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Tough task awaits D.C. United on Sunday


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When Kofi Sarkodie buried a late insurance goal in the Houston Dynamo’s 3-1 victory against D.C. United last Sunday, it not only provided the perfect cap to a strong second-half rally by the Dynamo, it also set the bar very high for D.C. to overcome in the second leg of their Eastern Conference finals series.

D.C. United must not only find a way to win by at least two goals on Sunday, they must find away to score multiple goals against a Houston defense that has turned downright stingy in the post-season, giving up three goals in four playoff matches.

Adding to D.C. United’s woes are the rash of injuries that crippled them in the first leg. Chris Pontius, Brandon McDonald and Marcelo Saragosa all had to leave the first leg with injuries, leaving their status for the second in question. Throw in the fact that¬†starting right back Andy Najar is suspended for the second leg and you start to understand why the task is seen as an extremely difficult one.

D.C. United isn’t losing faith though, not with 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne DeRosario on the verge of returning from injury. The club is confident DeRosario will be able to play a part in Sunday’s decisive game at RFK Stadium, just how much a role remains to be seen.

So how will D.C. United pull off the comeback and book their place in the MLS Cup Final? Let us take a closer look at the D.C. United’s task, and chances of completing it:

First and foremost, D.C. United need a healthy Chris Pontius to have a real chance on Sunday. He is a force on the left flank and without him at his best, D.C. United’s already limited attack will have an even tougher time generating the goals they need. Pontius and Nick DeLeon give D.C. effective wing play that can stretch the Houston defense and provide opportunities for the likes of Lionard Pajoy and Branko Boskovic, two players who also need to step their game up if D.C. is to have any chance.

Something D.C. didn’t do enough in the first leg is go after Kofi Sarkodie on the defensive end. Sarkodie has a strong game in the first leg, and part of the reason for that as because D.C. didn’t do a good enough job of pinning him in defensively (part of the reason for that was because Pontius left the match early with the groin injury). Ben Olsen will want to send a steady diet of Pontius, DeLeon and DeRosario at Sarkodie to not only test him defensively, but to force him to stay home and not join the Dynamo attack.

Ben Olsen will have to think about starting two forwards. Pajoy simply isn’t good enough to lead the line alone and playing a 4-5-1 simply makes D.C. easy to deal with in the final third. If Dwayne DeRosario can start, then he can serve as a second striker. If not, Olsen will need to think about turning to Hamdi Salihi or Maicon Santos and dropping Saragosa. That would leave Perry Kitchen with some heavy lifting to do, but it would give Houston with more to worry about in their defensive third.

D.C. United will need to practice patience. If they get too desperate early on, and make mistakes, Houston has the players that can punish any openings D.C. United leaves in their defense. I know that many think Houston will bunker in the way they did in the second leg against Sporting Kansas City. I don’t think that happens again. For one, D.C. United doesn’t have as many weapons as Sporting KC. Secondly, Dom Kinnear obviously knows that his team nearly paid the price for being overly defensive.

A better approach for the Dynamo will be to look to push on the counterattack more and try to grab a precious goal that would force D.C. United to score three goals. This is why D.C. United has to start the game out patience and organized. That could be easier said than done, especially for a relatively inexperienced group from a playoff standpoint.

Houston has the edge in experience, and also head into the second leg healthier, but D.C. United can certainly make things interesting assuming Pontius is healthy and assuming DeRosario can contribute.

Without those two, D.C. United’s chances of a comeback are slim, but of Pontius and DeRosario play, D.C. United have the weapons for a dramatic turnaround.


What do you think of D.C. United’s chances? See them pulling off the comeback? Think Houston is too tough to give up a two-goal lead? What do you think D.C. needs to do to turn things around?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Houston won’t overcome their losing road record (2nd worst in MLS) to take it from United (haven’t lost since the opening SKC match). DC takes this in penalties.

  2. I wish DC (and Seattle) well, but I think Houston (and LA) could rest a few starters and still come out OK with the goal advantage they both currently enjoy.

    DC should deal for Benny Feilhaber for depth next year and Seattle should make a play for Adu.

  3. A healthy Ricardo Clark more than equalizes any rusty DeRo factor the Dynamo may encounter. With a healthy Clark and Taylor a positive result from DC is downright out of the question.

  4. I’m a huge Dynamo fan but I hope Dwayne DeRosario can play as he is a talented player I love watching him abuse Adam Moffat (LOL!) Also, DC being down 2 goals is not by all means a “gimmie” game for Houston, they’re going to have to work for it. In this game both teams will have healthier players but the question is, how healthy will they be? Groin injuries take a while to heal up (Pontius) as do knee injuries (Taylor) and hamstring injuries (Carr) but a week is more than enough time to slap some band aids on.

    I predict that DeRo and Pontius plays in the 2nd half, and that Taylor, Carr, and Ricardo Clark are healthy and that the game should really be interesting. Rico Clark and Taylor have more than enough skill to shut DeRo and Pontius down and Carr and Kandji will run DC’s defense ragged when Houston switches from a 4-4-2 mid game to a 4-3-3. These tactics, coupled with Boswell and Hall anchoring down the defense should result in a tie or even another goal for Houston. The loss of Najar and Hamid will be too great.

    • Hamid will start this game. I believe we will see the most attacking version of DCU yet (minus the Najar runs). Benny has a few tricks up his sleeve, don’t count out a 3 man attack with Dero just behind, injuries or not, anyone at 70% or more will play in this match. United has to watch the counterattacks, we have seen some pretty massive holes there this season. As someone already posted, the CB’s will have to play their game of the year to keep a clean sheet.

  5. Pontius will score if he plays and so will DeRo when he gets in to send the game to overtime. It’s anybody’s game at that point. Should DC get those two goals, RFK will be too much for Houston in the extra time…Jackovic will have to have the game of a lifetime and play under control while not causing any stupid fouls like he almost did with that handball that didn’t get called.

  6. i though kitchen was impresive in the first leg. if we can field any two of the 4 injured starters (clark/carr/taylor/moffat) i like our chances, even if DC have their best players, BUT, anything can still happen, this is soccer.

  7. The only thing that United can pray for is Pontius fully healthy for this game. Without him, we don’t have anyone who can truly work Sarkodie the way he should.


  8. No way the Dynamo give up a two goal margin in one game in the playoffs. Kinnear is too good of a coach and this team is too experienced to let that happen. I see a rematch of last year’s final happening again.

  9. DC has heart. No one predicted them to get this far and they shouldn’t discount them now. Despite the injuries, we can’t count them out at home where they not only have a 12th man but even a 13th. Vamos United!

  10. I have faith in DC United. The big question is can they balance attacking Houston/getting +2 goals with getting beat on the counter attack/conceding goals? The atmosphere in DC will be amazing – lets see if there is any magic left in RFK.

  11. People forget the earlier part of this season when DC’s offense was the best in the league. Injuries slowed it down in the second half of the season, but an attack led by DeRo, Pontius, and DeLeon can most certainly force OT with a 2-goal lead.

  12. DCU is saying that DeRo “might” be available as a second-half sub. I can’t see him starting at this point. No word on Pontius and his status.

  13. Tall order for DCU with their injuries/suspensions.

    Gets worse if Jermaine Taylor is recovered enough to play. Sarkodie’s been playing well lately, and I’d almost say Hainault’s lack of speed is a bigger liability.

    • it looks like there is a better chance of Jermaine Taylor, Ricardo Clark, Calen Carr playing instead of Pontius, Dero, Macdonald.
      Dale Dynamo!


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