We know it was a possibility, and that chance became more concrete this morning when D.C. United released their injury report ahead of tomorrow night's game against the Portland Timbers: Eddie Johnson might miss this one.
EJ (hamstring) and Franklin (foot) listed as questionable for the Portland match. If I were a betting man I'd put money on them sitting out.— Pablo Maurer (@MLSist) May 2, 2014
Sean Franklin joins the striker under the "questionable" category, but we all know and expect the newly healthy Chris Korb to step up at fullback in place of the former Galaxy defender. How to replace EJ, though, is a more open question. Check out the options and then vote in our poll.
Option 1: Conor Doyle
This is probably the most obvious swap. It's like-for-like, as Doyle's strengths in build-up play are similar to EJ's. He can hold the ball up and find defenders. He'll also contribute a lot of selfless running, which might free up Fabian Espindola to be even more of a headache for the Portland defense. But he doesn't provide much in the way of goalscoring, only finding the net twice in his not-quite-yearlong tenure with the Black-and-Red (and both times against the Montreal Impact). Definitely the conservative, safe choice.
Option 2: Luis Silva
This is most assuredly not a like-for-like switch, as Silva is much more a #10, preferring to sit behind the front line of the attack, in space where he can playmake. He started the season somewhat slowly in Ben Olsen's 4-1-3-2, finding his feet against Chicago just in time to go down with an ankle sprain. To Silva's bad luck, the tactical switch to a flatter 4-4-2 has led to a 5-match unbeaten streak. Should Silva go in for Johnson, though, I would expect him to be playing as a second forward, or perhaps as the central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 with Espindola leading the line. Crowding the midfield would counter Portland's thee-man central zone, and the movement of Espindola and Silva would be difficult for Pa Modou Kah and Futty Dunso - Portland's center back Great Wall of Gambia - to deal with. Using him would greatly reduce United's aerial presence, though, and we'd be doing a lot more playing in front of the defense without a true hold-up man to occupy the center backs. Probably a more ambitious option than Doyle, but by no means a sure thing to succeed.
Option 3: Chris Rolfe
Rolfe has always fancied himself more a second forward than a midfielder, and this might be his opportunity to play that role with DC for the first time. Like Silva, his movement alongside Espindola's would be very tough for Portland's defenders to handle, but unlike his younger teammate, Rolfe appears to have developed a quick understanding with the Argentine, making the combination potentially even more dangerous. Moving him from the midfield would mean another change in the lineup, though, and possibly a tactical shift if Ben Olsen doesn't like his direct replacements for the former Fire man (perhaps back to the 4-1-3-2 with Silva in the center of the band of three). This choice would lead to the greatest number of possible permutations, which isn't necessarily a good thing.
Option 4: Michael Seaton
Now I should say at the outset that I don't even know whether the just-turned-18-year-old (Happy day-after-your-birthday, Mikey!) has traveled to Portland with the team or instead reported to his usual duties on loan with the Richmond Kickers. He might even still be nursing an injury himself. But if he can go for United and EJ can't, his speed, strength and form for Richmond make him a tempting choice. He's probably the best in the air of the available options, and he's got the best recent goalscoring record (albeit in USL PRO) of the lot. We know he's inexperienced, however, and both he and United might be better served by letting him continue to work with the Kickers rather than yo-yoing him between the two.
So, sports fans, who's your choice? Vote in the poll and let us know your reasons down in the comments.