January 27, 2021

D.C. United Analysis: United face tough five-game run prior to World Cup break

For a team that, through 10 matches, has only played Western Conference opponents twice, separating a five-game part of the schedule and highlighting it as not only difficult, but key to D.C. United’s season, might seem a little much given how it compares to the schedule D.C. has already played.

But after failing to beat Major League Soccer’s worst team in Saturday night’s 1-1 home draw to the Montreal Impact, United now faces a five-game run of Eastern opponents that ends on June 10 in Montreal, United’s final match before a two-and-a-half-week World Cup break. The stretch starts at home Wednesday night, when United takes on the Houston Dynamo.

Other matches include at New England, home to Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew, then the trip to Montreal. United is 1-1-2 against these teams already this season, having lost the home opener to the Crew, 3-0, then drawing away to Columbus, 1-1. United beat the Revolution, 2-0, at home, but New England is playing on a far different level lately. United’s matches against SKC and Houston will be the first matchup of the 2014 season between those teams.

Complicating the matter for United is where these teams sit in the standings. With 15 points, United is currently fourth in the East, which would be good enough for a playoff spot at the end of the season. That would be quite the turnaround for a club that went 3-24-7 a year ago, one of the worst MLS campaigns ever.

This upcoming slate, however, will give a good indication of how good United is. Given the club’s improvement this season, a win over Montreal Saturday night should have been expected and D.C. failed to deliver. Now, the opposition gets much more difficult. Houston is 5-5-2 on the season and is third in the East with 17 points. New England (6-3-2) leads the East with 20 points and has scored five goals in each of its last two games. Columbus (3-4-4) only had 13 points, which puts the Crew sixth in the East, just below the current playoff cut line, but United is yet to beat the Crew in two meetings this season, going 0-1-1.

And while the Impact have the worst record in MLS, that match in Montreal will be United’s fifth in 21 days, since D.C. has to play two Wednesday night games before the World Cup break. A potentially fatigued United team will be away from home playing a team it couldn’t figure out how to beat at home, a recipe for trouble.

Even the World Cup Break is a bit of a misnomer, since United will play either at Rochester or home to Reading United A.C. in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, as D.C. will begin its Cup defense after winning the final at Real Salt Lake last year – the team’s third Open Cup triumph. Each previous time United has won the Open Cup, it has lost the final the next season.

These five games won’t decide United’s playoff fate. There will be 19 matches left in the regular season after it and it’s likely at least a couple top players will be rested and miss the Open Cup match. United should also be boosted by finally seeing Eddie Johnson score a goal Saturday night. Though there are defensive questions about whether Cristian Fernandez is the club’s best option at left back after a disappointing performance and his involvement in the Montreal goal. Beyond that, his multiple giveaways hurt United’s attack, as well, though he wasn’t alone in conceding possession unnecessarily.

United has a lot of good things in place with the lay of Fabian Espindola (four goals, four assists), goalkeeper Bill Hamid, and a veteran central defense pairing of Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke that seems to be holding its own. But the next five matches will be telling and should have at least some say in determining how D.C. really stacks up in the Eastern Conference.

NOTES:  The eight MLS matches last night saw a total of 25 goals – eight of them came in New England’s 5-3 win over Philadelphia, while Columbus and Portland played an entertaining 3-3 draw. Portland’s Will Johnson tied the match at 2-2 in the 80th minute, only for the Crew’s Ethan Finlay to put Columbus back ahead seconds later. Despite an equalizer from Gaston Fernandez in the 85th minute, Johnson was frustrated in his postgame interview with Portland television. “We have the heart of a lion,” Johnson said, “and the brain of a goldfish sometimes.” … Portland’s draw left the Timbers 1-3-7, with 10 points in the Western Conference. But surprisingly, it’s the Los Angeles Galaxy who are dead last in the West with just 9 points. LA lost, 1-0, to Houston on Saturday. … Go enjoy this goal from yesterday by Seattle’s Obafemi Martins.

Ed Morgans is the D.C. United Page Editor for District Sports Page. For in-game analysis and story notifications, follow him on Twitter @writered21.

About Ed Morgans

Ed Morgans is DC United Page Editor for District Sports Page. Ed worked for The Journal Newspapers (now The Examiner) and covered DC United from 1997-2002. He spent the 2003 season writing for the club’s website. Ed has covered All-Star Games, MLS Cups, CONCACAF Champions Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and international friendlies. He also worked as a blogger at www.bigsoccer.com, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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