They have new found swagger and they have unbeaten streaks. The San Jose Earthquakes and D.C. United were both spectators in the playoffs last season, but ahead of their Wednesday meeting they are Major League Soccers hottest teams.
For United the match against the Earthquakes will be the first of three straight games on the road and the Black and Red begins its journey with a league-high seven game unbeaten streak punctuated by consecutive wins for the first time since 2009. The Earthquakes have not lost in six matches.
Oh and the swagger is there and was on display for United and the Earthquakes in their most recent matches. Steven Lenhart scored two goals including the game winner in the 93rd minute to life the Quakes to a 2-1 win in Philadelphia. At home United navigated through a disciplined Houston team to win 3-2 on the strength of two Maicon Santos goals.
Theres something to this team, theyve got a little bit of chutzpah, United head coach Ben Olsen said after Saturdays victory over the Dynamo. We had a couple plays when we fouled up, and Houston capitalized and we had guys bail them out. Thats part of being a team.
Now the trick is for United to survive and excel away from home while dealing with the loss of Emiliano Dudar on defense. Dudar is now sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered against the Dynamo. A hamstring injury forced Dudar to miss two games in April. When healthy Dudar has arguably been Uniteds best defender with a precise ability to distribute from the back.
We have some options, Olsen said of Uniteds need to replace Dudar in the first eleven. Perrys (Kitchen) played there before; Robbies (Russell) played there; Daniel Woolards played there. Its not ideal because Dudars been a stud, and well be missing him.
Olsen is confident that United will weather Dudars loss and noted, theres some spirit to this team, and a little adversity isnt going to scare them. Uniteds adversity includes the absence of defender Dejan Jakovic who is recovering from an ankle sprain. Brandon McDonald has been the constant in the middle of Uniteds defense and has only missed one game because of suspension.
With Dudar and Jakovic missing, its hard not to envision Perry Kitchen moving back to the back line from defensive midfield. Kitchen moved to right back when Dudar was injured and then Robbie Russell slotted in next to McDonald. Marcelo Saragosa is back from Brazil after the death of his father and can again be the top choice at defensive midfielder.
United has plenty of healthy options in attack. Up front a connection is being made between Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos. Over the last four games Santos and Pontius have combined to score eight of Uniteds ten goals. Each has found the net four times and Pontius with his runs is drawing defenders and opening space for Santos.
Maicon is a big boy and willing to do a lot of the work as far as holding the balls up and fighting, said Olsen. Chris is very mobile underneath and behind. He plays off Maicon very well. For now, its a good partnership.
The Earthquakes also boast impressive offensive options. Chris Wondolowski has scored 42 goals since the start of the 2010 MLS season, including eight this year. He was shutout last week against Philadelphia, but Lenharts two goals delivered San Joses first win without a Wondolowski goal since last June.