MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 2-0 Columbus Crew SC

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The game in 100 words (or less): D.C. United will rarely, if ever, be flashy in their 2015 successes, but man oh man, they are almost definitely the hardest-to-beat team in the league, which they once again reminded us in beating Columbus Crew SC, 2-0, on Saturday night at RFK Stadium. Crew SC combined to score seven goals in their previous two games, and could must just three shots on target against a United side revitalized once again by the presence of Fabian Espindola. Overzealous could be the best word to describe Crew SC’s gameplan in this one, and it ended up biting them in the end.

[ RECAPS: Two MLS games on Friday night ]

Three moments that mattered

15′ — Espindola finishes a quick D.C. counter — When thinking of the current iteration of United, lightning-quick counter attacks aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind — it’s set pieces and lots of tactical fouling — but that’s exactly what Espindola and Chris Rolfe used to open the scoring.

41′ — Franklin takes of advantage of some poor marking — One thing United do do well is to capitalize on mistakes in a big, big way. Crew SC’s marking on the 41st-minute corner kick was extremely poor, which made Sean Franklin’s job very easy slotting the ball into a wide-open far post.

65′ — Outstretched Finlay can’t reach Kamara’s cross — It was the kind of chance that would have easily found the back of the net in either of the last two weeks for Crew SC, but Kei Kamara’s outside-of-the-foot cross went begging as Ethan Finlay stretched with all his length at the back post.

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Man of the match: Fabian Espindola — He’s the MVP of United’s season after just two games (for him) and eight for the team. The difference in this United team is night and day without the Argentine, and he was the focal points once again, of another three points.

LINEUPS

D.C. United: Hamid, Korb, Boswell, Opare, Franklin, Pontius, Arnaud, Kitchen, DeLeon (Farfan 63′), Rolfe (Silva 71′), Espindola (Aguilar 86′)

Goals: Espindola (15′), Franklin (41′)

Columbus Crew SC: Clark, Grana (Jimenez 65′), Parkhurst, Pogatetz, Francis (Klute 46′), Finlay, Saeid, Tchani, Higuain, Meram (Steindorsson 46′), Kamara

Trailing 2-0 to Red Bulls, DC United could get major reinforcements for second leg

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Overcoming a 2-0 deficit against a high-functioning New York Red Bulls unit is a big problem, but one that’s getting a little easier for DC United.

The Black-and-Red have been limited by injuries to three important players, all of whom should be available for this weekend’s second leg at home.

[ MLS: QPR has “deal in place” to take Defoe from MLS ]

While Chris Rolfe and Sean Franklin were available in reserve roles in the first leg, attacking wizard Luis Silva has missed the past four weeks with a hamstring injury. The former Toronto FC player has 11 goals in 25 MLS matches this season for DC.

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff says all three can feature this weekend, and that Silva has returned to regular training:

United’s co-leading scorer said he felt “no soreness or tightness. That is always good news. I think I am still fit. I haven’t lost a lot of fitness compared to other players that have been out longer.

“If my body is responding well, anything I can help out with, I will be ready. Hopefully they will clear me to play. One day at a time, as of right now. I am excited, I am anxious and I want to be out there helping my teammates.”

Without identifying them directly, Coach Ben Olsen implied Silva and Chris Rolfe would begin the day in reserve. Rolfe returned from a two-month injury layoff Sunday, entering in the 74th minute.

Franklin should start after playing just 20 minutes on Sunday. That’ll be a boon for Olsen in trying to stop Bradley Wright-Phillips, Thierry Henry and company, while anything from Rolfe and Silva could really prod DCU forward. Whether it’ll be enough to overcome a 2-0 deficit is another thing, but it is good news.

An end-of-season (mostly) uncapped MLS XI for Jurgen Klinsmann’s approval

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Last week both MLS and the USMNT were in the news for less than savory reasons, as Don Garber responded to Jurgen Klinsmann’s criticism of Michael Bradley’s MLS form with a bevy of strong words.

Here at PST, we like to turn negatives into positives.

[ MLS: Power Rankings | Player of the Week ]

So we thought we’d prop up Garber, who probably would’ve been better suited to express his concerns privately, while sending out notice to Jurgen Klinsmann that he could do well by giving a look to some of these new (or relatively new) faces in his side at some point soon.

Some qualifications: Recently-capped but barely-used USMNT players like Eric Alexander (called up last January but having only two caps) were not included due to them clearly being on Klinsmann’s radar. Pre-Klinsmann capped players like Lee Nguyen make the cut.

Goalkeeper
Steve Clark, Columbus

Honorable mention: Bobby Shuttleworth, New England

Analysis: Clark proved his mettle in Norway and is now looking to be the real deal on American soil. We slight Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson due to actual call-ups, and Shuttleworth has to find that next level to challenge Clark… though his statistics dictate that a playoff run could help his star rise even higher (especially playing behind Jermaine Jones).

