Going into Saturday's game between bottom-feeders Houston Dynamo and D.C. United, Martin Shatzer of SB Nation's very own Black and Red United and I tossed some questions at each other about the matchup and the state of the Dynamo and United.
While neither team is in the race for the playoffs, both teams will be playing for pride and will be looking to finish off 2010's remaining games on a positive note.
Here's what Martin and I have to say about that and more.
Both DC United and the Houston Dynamo have had awful seasons; for DC United, this season hasn't been much better than last, but this is the first time Houston has missed the playoffs since the club's start in Texas. With both teams at the bottom of the table, what's the point of this game and what do you expect from your team and the Dynamo?
I absolutely expect D.C. United to go for the win. The team has been fighting harder since Ben Olsen took over as head coach last month, even though it doesn't show in the standings. Olsen stated the goal of finishing without the worst record in the league. Houston is just five points ahead of United right now, so three points tomorrow would be a big step in that direction for D.C. A tie would do us no good, so count on United pushing for the win at all costs.
DC United's top goal scorer this season (four goals so far) is Andy Najar, a 17-year old homegrown rookie. Is he a key player in United's future and the eventual face of this club? Is Najar as the top goal scorer a positive sign for DC's future or indicative of a deeper problem with attacking soccer and an inability to score goals?
You nailed it. Our top scorer should not be a 17-year-old winger. Andy Najar has been one of the few bright spots on this team in 2010. He's probably the only player on the team who can beat defenders through his speed and ball skills and score on his own, but he's also a threat on crosses. He scored a header over Omar Gonzalez off a free kick earlier this summer.
I don't see Najar turning into the face of the club though. We fans are resigned to the assumption that he's only going to be here for another year or two before heading to Europe. With the pending retirement of Jaime Moreno, the face of the club is Santino Quaranta, along with our two injured sophomores, Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace.
While Houston doesn't have the toughest last five games (DC United, Seattle, Philadelphia, New England and San Jose) and DC United still has games left against Houston, Colorado, San Jose, Chicago and Toronto, all of which could be difficult for a struggling team, it is seemingly unlikely that either team will pick up many (or any) points ahead of the offseason. So it seems that DC and Houston are now in a battle for last place, which would mean getting the third pick in this year's MLS Super Draft. Would a last place finish be unexpected, why or why not? And, what do you think DC would do with a solid first round draft pick?
While the team is going to do everything they can to avoid it, right now I'm expecting D.C. United to finish in last place. The team looked like it was headed in the right direction, but those two goals conceded in the last 10 minutes against the Los Angeles Galaxy was a major setback. With the third pick in the MLS draft next season, you can count on D.C. pursuing a forward or attacking midfielder. We're on the verge of setting a record for the fewest goals scored in a season, so finding a new striker or two is imperative heading into 2011.
Bonus Question: DC United is giving away a free supporters flag to the first 5,000 fans who walk through the gates Saturday night. What odds do you give that there are a couple hundred of those leftover going to the front office's kids?
What may be surprising about D.C. United is that the fan base is very loyal. This is our worst season ever, but the diehard fans have not stopped showing up. Attendance will probably be somewhere around 12,000.
I think Martin makes some good observations about D.C. United and that Saturday night's game should be interesting. What I can't figure out is who Dominic Kinnear will list in his starting lineup. For the last few weeks, fans have been calling for him to play the "kids" and those who haven't seen much playing time this season. While there is some merit to letting the backups play, Coach Kinnear does not see "garbage time" games as an excuse to lose and play the youngsters.
"You don't just get to play because maybe we're looking ahead," Kinnear said. "I think you still need to earn to play, no matter what sport and what career you're in. It's not 'Well, hey, we're going to give these guys time.' They have to earn that."
The Dynamo head coach knows that he is there to win games, regardless of what's at stake.
"Our purpose is to go there and try to win the game," Kinnear said.
So who starts for Houston? It's hard to tell, so let's look at two lineups, one realistic and one with the backups and young players seeing some action.
Realistic Dynamo Starting XI
Not-So-Realistic 'Young' Dynamo Starting XI
The game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CSTs and is available for viewing on MLS Direct Kick, KHOU 11.2 and TV Informa. Or you can listen at 790 AM (English) or 850 AM (Spanish).