The roller coaster continued in Portland as Dallas came home without any points from the 1-0 defeat. Now on this Fourth of July, Dallas fittingly plays DC United. United come in having won one and drawn four in their last five games. They are currently 2nd in the Eastern Conference with 31 points on the season. With the West race so tight, Dallas fell down to 7th in the Western Conference with 26 points after not picking up any points last game.
Just as Dallas has gone through the ups and downs this season, DC United have done the same. After their incredible run to end last season in their new stadium, United have struggled for consistency with a more balanced home/away schedule. But that still hasn’t stopped them from being a major player in the East. The signing of Wayne Rooney last summer pushed United forward multiple steps in a rebuilding process that was threatening to weigh them down forever.
Rooney deserves his own paragraph really because he has been everything United could have asked for when they signed him. His on-field impact has been great, getting into the top scorer race right from the start of his signing. In the 20 games he played last season, he ended up with 12 goals and seven assists. His pace right now is almost identical; through 18 games he has 10 goals and five assists. His game changing ability on the field has restored some shine to the very tarnished DC United legacy as an original member of the league. But his off-field exploits have been no less important. By all accounts he has been a model teammate. He has mentored others and helped raise the collective talent level across the board. He has been humble and considerate of the team and league marketing around him. Most importantly, he has raised expectations in and around the club, something unfathomable just a few seasons ago.
Helping in the midfield is Luciano Acosta who also makes a sizable impact. Acosta was named an MLS XI member at the end of last season after a season of 10 goals and 17 assists! The Argentinian playmaker was a force after Rooney arrived, providing the perfect counter balance to teams who sold out to stop Rooney, but gave little attention to him. Acosta currently has five goals and two assists on the season, which is not quite the pace DC were hoping for but would still be a fine season. Out on the flanks, United have Paul Arriola, Ulisis Segura, and Lucas Rodriguez. With Arriola away at the Gold Cup, look for Rodriguez to fill in on the left side and Segura on the right. Segura has three goals and an assist on the season while Rodriguez has two and two. Look for both to cut inside from the wings, although Rodriguez is probably the more natural of the two attacking from the middle, even drawing a start last game from the second defensive midfield spot as a box to box type.
Backing them up will be Russell Canouse and either Junior Moreno or Chris Durkin. Moreno is just getting back from the Copa America with Venezuela and may get the game off. Canouse on the other hand has been a rock in the middle. He isn’t flashy and doesn’t produce many goal producing stats, with an MLS career total of one goal and two assists in three seasons, but he’s the type of defense midfielder who stops the other team from scoring, and that hasn’t yet been quantifiable (at least through MLS and WhoScored stats). Durkin has something of a bad name around here as he kept Edwin Cerrilo off the field at the U20 World Cup back in May, for reason’s unclear to most who watched the games. But he has been a regular in the youth national team setup for quite a while and certainly has qualities that are appreciated. His stylistic comparison, at least to my eyes, is a younger Michael Bradly, for better and worse.
In the back we have Steve Birnbaum and Frederic Brillant in the middle. Neither is much of a threat off set pieces but have formed a solid duo. On the right flank is loanee Leonardo Jara. He has four assists on the season, second most on the team (behind Rooney). On the left side we have a very real chance of seeing old friend Marquinhos Pedroso. After being acquired at the beginning of May, he has played in four games for United, but due to injuries he has a chance to come back to Texas and be a pest on the left side. This United defense is one of the best in league as a unit, having conceded only 19 goals on the season, second in the league. The defense has been good in the back and goalkeeper Bill Hamid has been is usual stellar self.
Dallas has an interesting matchup on its hands. DC doesn’t have the best attack in the league but has one of the few players capable of winning a match on his own. They will be content to split possession evenly, with a belief they can control any match, but also be able to counter attack when necessary. This is probably a “when necessary” game for them, as it is for most teams visiting Texas in the summer. Dallas will once again need to break down an opposing team sitting back, but also be aware that Rooney and Co. can strike at any moment, just ask Orlando.
Key Matchup: Edwin Cerrilo vs Wayne Rooney
I was tempted to put “Dallas vs Rooney” as it is a full team job, but that didn’t seem fair. Likewise, I thought about the natural center back vs striker pairing but that doesn’t quite fit either. Rooney is the type of striker, and player, who plays without a position. He is one of the best strikers in MLS, but also one of the best number 10’s, one of the best wingers, one of the best full backs, one of…. well, you get the point. His skill set is so versatile he pops up all over the field. That’s why it will be the job of young Cerrilo to track his movements all over the field. Rooney likes to drop into the midfield to get his touches and orchestrate the offense. He likes to drift towards the top of the box rather than get inside the 6 yard one. Those are the spaces Edwin will need to contain the old pro. Good luck, kid.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Stop Rooney – It’s true that I’ve already detailed Rooney enough, but one more shot just as a reminder – make someone, anyone else, beat you. Don’t be added to the Rooney Highlight Reel. I know, easier said than done.
2. Work on Consistency – We talked last week about how young players can be up and down and we are experiencing that right now. With Bryan Acosta back in the fold, we have a veteran to help keep things calm and collected, but that needs to match up with how the young midfield has been playing and the spark they have provided.
3. Bunker Busting – I don’t expect United to fully bunker down and cling to survival. They rightly can walk in here confident they are the better team. At the same time, this is an away game and most teams are a bit more cautious on the road. Factor in the impressive goals against record and DC can take a bunker mentality and still be dangerous. Dallas will need to come up with some new ways to get through such a good defense – and then need find a way to beat one of the better keepers in the league.
I can’t say with any confidence how this game will play out. Dallas has the talent to hang three goals on almost any team in the league, it’s just a matter of consistency. United have the talent to keep up with any team in the league too, but consistency has been haunting them as well. It’s impressive Rooney can score a 65-yard goal, but the fact it took that blast to be the game winner against a mediocre Orlando side says something too. Don’t be surprised if this one comes down to a lucky bounce here or there. Ultimately, with both teams struggling to find an attacking focus, I think this one plays out to a 1-1 draw. Prove me wrong Dallas.