D.C. United fans are used to hearing the term "Games In Hand" quite often recently. As in "United has multiples Games In Hand against the struggling New York Red Bulls so we should be able to make the 2011 Playoffs." That was the refrain heard quite often around these parts last year.
Now we look at the Games In Hand number quite differently. Now we D.C. fans use the term to help temper our expectations. Because yeah, we're in first place, but we've played more games than just about everyone else. Now the refrain we hear across the league is "United is giving up one Game In Hand to the Sporting Kansas City, the Chicago Fire, and the Houston Dynamo, three Games In Hand to the Columbus Crew, and 18 Games In Hand to the New York Cosmos." Those are the only other teams capable of competing with us for the Eastern Conference title.
This weekend, we're forced to watch from the sidelines as those Games In Hand disappear. With United just one point clear of the Sporks in the standings, its possible that we could lose our grasp on first place without even playing a game. United is off this week, while everyone else in the league is on.
Many teams have even already played a game mid-week as MLS incomprehensibly failed to schedule any matches in historical American cities on the Fourth Of July. We watched on Tuesday night as Houston and Chicago played to a scoreless draw, much to our satisfaction. But we also watched in horror on Wednesday night as the Montreal Impact failed to hold home field against Kansas City.
So what then should we be watching for this weekend? And who should we be rooting for?Saturday July 7 at 8:00 PM: Houston at Kansas City. With both teams playing well and in the playoff picture, a draw might be the best result for United, although earning a point at home would propel Sporting into a tie with D.C. atop the standings, with only goal differential keeping United on top. On the other hand, a road win for the Dynamo would move them up to fourth place in the conference while allowing D.C. to maintain a single-point lead on KC.
Sunday July 8 at 3:00 PM: LA Galaxy at Chicago. They'll be without David Beckham, but still with plenty of stars active and in-form. As unnatural as it may seem, United fans should be rooting hard for the Galaxy in this one.
Sunday July 8 at 4:00 PM: Toronto FC at Philadelphia Union. The Union have only 14 points, but they have three Games In Hand against United, and are much improved since firing Peter Nowak. John Hackworth's team just knocked off the Galaxy earlier this week, so rooting for a TFC win to keep the Union out of contention would be a fair position for D.C. fans.
Sunday July 8 at 7:00 PM: New York at New England Revolution. The Revs have also been inconsistent this year, but they're undefeated in four-straight matches. Hopefully they can keep that streak alive against the Red Bulls.
Sunday July 8 at 7:30 PM: Columbus at Montreal. We know as well as anybody how the hapless the Impact can be when playing on short rest. They managed only one shot on goal against United last weekend. We'll need to see them do better tomorrow against the Crew, as the visitors will be able to leap into playoff position with a win.
Since we'll be without a GameThread this week, let's use this as an Open Thread to discuss this week's MLS matches as they happen.