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Opposition report: DC United

Photo: Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Returning to the site of their worst 2010 performance, the Philadelphia Union meet a mercurial DC United team looking for their first win in over a month.

Trouble in the back

To call DC United the opposite of the Union is a bit of a stretch. But both are flawed teams with holes in very different places. The United back line has alternated between being problematic and a sieve all season. 27 goal against is the second-most in the league, and a recent rash of injuries won’t help.

But Brandon McDonald is a step in the right direction. A big smart defender who played against the Union for San Jose earlier this year, McDonald was traded to DC for allocation money and has to prove all over again that he is up to MLS standards. DC has three defenders on the injury list so McDonald can compete with Ethan White and rookie Perry Kitchen for a starting job immediately. If Kitchen starts, expect to see Carlos Ruiz doing his typical post up moves on the inexperienced center back.

Strong going forward

The other big DC acquisition this week was unconfirmed Abba fan Dwayne de Rosario. A player DC has targeted for some time, deRo was acquired for Dax McCarty to play at the top of Ben Olsen’s midfield diamond. United is built from the outside in, with strong wing play around a softer center. De Rosario is a talented distributor who will bring Chris Pontius and Andy Najar into the game but he plays defense with the urgency of a Corona Light commercial’s cast.

The onus is on the Union to find an offensive rhythm early in this match. Giving DC as much possession as Philadelphia gifted weaker squads like Vancouver and Chivas will offer a great example of how to fall behind early. The DC midfield may be stocked with offensive talent, but a coordinated defensive effort has proved elusive this year. There is no Brian Carroll to slow down opposing offenses when Pontius and Najar are caught up field.

Union response

It is not breaking news to find out that the Union need a playmaker to step forward on Saturday. It’s not a coincidence that when Justin Mapp took that role against Toronto, the Union finished chances they have since left sitting. DC will allow open looks, but the best ones will come from build-up play through the midfield. Mapp has been largely absent since his breakout against TFC. If he is not the answer, the Union will need Paunovic (listed as questionable) to have a more consistent match than he did against Chivas.

Match up to watch

Up top, DC will do everything they can to post Charlie Davies on Danny Califf. Carlos Valdes has yet to meet the striker he can’t run down, and whether he likes playing on the right or not (he doesn’t), Davies will have to move to that side to earn chances. Davies is less worrying as a finisher than as a creator. If he gets into the corners with the ball, United’s wingers will crash the box hard. Should Le Toux and Mapp decide not to track back, trouble will surely be brewing.

DC United Manager Ben Olsen on the Union

“They’re a beatable team but they’re sharp right now. There’s something about them that’s making them successful. They’re a better defensive team than we are. They’re leaking less goals, and particularly at home they’re closing up shop back there and that’s sometimes enough in this league. They’re getting a goal or two and getting out of there.”

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