Word today, courtesy of Goff, is that United midfielder "Fred has a Grade 2 hamstring strain and will miss the final three matches of the regular season." Which really means that Fred is done until next year. Fred, Luciano Emilio and Marcello Gallardo are out with various injuries, and Jaime Moreno will sit this weekend due to a red card suspension, which means that Tommy Soehn will probably start Santino Quaranta and/or Rod Dyachenko in the playmaker role, Dyachenko can't do and Quaranta would make a valiant effort but it is not his forte either. Yesterday, Goff listed the squad that will travel to Costa Rica for the CONCACAF Champions League match against Saprissa and Soehn is carrying just 16 players!!! Among that 16, only four would be considered regular starting figures. I smell a blowout.
While I am a DC fan, I am a realistic DC fan and this year has stunk up the joint. Unlike some DC fans, I will not make excuses and one analysis is pretty dead on. Other clubs have faced injuries, fixture congestion, and international play. Some clubs have given up (see New England) and some clubs have tried to rise to teh challenge (see Houston). But lets face it, these are just excuses.
The normally smart and talented Kevin Payne did not do so well in the scouting and player acquisition market. Yes, Gallardo was a great addition, but he has spent the crux of the season on the injury list. Not Payne's fault of course, but DC waited too long to rid themselves of Franco Niell and had a disasterous selection in Jose Carvalho, and failed to dump him and get a back up to Zach Wells that would create pressure on Wells to perform. In short, while some of the most recent acquisitions, like Joe Vide and Thabiso Khumalo look like they could really work for DC next year and a few young players like Ryan Cordiero and Craig Thompson have the earmarks of solid squad players, the fact is that this team is being held together by tape and bandages.
Of course as a DC fan, this is disappointing. But when you take a squad of reserves to Costa Rica to take on a club like Saprissa, I don't care what Payne and Soehn say about taking the Champions League seriously, their actions certainly belie their words. This has been one of the most dismal seasons in United history, from the start to the finish.
There are perhpas three bright spots to take away from this year:
1. Winning the U.S. Open Cup means Champions League next year. Of course, DC will have to qualify for the group stage, but they should be able to do that.
2. Santino Quaranta is starting to play like he promised those many years ago when he first came to DC and before his now public drug problem. Quaranta's progress gives me hope for next year.
3. DC United doesn't such as bad as the LA Galaxy.
I suppose you could find some other lights in this otherwise dark season, but they won't be very bright ones.
Yes, clubs goes through ups and downs and this year could simply be a down year for United. I am willing to chalk it up to that and move on. But assuming DC United scrape into the Playoffs--as unlikely as that appears--I won't count on the ambulance crew to get past the first round, where DC will face Columbus in the first round and I just don't see the Crew faltering this year. (DC mathematically cannot catch New England and the only way DC can catch Chicago is if DC wins their next three games and Chicago loses all three. Even then, DC would have to score 17 goals in three games to make up the goal difference, so even if DC wins out the season and can scrape by Kansas City and New York, they will still be in fourth place.)
So a down year, disappointing as it was, can often be the foundation for a great year. But for now, DC is playing for pride and little else.