Given the unfortunate results of the Chicago/Chivas and Marathon/San Juan matches last night, a WIN for DC United on Saturday has now become all the more crucial. The number of playoff spots at stake just dropped from 3 to 2 with the Fire's victory. What's worse though is that the loss by Chivas USA means that Columbus has now clinched the Supporter's Shield, and therefore will have nothing to play for in their final match against the Revolution on Sunday.
So if Saturday's match against the Wizards is a must-win, we are obviously going to have to put our best possible lineup on the field. Given the many different combinations that we've seen from DC this season, that's not easy to determine. But here are a few things that I think are fairly simple:
1. Steve Cronin should and will start. After dropping 3 league matches at home in a row with Wicks and Kocic each playing 1.5 matches, Cronin has been a breath of fresh air and gives us our best chance of winning.
2. We're down to 2 1/2 competent defenders on our active roster. Devon McTavish's strong showing on Tuesday night gave me hope that he could fill in for Namoff at right back for this match and for all of our playoff matches (ha!). But without McTavish, the only good defenders we have left are Jakovic, James, and Burch (you can guess who the 1/2 is). This is leading me towards a return to the 3-5-2 formation that had us in first place for a good chunk of the early parts of the season.
3. Ben Olsen, Christian Gomez, and Jaime Moreno will not let this team fail! Despite his injuries over the years, Olsen has remained our hardest worker and sets an example for the other players on the field. Gomez has had a tendency to show up big for us in big games in the past. I'll never forget his performance in the second leg of our playoff series against Chicago in 2007 when Gomez scored one goal, and then came within a handball call away from equalizing the series in stoppage time. With 8 goals, Moreno is #2 on the team in scoring this season. More importantly though, his 0.0067 goals per minute is by far the best on the team. Emilio has 0.0049 and Gomez has 0.0038. For comparison's sake, Conor Casey has 0.0080 and Donovan has 0.0053. The question then is why Moreno has only earned 1,190 minutes and 11 starts? That needs to change if we're going to have a chance of making the playoffs.
4. Boyzzz Khumalo is not a starting winger. Especially not in a 3-5-2 where the wingers have more defensive responsibility. I love Khumalo as a substitute to bring speed and energy against a tired opponent late in the match, but that doesn't make him a 90 minute player.
With all that said, our starting lineup for me is looking really freakin' obvious. I post my proposed starting lineup on Twitter before just about every match, but I've never been 100% right before. This is the first time that I'll be surprised if I don't get it right. Here's what we're looking at:
There's really no reason why we shouldn't win this game. Kansas City looked disinterested in defending in their match against the Sounders last week, and I'd hate to think that the combination of Gomez/Moreno/Emilio is less creative and less dynamic than that squad. Of course we'll need some help from some other teams too, but if we lose or tie to the Wizards, then we do not deserve to be in the playoffs, and it will be a really rough offseason.