Hamdi Salihi has scored once against Toronto FC already this year. Can he do it again? (Hint: Yes)
The last time that D.C. United faced off with Toronto FC, the Reds were desperate because they had yet to earn a point during the MLS regular season. Much has changed for both teams since then, but that fact certainly hasn't. TFC has yet to earn a win or tie so far this season, and they're desperately hoping to change that at RFK Stadium on Saturday.
Since it was just two weeks ago that United earned a 2-0 win in Toronto, and just two weeks since we exchanged three questions with Duncan Fletcher of Waking The Red ahead of that match, we asked just one question to SB Nation's resident TFC expert this time around: What's changed?
WTR: What's changed? Actually quite a bit. That defeat and the very defensive way TFC played in that game seemed to lead to a bit of an existential crisis, and the most depressing set of post game interviews ever. Since then though, after a clear the air meeting, we're on a 2 week unbeaten streak, knocked Montreal out of the Voyageurs Cup, and came within an Eric Hassli injury time wondergoal of keeping a second consecutive clean sheet. Even with that goal, TFC got a 1-1 tie in the away leg of the final, with the return leg going this upcoming wednesday. If only we didn't have to think of this whole league thing.
A big part of that success is the potential (too early to tell just yet) fixing of the biggest problem they've had all year, centre backs. The Montreal game was the first time Adrian Cann got paired with 19 year old Doneil Henry, and they looked quite good together. The Vancouver game was the first time in a long time we played the same cb partnership in 2 straight games, and again, it worked nicely. They'll hopefully be together again against DC, and I guess we'll see how they do in an MLS game.
There's also been a bit of a shuffle in the coaching ranks, with Aron Winter's right hand man Bob de Klerk moving from assistant coach to a vague "Technical manager" position amid our already bloated management structure, and former player and captain Jim Brennan moving from under 17 academy coach to assistant manager. There's all sorts of theories about what it all means, why it happened, if this is the beginning of the end, a compromise to delay the end, or a strengthening of his position for Winter. I'm not entirely happy with it, and think it'll weaken the first team, but I guess time will tell.
Torsten Frings took shots in his shoulder to play against Montreal, then had to miss the game against Vancouver because his shoulder felt like shit, so who knows if he'll play on Saturday, but Danny Koevermans is back from injury, he came off the bench on Wednesday and may well get the start up front. And that's about it really.I also shared my thoughts on the changes that Toronto fans should expect from D.C. United on Saturday night. Here's my response.
Much like TFC's top line could be different on Saturday with the possible addition of Danny Koevermans, D.C. United's top line will be the most noticeable difference. When these teams last met, United's forward pairing for several games running was Maicon Santos and Chris Pontius. They had been an effective pairing, each offering very different strengths, but they both exited early from United's match against the Houston Dynamo last Saturday due to relatively minor injuries, and sat out Wednesday's win over the Colorado Rapids. And while Pontius and Santos have both been upgraded to probable for the visit from Toronto FC, it seems unlikely at this point that Ben Olsen will depart from the partnership of Dwayne De Rosario and Hamdi Salihi that was so successful against Colorado. Each forward scored a goal in that 2-0 win for United. If DeRo and Salihi start together, that means a far less predictable attack than you saw last time with Santos and Pontius. We entered the season thinking that DeRo and Santos would be easily the top forward pairing for United, but it hasn't been true until now. And their potential together is sky high.
The other differences might not be as noticeable. Rookie standout Nick DeLeon has been sidelined for a few matches now with a hamstring strain, but Andy Najar has filled in on his left wing quite admirably. The midfield might also include designated player Branko Boskovic, who turned in a great performance against the Rapids earlier in the week, but has been highly inconsistent throughout his MLS career.
The defense has the biggest number of question marks, but that's actually a good thing for United. While the central defensive partnership of Brandon McDonald and Daniel Woolard has given up only one goal from three matches together, its hardly an ideal pairing, and it may never be seen again as top choice defenders Emiliano Dudar and Dejan Jakovic are recovering from injuries and could be ready to start, allowing Woolard to move back to his preferred left side. If Dudar is healthy enough to play, another clean sheet for Bill Hamid is exactly what all should expect.