Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports
10:30pm EST/7:30pm PST, Sunday May 13, Avaya Stadium (San Jose, California), ESPN+
On Saturday, D.C. United will travel to Avaya Stadium to face the San Jose Earthquakes with both sides hoping for three points and the chance to turn things around.
For D.C. United (1-5-2, 5 points), Saturday’s fixture is just the latest in long line of road matches.
With the side set to open Audi Field in July, the Black and Red are forced to play the majority of the first half of their 2018 campaign on the road. Thus far the results have been rather unkind with D.C. losing all three of their contests away from the nation’s capital.
Only the news of a potential signing of Wayne Rooney has given the fans a flicker of hope that perhaps if they can right this ship.
As for the San Jose Earthquakes (2-5-2, 8 points), there is no new stadium to look forward to but there are certainly plenty of questions.
Under new coach Mikael Stahre, the club has not gotten off to the best of starts, winning just two out of their first nine matches.
While clubs like LAFC and the Portland Timbers have made waves this season the Earthquakes have yet to emit even a low rumble in the Western Conference.
Last Time Out
D.C. United 2-3 Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Despite taking the lead early against RSL with a goal from Paul Arriola, D.C. United fell on the road to Real Salt Lake.
While their attack had poise and a bit momentum going for them, a red card for midfielder Joseph Morra in the 22nd minute changed the complexion of the game.
D.C. had to go into a more tentative, defensive posture which in turn led to three unanswered goals for the home side.
Steve Birnbaum did cut Real Salt Lakes’s lead to one in the 83rd minute but it wasn’t enough for the visitors.
Minnesota United FC 1-3 San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
After weeks of attacking woes, the Quakes attack came back to life with Magnus Eriksson (2’), Danny Hoesen (69’) and Wondolowski (76’) all hitting the back of the net.
An early goal from Christian Ramirez (26’) gave the Quakes’ defence a bit of a scare but credit to centre-back Florian Jungwirth for getting his line back in order and making several quality clearances in the second half to preserve the advantage and the victory.
D.C. United Lineup
With Joseph Morra out due to a red card suspension and Ulises Segura out for the next 4-6 weeks with a leg injury, United coach Ben Olsen will look to his bench for a bit of relief.
Oniel Fisher, who came in for Morra last week, will likely start at left-back. As for Segura, Yamil Asad is his replacement.
San Jose Earthquakes Lineup
With no major injuries reported and Omar Cummings having returned from his mid-week red card suspension, Stahre will likely use the same lineup he employed against Minnesota.
Key Battle: Anibal Godoy (Earthquakes) vs Luciano Acosta (D.C. United)
It has been pretty good week for Godoy, who found out on Tuesday that he had made Panama’s preliminary roster for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The 28-year old midfielder has been a mark of consistency during uncertain times for the Earthquakes, using his expert marking and tracking to slow down defences and his passing to dictate the tempo of the match.
Derik Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports
On Saturday he will be tasked with containing Luciano Acosta, D.C.’s talisman midfielder.
The Argentine Designated Player has been one of a few lone bright spots for the United attack this season creating chances for his teammates whenever possible and at times having to create chances for himself.
Acosta likes to make diagonal runs at defences, mostly working between a defensive midfielder and the right centre-back.
Godoy showed against a player of similar tendencies in Ramirez that he is more than capable of tracking those types of angles. But Acosta should feel comfortable in knowing that Ramirez broke through against the Quakes defence last week.
Will the threat of Rooney light a fire under United’s strikers?
While many pundits have focused on what the addition of Wayne Rooney means to D.C. United, it hasn’t really been addressed what it means for their two main strikers: Darren Mattocks and Patrick Mullins.
Both have been quite poor this season with Mattocks scoring three goals and Mullins netting zero. D.C. have scored just ten goals this season which is the third lowest among all clubs.
The Rooney move has been dissected in pretty much every way possible from his impact on the club to his impact at the ticket stand. But what cannot be debated is that he would be a significant upgrade at the current spot.
Saturday’s match is a good chance for either Mattocks or Mullins to show that they still deserve to be getting minutes. Of the two, Mattocks seems to have the inside track. Although his form has been maddeningly inconsistent he has had at least produced three goals and shown glimmers of promise.
Even if United fail to secure Rooney, D.C. will be actively pursuing an attacking piece during the summer transfer window. Time is running out for both Mattocks and Mullins to show their value.
Will Wondolowski start for the Quakes?
It was a strange sight on Saturday to see Chris Wondolowski, the face of the Earthquakes, sitting on the bench for the first 55 minutes.
To put this into perspective, Wondolowski has started every match for the Quakes over the past two seasons, never missing a single game.
This season, he has already sat for two games which has rankled a fair number of Earthquakes supporters. There are many who would like to see him topple Landon Donovan’s MLS all-time goal scoring record of 145 (he sits at 136). The perception is that every minute lost is one less chance for him to break the record.
But there’s another interesting development taking place in San Jose: Wondolowski is a pretty good super-sub.
At 35, he doesn’t have the legs of his younger teammates and has at times looked a bit limited when he tries to play 60, 70 minutes. However, in his two appearances off of the bench this season he has looked much better in 20-30 minute spurts. It has also benefited Danny Hoesen who leads the club with four goals.
It is never easy for any coach to bench a club legend and for a first-year coach like Stahre it is almost near impossible. But the Earthquakes need to start preparing for the future as well and a tough decision may need to be made.
There will still be times when Wondolowski may get the starting nod and, against a United defence that has looked toothless this season, Saturday night might be a good time to do it. But finding out where he will be most effective for the team is far more important than any record or satisfying any ego.
Can Steve Birnbaum develop a partnership with Chris Durkin?
Much of D.C. United’s success in recent seasons can be directly attributed to their ability to build from the back. Olsen places a premium on chemistry between the centre-backs and the defensive midfielders and how the two can organize a side.
Centre-back Steve Birnbaum and midfielder Chris Durkin are considered to be two of D.C.’s top players for the future so their success in this season will go a long way towards determining United’s success in the future.
Of the two, it is really up to Birnbaum to begin that relationship. Durkin is just 18 years old and is entering his first full year with United’s senior team (last year he spent most of the season with D.C.’s USL affiliate, the Richmond Kickers) and is still developing as a professional.
Birnbaum is 27 and is now in his fifth season with D.C. He is no longer Bobby Boswell’s apprentice or the young guy looking to break into a team full of veterans. He is the veteran and, as a veteran centre-back, it is his job to organise the defence and get players in rhythm along the backline. He has shown it in bits and pieces this season but D.C.’s defence has yet to deliver a complete performance.
Getting Durkin more involved would help in that process. It is easy to see why clubs like Benfica and Sporting Lisbon have shown interest in the USYNT international as his passing is always spot on and his tackles are tough. Very few players have those tools, let alone at the age of 18.
It is up to Birnbaum and the D.C. defence to use those tools and get him in sync with the rest of the side.
Prediction: D.C. United 1-2 San Jose Earthquakes
With San Jose coming off a big win and the side wanting to prove something to their fans it could be a long night at the office for D.C.
Stahre seems to have something with the Hoesen-Magnus Wolff Eriksen partnership and, if Wondolowski can continue firing late, United’s patchwork defence might not have a chance.
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