Defenders

source: Getty Images

Andrew Farrell, New England
Matt Hedges, FC Dallas
Steve Birnbaum, DC United
Sean Franklin, DC United

Honorable mention: David Horst, Houston; Chris Schuler, Real Salt Lake

Analysis: Farrell is probably a center back down the line, but works for our purposes outside. Hedges is an absolute beast and both Horst and Schuler fall victim to our numbers game.

Midfielders
Amobi Okugo, Philadelphia
Dillon Powers, Colorado
Lee Nguyen, New England
Ethan Finlay, Columbus

Honorable mention: Tony Tchani, Columbus; Kelyn Rowe, New England

Analysis: A Cameroonian by birth, Tchani will sit on the backburner despite buzz that he could be in demand by the States. Powers’ call-up feels inevitable. Nguyen has been dynamite and really seems to be the best example Garber could use of a US player using MLS to prop up his game after being abroad in Vietnam, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Forwards
source: Getty Images
Gyasi Zardes, Los Angeles
Andrew Wenger, Philadelphia

Honorable mention: Jack McInerney, Montreal

Tricky area here. McInerney is the big engine that hasn’t quite shown consistency, while the player he was traded for (Wenger) continues to impress. Zardes has to get a look soon. It would be criminal if he remains overlooked by Klinsmann comes January.

Gonzalez, Keane, Marshall out, Boswell, Edu, Franklin in for MLS All-Stars

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Major League Soccer’s squad for Wednesday’s All-Star Game underwent a minor makeover on Saturday, with the withdrawal of three players forcing Caleb Porter to call in reinforcements. In place of Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Keane, and Chad Marshall, the Portland head coach, who will lead MLS’s stars against Bayern Munich this week, has called on Bobby Boswell, Maurice Edu, and Sean Franklin.

Though Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan is still scheduled to take part in Wednesday’s game, Gonzalez and Keane have been excluded, with Los Angeles scheduled to host the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday. Marshall, who missed Monday’s game against LA after a car accident, has also been withdrawn from the squad.

“Given the limited minutes that Omar and Robbie would need to play due to having a game on Friday and the injury to Chad, I felt we needed to bring in Sean, Bobby and Maurice to provide us with more cover in the back,” Porter said in a statement released by Major League Soccer. “This will also allow us to manage the other players’ time so everyone is ready for their matches on the weekend.”

In their first years with United, Boswell and Franklin have solidified a defense that’s helped D.C. to second in the Eastern Conference. Edu, in his first year back in MLS, has split time between defensive midfield and center back with the Philadelphia Union.

The Marshall injury couldn’t be helped, but with Gonzalez and Keane excluded because of scheduling, it’s worth asking if there were alternatives. Could MLS had done a better job of scheduling the All-Star Game? In a World Cup year, probably not. The league already pushed back the mid-season event because of Brazil 2014. With European seasons quickly approaching, this date was one of the last opportunities to play the game.

The better question is whether Porter’s replacements are the best available, but at this point, I don’t have much patience for the discussion. Boswell wasn’t the best center back missing from the roster, but who knows if players like Drew Moor, Chris Schuler, and Giancarlo Gonzalez made plans after being excluded from the initial squad. Franklin’s had a good year, but picking a left back (Justin Morrow) would have been nice. And whether Edu is being brought in as a midfielder or defender, he’s a justifiable choice, even if you don’t think he’s ideal.

I would have been fine if they named Frank Lampard. Or tried to get David Villa or Kaká to make an appearance. It’s an exhibition, it’s a showcase, and after the initial roster is named (and the non-dressed All-Stars are picked), might as well play to the spectacle.

At this point, though, bring on the game. Need to fill some spots? Let’s see who can show up. Sure, try to be fair about it, but hell, Michael Farfan was an All-Star two years ago. Boswell, Edu, and Franklin are certainly worthwhile picks, given the circumstances.

Moving Dejan Jakovic is the right move for D.C. United

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Signs of “something better” keep appearing around RFK Stadium. Clearly, that’s a low bar considering the historically dreadful season just seen for D.C. United, which was truly woeful across all areas of the field.

But the offseason moves so far all seem to make sense. Clearly, what “makes sense” for D.C. United wouldn’t be what “makes sense” for all clubs. The best example there is Eddie Johnson’s signing. United is so desperate for some quality near opposition goal that it was worth a flier on a guy who doesn’t have a great reputation in the locker room.

That might be a risky move elsewhere; it’s not exactly a master stroke for United, but it does seem rather sensible.

Now, here’s a move that would make sense for any club: jettisoning a high-salaried defender who really isn’t a very good defender.

Canadian international Dejan Jakovic is off to Japan, apparently. Good luck to the man!

Thing is, he didn’t make sense around RFK. If you pay $300K for a defender in MLS, his name had better be Omar Gonzalez or Jamison Olave or perhaps Jose Goncalves. Otherwise, that’s like paying $10 for a beer at the stadium – it’s bad value.

The entire back line is being rebuilt at RFK. Sean Franklin, Nana Attakora and Bobby Boswell have been brought in to join Ethan White. While Franklin and Boswell are not cheap, they are better defenders than Jakovic. Again, it’s about value. And now there’s a little more of it along the back line at RFK.