to your normal blog post.
So we are about 36 hours from match time and still Major League Soccer has been silent about any potential suspension of Dwayne DeRosario for the worst flop of the year, his touched by Juan Pablo Angel swan dive was simply the worst of the bad dives of 2011. Oh I know the outrage has been limited due to the fact that he then went on to have his PK attempt saved, so the final scored wasn't impacted, but the PK was issued and the game was changed as a result of it.
So beyond the question of, will DeRo be suspended or not, there are some interesting elements to this match, Real Salt Lake have a league best 5 match winning streak going as they chase to catch the LA Galaxy in the race for the Supporters' Shield. DC United are simply trying to get themselves back into the playoffs, currently they are 2 points behind the team in the last of the "wildcard" spots, but the Black and Red have a couple matches in hand on the teams they are chasing so results are something they need to get in order to play in the post season this year.
Let's be honest a lot of people wrote DC United into the playoff picture this year as soon as they signed Charlie Davies, that didn't exactly work out the way some expected but Charlie has had a very solid year with 11 goals (4 from the PK spot) and 1 assist, but the season changer for DC might just be DeRo, he has 10 goals and 10 assists (not all with DC) so far this year. DC may have almost doubled their total goals scored this year, they are at 39 this year vs. just 21 for all of 2010, the problem remains their defense. Last year they allowed 47 goals against (1.57 per match), this year so far they have allowed 40 (1.48 per match) so there simply hasn't been much improvement there and it shows with their 8-8-11 record and their 1-2-2 in their last 5
For RSL the numbers have been very good lately 5 straight wins, their 15th win of the season which equals the high bar for wins set last year. 41 goals for and just 23 goals allowed this year for the second best goal differential in the league at a +18. At Rio Tinto the team dropped a couple of decisions but still 10-2-3 is the second best home record, on the road RSL has already made history as they have 5 road wins the highest total in team history. Of course all those things are nice, but the reality is that without trophies that the numbers mean little, so when RSL take the pitch on Saturday they will need to focus on 3 points. 3 points will help them continue to make history and keep them close on the tail of the LA Galaxy for the Supporters' Shield.
After the jump my Key Match Up, my Wildcards, and my match prediction:
Key Match Up:
Kyle Beckerman vs. Dwayne De Rosario -
Perhaps the two guys on the fringes of the MLS MVP conversations, that should be front and center of it. Since joining DC United, DeRo and the boys are 4-2-5, and while that may not seem great, consider the team had lost 6 matches before he joined the team. While I may be leading the way for him to serve a one match suspension for his "touched by Angel" swan dive on Wednesday, the reality is that like him or not (I actually like him) he is a difference maker on the pitch. In fact in his time with San Jose and then the relocated San Jose in Houston, he had never missed the playoffs and he is one of the few players who have lifted the MLS Cup 4 times. 87 regular season goals, 61 assists in over 20,000 minutes of action. A force to be reckoned with, but to be honest he shouldn't be playing on Saturday and everyone knows it.
It is funny to listen to people who are fans of other teams, when they talk about Kyle Beckerman you can hear the respect they have for him despite most of them cursing his very existence. Heck I understand that, it is how almost every RSL fan felt before he joined our team. He is a player you hate when he is against you, but you love when he is on your team, he is the workman, bulldog, the whatever phrase you want to use to describe him. Oh our lovable "dirty hippy", if those people could only see him when he stops to talk to a child in a store, or how peoples eyes light up when he and Nick Rimando do the bro jump&bump before every match, they would understand how a skinny kid who started playing professionally at age 16 has become one of the top players in MLS, and a legit contender for the league MVP.
Chris Wingert -
Well it sounds like RSL's Chris Wingert will return to action for the first time since breaking his wrist at Toronto back in August. Chris has really improved his work on the offensive side of the ball this year and has worked on his passing and crossing to help create offensive chances for his teammates. While he isn't a huge scoring threat, you better respect his shot as he has proven he can score from outside of the area. I think the advantage of getting Chris back at this critical time will help provide a great emotional boost to RSL and in a very loud RFK Stadium that is always a good thing.
