Breath it in guys... this is the last game of the season where the Portland Timbers will be playing against an Eastern Conference side. You know, in many ways, it almost feels like the Eastern Conference is an entirely different league. So many stories from their end go unheard on this side of the country. It's kind of disappointing.
Those that were with us last year will remember the last time the Timbers took on D.C. United. It was a game which both teams needed a win. Both needed the three points to make the play offs. Unfortunately for both sides, the game ended in a draw and neither team went on to the post-season. Fast forward one year later and the teams are in a vastly different situation. The Timbers season is pretty much over, while D.C. United is, once again, looking for three points to secure their position in the play offs.
A lot has changed in the past year for D.C. United and to help us figure out what's been happening with the nation's capital club I spoke with Martin Shatzer of Black and Red United.
After missing the play offs each year since 2007, how important is it that DC United make it this year? What would the fall out be if they, miraculously at this point, failed to make it? Is there hope that this is a squad that can go all the way and win MLS Cup?
Ben Olsen set a goal for this team at the beginning of the season: playoffs. The 2012 season has been a wild and entertaining ride, and it would be hugely disappointing to miss out at this point. But I don't think there would actually be much fallout. Its not like Olsen is going anywhere. If a disaster was to happen (I don't even feel all that comfortable accepting this as a possibility), management would just blame it on the Dwayne De Rosario injury and move on to next year.
It's been almost a year since the Portland Timbers played against DC United in a humdrum 1-1 draw... what's changed with the team since then? Where does the threat come from?
Dude, do you remember that match? It was the second-to-last match of the 2011 season and both teams were on the fringe of elimination from the playoffs. The entire final 20 minutes of the match consisted of both teams throwing everything forward, defending be damned. I still have no idea how neither of them scored.
Plenty has changed since that day. In the offseason, Olsen trimmed every bit of fat he could find off the roster, cutting the four longest tenured United players, among others, and replacing them with more bite. The roster this year is much deeper, which was kind of necessary given our injury situation. The team is also much more versatile, with the dynamic Chris Pontius leading the way with 11 goals and four assists. Pontius has really stepped up his game this season. He can create his own chances, finish them with speed and accuracy, and has the awareness and touch to set up his teammates as well.
Dwayne De Rosario is OUT. How does this affect the game? How much of an impact did he have on field in previous games?
Many of us actually thought that De Rosario's injury (an MCL sprain suffered during his team with the Canadian National Team) would be the curtain call on our playoff hopes for this season. But the team is 3-0-0 so far without him. Of course the schedule has been favorable - the Philadelphia Union, New England Revolution, and Chivas USA aren't exactly world beaters - this team has still beaten everyone that shows up to play them. With DeRo, there was always the possibility that he'd pull something out of his socks to earn United a result even when if the team wasn't playing great. Without DeRo, there is no margin for error. United must be compact and succinct defensively and finish its chances in the box.
Who are one or two DC United players who make a huge impact on the game, but might not be household names to Timbers fans? What kind of impact do they make?
I'm guessing you've already heard of Andy Najar, but you might not notice him upon a brief glance at our team stats, given that Najar hasn't scored a goal yet for United this year. What you might not know about Najar is that, despite his attacking flare, he's now United's starting right back. He may be undersized, but Najar has good positional awareness and he's an excellent one-on-one defender. D.C. United enjoys attacking down the wings with aggressive play from the fullbacks, so look for Andy Najar to make several overlapping runs around Rookie Of The Year candidate Nick DeLeon on the right flank throughout the match.
You may also want to take note of Lionard Pajoy. Since coming over from the Union last month, Pajoy has established himself as a regular starter and the team's top ball-winner at the top of the formation. Pajoy has played a part in three of United's last four goals, but has also made several mistakes on the ball that's made him an unexplainably unpopular player amongst the United fanbase.
Predicted starting line up?
Look for Bill Hamid to start in goal with Chris Korb, Dejan Jakovic, Brandon McDonald, and Andy Najar from left to right in front of him. United's midfield isn't quite as predictable, but since the 4-5-1 worked pretty darn well against Chivas last week, that will probably be what we see again on Saturday night. This would mean that Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa will play together in central defensive midfield, with Chris Pontius on the left wing and Nick DeLeon on the right. Branko Boskovic will be at the top of the midfield, just underneath the target forward Lionard Pajoy.
Huge thanks to Martin for taking time to answer my questions and giving us a bit of insight for tomorrow's game. Read more about D.C. United on his blog: Black and Red United.
And now for some pre-game discussion!
- With DeRosario out for D.C. United, do you think the Timbers will have the stronger midfield?
- How does the Timbers defense deal with a striker such as Chris Pontius?
- Game predictions?