The familiar chords of “Final Countdown” by Europe have been getting louder with each passing day for DC United, as the team looks to close the book on their final season at RFK Stadium and look ahead to a new year in 2018 that will see an exciting young nucleus open up a brand new home in Audi Field. But first the Red & Black will look to cross the finish line on 2017 as they welcome the San Jose Earthquakes to the Nation’s capital on Saturday in their second to last game played at RFK Stadium.
Two months ago, the Earthquakes had to be looking at this game as an easy opportunity to break their road slump and get three valuable road points. But DC United got aggressive in pursuing young talent in the transfer window that would build a strong young nucleus to open their new stadium, signing US International Paul Arriola, his former YNT teammate Russell Canouse, and Hungarian International Zolten Stieber. Despite coming in to Saturday on a two match losing streak, DC United has been much improved in the last two months, picking up results in four of their five matches in August, including a 1-1 draw against Shield leading Toronto FC and handing white hot Atlanta United their most recent defeat on August 23rd. In that time, they’ve been lapped in the race to the bottom for the Wooden Spoon by fellow MLS Originals LA Galaxy and Colorado Rapids.
The Earthquakes come into Saturday’s match on the heels of an emotional, gritty 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo last Saturday, who they jumped in the race for a Western Conference Playoff bid and improbably find themselves sitting in fifth place in the West heading into Saturday’s match. In last Saturday’s victory, Manager Chris Leitch created what he called after the game “a good problem to have” with a formation adjustment to a 4-4-2 and personnel gamble that saw Flo Jungwirth and Jackson Yueill paired in the center of the pitch. With Anibal Godoy and Darwin Ceren out, Leitch was forced to experiment and he masterfully crafted a pairing that complimented each other to perfection and was able to snuff out any danger Houston tried to present while getting forward and helping in the attack. Now with Godoy and Ceren available and a three games in eight days stretch upcoming, look for Leitch to go with experience in a pivotal road game.
DC United Manager Ben Olsen also faces a quagmire in the spine of his side as well as his pairing in Central Defense has been fluid throughout the season. Look for Olsen to continue the pairing of Steve Birnbaum and Kofi Opare, but with Jalen Robinson anchoring the defense with Opare during DC United’s three game winning streak in August, the pressure remains on Birnbaum to live up to his US International status.
While DC United has set their sights on next season, the more immediate goal for 2017 is to close out RFK on a high note and avoid their fourth Wooden Spoon, which would break their tie with the Earthquakes and Chicago Fire for most in league history. DC United has an opportunity to play spoiler, as four of their final five games are against teams sitting in either fifth or sixth in their respective conference, including two with bitter rival and sixth in the East New York Red Bulls.
As the Western Conference begins to settle into place, a top four finish for the Earthquakes seems unlikely with five points separating them from the fourth place Seattle Sounders. With fifth through eighth all level on 38 points, one point behind San Jose, it is imperative that the Earthquakes come away with three points on the road. With their goal differential currently at -17, San Jose will need to outpace the rest of the competition on points if they plan on making their first trip to the postseason since 2012.
San Jose Earthquakes