D.C. United have made a sluggish start to the new season, with only two points amassed from the first nine available and with just a couple of goals to their name as well. Their offensive struggles come as no surprise as D.C. had the worst attack of any of the teams that made it to the play-offs last year and it's safe to say their attacking woes haven't gone away so far this campaign either.
Both teams won't be at full strength due to injury concerns and international commitments for a few players, but nonetheless it'll be a tough task for Dallas to get a result at a ground where we've only won once in the last ten seasons, that being a 3-1 victory in August 2010.
Ben Olsen is expected to start this game with the traditional 4-4-2 formation that he used against Colorado last week rather than the diamond from the first two games. Chris Rolfe, Marcelo Sarvas, and Nick DeLeon are the most influential, creative players in their midfield with Rolfe capable of joining the two to form a central midfield trio in an attempt to outnumber Dallas in that area. As capable as they are of creating opportunities and using the spaces well in midfield, they have not had much success in the final third and are not getting enough service to their forwards as they might. They're a tough side to play ball with and outpossess in midfield, but not as threatening where it matters most and if Dallas can maintain the levels from last week when even free-scoring Montreal struggled to create anything, chances of shutting down D.C. will be good if they go for the diamond approach instead of using the flanks to full effect.
How Rolfe, Sarvas, and DeLeon distributed the ball against Colorado:
How Gruezo, Ulloa, and Diaz supported the defense against Montreal:
Based on the evidence shown, D.C. like to play in the same areas Dallas shut down so effectively against an individually stronger Montreal team last week. If the central trio in midfield can support and cover those similar positions tomorrow afternoon, then it'll be difficult for D.C. to create chances as they don't have a proven alternative way of playing and getting goals from what we've seen last and so far this season.
If they do utilize their wings and try to get crosses into the box, then it'll be a busy afternoon for Ryan Hollingshead and Zach Loyd who is likely to take Maynor Figueroa's place in the Honduran's absence. As mentioned earlier, D.C. do like using the channels and considering that both their strikers (Neagle and Acosta) like straying out wide instead of hovering around the penalty area, it's possible that they'll rip a page out of Houston's book and overload the flanks in hopes of exposing Dallas' weaknesses there.
This means that support will be needed for the full-back pairing so Carlos Gruezo and Victor Ulloa will have their work cut out for them here while more will be expected from Michael Barrios on the defensive side as well. Luckily for Dallas, D.C. don't really play with a #10 playmaker like Houston did with Cristian Maidana. Most of their attacks go through the sides and so long as everyone does their jobs of minimizing the spaces they get down the flanks, Dallas' chances of shutting them down go up considerably.
Mauro Diaz Can Make The Difference
It's a game built for our Argentine star to shine in. D.C. usually play with two midfielders which means they tend to leave spaces behind in between them and their center backs which means everything is set up for Diaz to decide which way this contest goes. Again though, a lot depends on which formation D.C. start with and the positioning of Sarvas in it. If he starts in a more advanced central midfield role as he did last week, then there will be room to operate with in behind him where Diaz can work his magic:
If he plays as a withdrawn pivot from kick-off or at any point in the game if it's close like he did in the first two matches, then there'll be less space to go into and influence the game for Diaz.
Sarvas had 1 successful tackle, 2 interceptions, 8 recoveries, and 0 defensive blocks in his defensive half playing as a CM against Colorado while he had 5 successful tackles, 4 interceptions, 6 recoveries, and 2 defensive blocks as a DM against New England. The numbers clearly support that his defensive numbers are better the deeper he plays so how much impact Diaz can have on the game may largely depend on the Brazilian's position tomorrow.
Battle of Makeshift Defenses
Both sides will be short at the back. D.C. are missing starting keeper Bill Hamid and first choice deputy Andrew Dykstra so youngster Andrew Worra will be in goal. Steve Birnbaum is also missing as he's with the U.S. national team so Kofi Opare will likely take his place alongside Bobby Boswell. Dallas is without Figueroa, Walker Zimmerman, and Kellyn Acosta so Loyd, Ulloa, and either Juan Esteban Ortiz or rookie Aaron Guillen are expected to be in the team. Considering the absences on both sides and the fact that neither side has settled on a first choice defense yet, they'll both be susceptible at the back and there may lie an opportunity to punish the other and take advantage of their weaknesses there.
So based on everything we covered here, more of the same from last week should do the job for Dallas tomorrow. D.C. can be a nuisance to play against because they have the energy in midfield and like to use the flanks where Dallas have had problems defensively. Shutting down DeLeon and Rolfe who like to roam around the attacking half is an effective strategy to lower their chances and cut their supply to their forwards. For this, it'll be important for the defense as well as Gruezo and Ulloa to track their runs well which they are good at. On the other end, Diaz and Castillo can be difference makers as they so regularly are for Dallas against a weakened D.C. backline. There will be spaces for them to play into so it may just be a case of being patient and waiting for their moments to make their marks on the game. After the 5-0 drubbing in Houston last time and given Dallas' poor record in Washington, a good showing and statement needs to be made here, regardless of who's missing.