It is the summer of soccer drama. It is safe to say we have had plenty of tension at the World Cup in Brazil and back here in North America there is more of the same in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference where the premium on points in the standings continues to escalate.
D.C. United headed into the World Cup break in first place in the Eastern Conference. Now as the Black and Red prepare to face Toronto FC on the road Saturday night (coverage starts at 6:30 on CSN) they have company at the top and are even on points (25) with Sporting Kansas City. Toronto FC is on 21 points, but has only played 13 games.
In reviewing the Eastern Conference table every team has something play for. The difference between first place and last place is only 11 points. There is a long schedule of games left for teams to move up or for teams to slide down. Yes the pressure is real.
On Wednesday Toronto FC responded to that pressure. Reduced to ten men after a red card to forward Luke Moore, the Reds still found a way to extend their unbeaten streak to six games with a 1-1 draw on the road against Chicago. United returned to play last Saturday and for the most part was the better team against Seattle, but lost 1-0.
1. Toronto FC is for real. Toronto has not lost since a 2-1 defeat to New England back on May 3. It is an impressive six game unbeaten run that coincides with the absence of midfielder Michael Bradley (USA) and goalkeeper Jullio Cesar (Brazil) for World Cup duty. That is not to suggest that TFC is better without Bradley or Cesar, but demonstrates the team’s depth. It would come as a surprise if Bradley factored into Saturday’s match, but Toronto has come up with linking options in midfield including Jonathan Osorio and Kyle Bekker. There is danger on the flanks with Jackson and newly acquired Domenic Oduro from Columbus. With Cristian Fernandez now departed from D.C. United, Chris Korb and Sean Franklin will start on the outside and their ability to get forward and make Jackson and Oduro defend will be important. Up top United has to be concerned with the quality of Jermain Defoe who will be missing his strike partner Luke Moore because of Wednesday’s red card. How Toronto replaces Moore is a question, but if Gilberto is able to return from a hip injury it adds to the pressure on United defense to deny time and space.
2. Turning chances into goals. With the exception of the road win at Montreal, Fabian Espindola has carried D.C. United on offense. Last Saturday Espindola missed his first game with a knee injury and United outshot Seattle 14-5. It was Eddie Johnson’ best game with United, but no goals were produced. I know that sounds odd, but if Johnson can make the runs and demand the attention he did against Seattle going forward the goals will come. The return of Davy Arnaud from card accumulation should help. Arnaud and Kitchen’s work in the midfield in many ways is the understated force behind United’s success. With Arnaud and Kitchen together, Luis Silva has the freedom to invent.
Prediction: United 1 Toronto 0.....Toronto played midweek and United should find a way to deliver a goal and the three points needed.