Charlie Davies -
When Charlie Davies scored goals in 5 of DC's first 8 matches of the year people were holding out hope that perhaps the young man would lead DC back to the promised land of the playoffs and beyond. Then came a stretch of 7 matches without a goal from Charlie, but in that 8th match he exposed himself as maybe not the guy who would lead DC back to the top. It was late in a match at Rio Tinto, DC had been outplayed the entire match but they were only down 1-0, with 5 minutes to go. Charlie got the ball and was running down the side of the pitch towards goal, when he simply launched himself in the air by a defender and drew a PK on a clear dive. He converted the PK but opened the door on a huge can of worms that is still playing out today. In the 10 matches that followed he had just 1 more goal, now he had a huge comeback match against San Jose a couple weeks ago where he found the back of the net 3 times and lifted his season total to 11 goals.
I list him as a wildcard, because you simply don't know which player will show up, the guy who was a constant threat at the start of the year? The diving player who has scored more than 1/3 of his goals from the PK spot? Or the guy who can break open a match like he did in San Jose? Which one shows up on Saturday?
Edvin Jurisevic -
Well here we go again, we saw just Wednesday night another in a long line of horrible officiating jobs so as a MLS player and fan we are all left wondering what the hell will happen next. I have nothing against Edvin Jurisevic, he has been in charge of 37 MLS matches, he calls a low number of fouls per match at 21.9, he issues a high number of yellow cards at 3.9 per match, and he has pointed to the PK spot 5 times and shown red cards just 4 times. Yet one has to wonder what will be called, what will be missed, and how will it impact the outcome of the match?
Well one thing is clear, if Dwayne DeRosario plays a role in the decision today, there will be cries of "foul play" from almost every RSL fan. MLS decided on Thursday that his swan dive in stoppage time wasn't worthy of punishment like Davies, or Sabo, of course they provided no reason why a more dramatic dive wasn't punished but I can tell you why. First he failed to convert the PK, so he didn't alter the final score, so it is only cheating when you score, and second is that there was no outrage. Steve Goff barely mentioned it, Ives didn't talk about it until Friday, the writers for the MLS website just simply ignored it, and in a year where it seem MLS responds in knee jerk actions based on public perception of things, this one didn't register.
So while this match will be played with a cloud of doubt (and conspiracy for some) over it, there are a couple of things RSL fans should note. First RSL was able to get a great early start in New York and then hold on to get a huge road win on Wednesday, they did so despite not controlling possession, they did so despite not taking a large number of shots, they did so despite not doing most of the things they have done all year. They simply took advantage of every mistake and made their opponent pay.
They will need to do that and more on Saturday to get another win, again neither side has given up the first goal and come back to win a match this year. DC is 0-7-4 when giving up the first goal, RSL is 0-5-2, when scoring first RSL is 15-2-1 and DC is 8-1-4, this means that the first to score has a distinct advantage. DC has scored 7 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches, RSL has scored 14 in the first 30 minutes, now the numbers when goals have been allowed are a bit deceptive considering that DC has given up 40 goals this year and RSL just 23. DC has allowed 16 first half goals, RSL 10, DC have given up 24 second half goals (9 in the final 15 minutes), while RSL have given up 13 goals (7 in the final 15).
The reality is that these two teams are almost the same on offense DC averages 1.44 goals per match and RSL 1.46, but it is defense that is the difference as DC gives up 1.48 goals per match, RSL just 0.82. When they first faced off this year it was a PK that gave DC their goal, their most dangerous players were Chris Pontius and Josh Wolff, but they didn't have De Rosario in that match. Dwayne has 3 goals and 4 assists in his 15 matches against RSL, I believe if Kyle and our midfield can contain him that we will be able to dominate this match. Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio got some of their swagger back earlier this week against New York with some great goals and will be looking to build on that.
RSL get the early goal and the shutout in a 2-0 win over DC United.
My RSL Starting XI: Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Collen Warner, Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio
OFF MY SOAPBOX