D.C. United can conclude its 2011 preseason with an undefeated record as they take on Toronto FC today in the finale of the Carolina Challenge Cup. A United win or draw against the team that is currently 0-2 in the competition would ensure that D.C. wins the preseason Tournament for the second straight year. United would also take the title if the Charleston Battery and Chicago Fire draw later tonight, or if either Charleston or Chicago win but fail to catch United's +2 goal differential lead.
Game time: 5:00 pm
Television: The match will be streamed live at dcunited.com
Projected Starting Lineup: Assistant coach Chad Ashton told Travis Clark of MLSsoccer.com yesterday that the chief goal in this match is to avoid injury. So my feeling is that D.C. will use most of its starters, but play them only a half. It wouldn't be a surprise to see every healthy player get at least a few minutes in this one. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see rookie Joe Willis get his first start in goal in the Tournament. The rest of the lineup will probably be very similar to what United used against the Battery, with Daniel Woolard, Dejan Jakovic, Perry Kitchen, and Jed Zayner in defense, Chris Pontius, Clyde Simms, Dax McCarty, and Andy Najar in the midfield, and Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolff up top.
The result doesn't matter too much. Ending the preseason on a high note would be nice, but Ashton is right that escaping without injury is far more important right now.
But this game will definitely still matter to at least a few players. Willis and Brandon Barklage are still fighting to earn contracts. And while I don't have strong feelings about Willis one way or the other (if the club feels that he's not better an MLS pool goalkeeper, and that Bill Hamid will be ready to serve as a potential emergency backup next Saturday, then I'd have no problem with them cutting him), I do think Barklage has done enough to remain with the team. I'd like to see him get at least a half hour of action either on one of the wings or as the central attacking midfielder, and hopefully use it to convince the coaching staff to keep him around.
We had a lively chat here Wednesday afternoon, so come on back at 5:00 and we'll do it again. I'll even have the match video streaming on this very page.