Whether D.C. United beats the New England Revolution Wednesday night depends upon the best of each DC player showing up - the exact opposite of what happened in Columbus. To us fans, the randomness of who shows up from one match to the next is maddening. We're going to go crazy unless we talk about it. So consider this a place to share your fears...and hopes.
Why are we so afraid? The latter half of DC United's regular season has been equal parts thrilling, frustrating, and enraging. In a word: inconsistent.
This inconsistency is the result of a roster that lost a critical mass of consistently solid players in early August. B&RU's Ben Bromley wrote about what the loss of midfielder Davy Arnaud has meant for DC. And I think that loss was only compounded by the nearly simultaneous season-ending injury to workhorse defensive back Chris Korb. Ever since these two were injured, the team became unmoored. Korb and Arnaud's relentless work ethic stabilized the team in the places where consistency, more so than vision or showmanship, really counts: midfield possession and backline stubbornness. They provided a base beyond which this ship could not sink.
But that base is gone. The team is now at the mercy of players too many of whom, on an individual level, play from one extreme to the next - from inspiring to sloppy, week-to-week. This messes with their confidence, and, as Chris Pontius has pointed out, it's all about confidence at this point. DC is on the high seas, without a Korb anchor or an Arnaud rudder, counting on on-again-off-again players to turn it on and get it right all at once to pull off a victory.
Most fearful about: Taylor Kemp. Kemp is young and shows immense promise. Early in the season, we were wowed by his crosses. He's had 6 assists this season. And his goal versus Real Salt Lake on August 1st was, as B&RU's Ryan Keefer put it, impregnating. That's our defensive back switching to offense. But sometimes a defensive back has got to just defend, especially with Korb on the sidelines. On the backline, we've seen Kemp frequently outmatched of late, ending up on the wrong side of the ball-goal fulcrum, most recently by Columbus's Ethan Finlay. Coach Ben Olsen eventually replaced Kemp in Columbus with Steve Birnbaum with 17 minutes to go. Was it to rest up Kemp for Wednesday, get Birnbaum warmed up for Wednesday, or both?
Most unsure about: Markus Halsti and Perry Kitchen. Since Arnaud left, United has had serious possession issues at midfield. Kitchen seemed to lose his mojo once he lost his midfield partner, and Halsti, whose debut with United featured calm, collected passes bordering on the sublime, has had a couple uninspiring performances late in the season. This yin-and-yang combo of a USMNT contender, who can be part Tasmanian devil in his ferocity, and a Finnish national team star, who can be part Zen master, sounds great in theory but has yet to fully pan out. It needs to pan out Wednesday.
Most hopeful about: Nick DeLeon. DeLeon's play has been on an upward trend since his sophomore slump in 2013. He can still be frustrating at times, occasionally suffering from bouts of striker's block. But he looks hungry. If you see DeLeon have a good game, start taking shots on goal, scoring a goal, you can expect United to send New England home packing.
Share your hopes and fears. This is a mostly safe space.