You don’t win MLS Cup by charging hard out of the gate; you win MLS Cup by being good enough for most of the year and then rounding into form during the playoffs. That’s what Colorado did last year. That’s what United did in 2004. MLS is like Top Chef: the beginning of the competition is spent weeding out the competitors who clearly have no shot at winning.
So, metaphorically speaking, in the near-term United just need to cook their chicken all the way through, de-vein their shrimp and let all the screw-ups with sand and broken glass in their food play their way out of the contest. Save the liquid nitrogen-based truffle foam for when it really counts.
United are showing glimpses of being a team that could make a playoff run. And there’s one big reason for that: Dwayne De Rosario. He’s one of the elite players in the league, and it shows. He can score, he can create, he can help United hold the ball. And I don’t mean hold the ball in the 5 v 5 possession drill way that United had perfected; United now hold the ball and seem to have some idea of what to DO with it.
And just as the offense is improving, the defense is starting to solidify. Perry Kitchen and Daniel Woolard have proven to be able fullbacks who play for the shirt, specifically the part of the shirt that says “VW”: they’re unspectacular, but functional, solid, and reliable. Between Dejan Jakovic, Ethan White, and Brandon McDonald, United have three central defenders who are somewhat spotty but with high up-side. Jakovic, for one, played very well in his return last week.
Hopefully having three guys competing for two spots will bring out the best in all of them. And Bill Hamid has been very good over the last month, as evidenced by his recent national team call-up. Congratulations, Bill; hopefully your mentor and role model Tim Howard can give you new tips on how to yell at defenders, jump nonchalantly at balls way over the bar, and emote using only the veins in your forehead.
To revive the cooking metaphor, Toronto have spent the year chopping off their fingers and serving them to Tom Colicchio in over-cooked risotto (and Colicchio would be at least as offended by the risotto as he would by the severed finger). I’ve seen them a few times this year, and...oy. That is not a good team. They’re tied for fewest points in the West in spite of the fact that they’ve played the most games. They played midweek, defeating Nicaragua’s Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League. Don’t ask me how TFC qualified for the CCL; I think they won an essay contest or something.
Add it all together: it’s time for a statement game from United. At home against the worst team in the conference, three points are a must and a win with some style would be awfully nice. Even with all the stops and starts this year, United are in the thick of the playoff race. Now’s the time to round into form, secure a playoff spot, and see how far we can go.
Some things I’d like to see:
Production from the strikers. Did you notice how I complimented the midfield and the defense, but didn’t mention the strikers? That’s because they’re the weak link in this team right now. It doesn’t help that none of them can stay healthy, but hamstring pulls and concussions don’t entirely explain the lack of production. Blake Brettschneider returned last week, and from what I can tell, Josh Wolff and Charlie Davies are both probable for tomorrow. I don’t know Joseph Ngwenya’s status, but unless his status is “caught an enchanted fish who magically made him good at soccer”, I’m not interested. Personally, I’d like to see Wolff and Brettschneider.
Austin Da Luz. Andy Najar’s serving a red card suspension, so someone will have to fill in on the wing. We could see Stephen King playing out of position (his natural position being “on the bench”. With Kurt Morsink out long-term, I’m making King the subject of my disproportionately-harsh judgments). Brandon Barklage might get a start. I think the best option is to have Da Luz start on the left and put Chris Pontius on the right.
Hamid justifying his call-up. You’re the notable inclusion in the new coach’s roster, Bill; don’t make him look like an idiot by letting in five.
United fans out in full force. Toronto likes to crow about how great their fans are, and I’ll hand it to them: they are great. But they’re only a few years old, and now that they’ve suffered through a couple of lousy seasons, the crowds at BMO aren’t what they used to be. United just suffered through a season so brutal and difficult to watch that it made Saw IV look like Mary Poppins. And yet United fans are coming back. (Although unfortunately I won’t be there...I’m working Fredericksburg on Saturday in preparation for my move to New York. They’re similar towns, comedy-wise.)