This is a game that D.C. United needs to win. It is not a must win, as they can still make the playoffs without it; dropping points, however, would lead to talk of backing into the playoffs rather than the team controlling its own destiny. More than that, even, there is still a chance that United could catch the New York Red Bulls or the Chicago Fire and get out of the play-in round. For example, the MetroStars play the Fire, Sporting Kansas City, and the Philadelphia Union to end their season.
But it all starts with a team that D.C. United has already beaten twice this season, Toronto FC. Popular wisdom has always said that it is difficult to beat a team three times in one season, and that holds true for this game as well. But if we have learned anything from Ben Olsen's lineups this past few weeks, it is that he will not keep the same starting 11 from the previous week. For all of the calls that Olsen settle on his best 11, he has steadfastly refused to do so. Is it just so crazy that it could work?
Now, I know you are all rolling in your seats, laughing at me for having the audacity to predict that Hamdi Salihi will be in the starting lineup this Saturday. But hear me out! Can you tell me who the only player that has scored in both of the games that D.C. United has played against Toronto FC this season? You guessed it: Hamdi Salihi. The skills that Lionard Pajoy brings on the ball and his ability to dribble through traffic would be well suited to a partner like Salihi, who knows how to put the ball into the back of the net. (Really, it would be better if we could merge them into Hamdi Pajoy, but you take what you can get.)
Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon, Andy Najar, and even Chris Korb have been putting a decent amount of crosses into the box, even if the team has not been scoring on them. If you look at the Opta chalkboard's for the last three games, it was actually the match against the Philadelphia Union that had the least crosses. Can Salihi be the poor man's Chris Wondolowski next to Lionard Pajoy's Steven Lenhart? That remains to be seen. If it is not working in the 55th minute, Olsen can still do what he always does: pull Salihi for someone like Branko Boskovic, Lewis Neal, or Maicon Santos and give the team a spark of energy off the bench.
With this lineup, the subs would be Joe Willis, Branko Boskovic, Maicon Santos, Lewis Neal, Ethan White, Robbie Russell, and Raphael Augusto. What do you all see happening?