Two teams in very different places collide Saturday at R.F.K Stadium. D.C. United is tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and has not lost at home since the season opener. Toronto FC has yet to win this season and is coming off the cruelest of road ties.
Torontos last MLS match was the 2-0 loss at home to D.C. United on May 5. Since then Toronto has advanced to the Canadian Championship Final series, but in the opening leg ended up settling for a 1-1 tie on the road Wednesday against Vancouver. The Whitecaps tied the game in the 91st minute.
Eric Hasslis equalizer was a volley rocketed from 14-yards out and fit perfectly in Torontos MLS season of woe. In stumbling to a 0-8 record, Toronto has only led in a league match once and has twice given up goals in the opening ten minutes of matches and lost once in stoppage time.
Those are always tricky, United head coach Ben Olsen said of playing a winless team. They are a pretty desperate team. They are playing much better in the past couple of weeks and they have some keys guys back healthy. We have to be focused and expect a challenge, but we are at home and should take care of them.
Former German international and team captain Torsten Frings missed six games with a hamstring injury and then suffered another setback when he injured his shoulder against D.C. United. While TFC is waiting to get Frings back, it is encouraged that forward Danny Koevermans was healthy enough after a groin strain to be used as a substitute in Vancouver.
United knows all too well about dealing with injuries, but played through a crowded training room and turned in arguably its most complete performance of the season in a 2-0 win midweek against Colorado. Lewis Neal, Branko Boskovic, and Hamdi Salihi were pressed into starting roles and combined on the second goal.
I think we complicated some of the plays in the first half. Early it was sharp and moving, and then we started taking three instead of two touches and complicating the game. Overall, it was a pretty good performance. I was very happy with the depth from some of the guys that havent had 90 minutes. They did a good job.
With Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos out with injuries, Boskovic started in an attacking midfield role with Dwayne De Rosario pushed forward. For Boskovic it was his best game since coming to United in late 2010. He had three shots on target and his fourth shot led to Hamdi Salihis goal. On seven corner kicks, Boskovic also impressed.
Salihi is one of Uniteds three designated players now has three goals in his last four games. It was his first as a starter. Playing with De Rosario up top also allowed Salihi more space for his precise runs. With De Rosario drawing defenders, Salihi was in better position to finish. Neal answered Olsens challenge to be more of an offensive threat on the flank with more crosses.
Ive said from the first game that I like it when I come out here, because we have a clear idea of how we want to work, and we work this way every day, Salihi said. And now everybody can see that every day this is working better and better.
It would seem likely that Salihi would get another start Saturday, but after that Olsens lineup is less clear. It has been a congested schedule with five games in seventeen days and the injury list remains long. Central defenders Emiliano Dudar and Dejan Jakoic are sill nursing injuries and are only listed as probable. Fortunately Daniel Woolard has adjusted to a switch inside from outside back.
Daniel Woolard really seems to like center back, so now Ive got to deal with that, Olsen added. Its a nice problem to have because hes been really good in there, and Brandon McDonalds been a rock as of late. Hes physically been an ironman through this.
D.C. United is closing in on a two-week break after next Saturdays game against New England. They are close to being able to have a chance to heal physically. Mentally United seems to be together. Avoiding a stumble against Toronto will help keep it that way.