It can be pretty difficult for MLS clubs to scout their non-Liga MX opponents in the CONCACAF Champions League, but hopefully D.C. United will have done whatever they can before tonight's game against Arabe Unido. La Furia Colonense is a perennial CCL qualifier and have occasionally made it through to the knockout round. More importantly for United, Sergio Guzman's side is thus far unbeaten in the league - 4 wins and a draw to start the season - and handily beat Montego Bay United 3-0 in Group H's opening game.
A big part of Arabe's consistent success is that they're very professionally run. While American audiences know them mainly as "that team that is more CONCACAF-y than any other CONCACAF team" based on a consistent tendency towards gamesmanship and acrimonious matches, there's a reason they keep getting back to this stage. Top to bottom, all the signs point to this being the best-run club in Panama. In other words, they aren't going to be caught off-guard by United, and they're probably not lose because of a lack of fitness or organization.
In watching that CCL clash, I noticed that Arabe Unido started out in a diamond midfield, but once they scored a crucial second goal just before halftime (fortunate though it may have been), they re-aligned to a flat 442 that works very similarly to United's. With the Black-and-Red the favorites in this group, I suspect that latter look is what we'll see from the home team.
In goal, Miguel Lloyd is a solid enough pair of hands. The veteran from the Dominican Republic spent two years in Argentine soccer with Talleres and Racing when he was still a young prospect. In more recent years, he was at fellow CCL side W Connection and has been Arabe's top keeper for about 3 years now. If this game goes poorly for the home side, he's probably not going to be the reason.
The fullback roles are generally handed out to Rigoberto Niño on the right and 21 year old Daniel Ortiz on the left. Ortiz was rested for their midweek win over Sporting San Miguelito, so he should start tonight. Niño, on the other hand, went the full 90 minutes. Angel Patrick - who was in Panama's Gold Cup squad this summer - might be in line for a start instead. In central defense, veterans Fidel Caesar and Jean Cedeño are stable enough. However, each has a weakness: Caesar can be pretty slow on the turn, while Cedeño - a converted defensive midfielder - can display a bit of a Dejan Jakovic-esque tendency to take one too many touches on the ball
In the midfield, Yoel Barcenas seems likely to start on the right. He actually spent a bit of time up front against Montego Bay while Arabe played in the diamond, but in the 442 they kept him at right midfield. Luis Pereira started their midweek game but played less than an hour; as such, he's also in contention. Barcenas is the more attacking option, while Pereira will look to retain possession more often.
Abdiel Macea was substituted a little over an hour into that same midweek match, and in all likelihood he'll be starting this game. If he can't go, Leslie Heraldez will step in. Both players are capable of playing at the base of a diamond, and at least in Macea's case I'd say he probably prefers that deeper role. Jose Gonzalez - scorer of their somewhat farcical opening goal against Montego Bay - played the entire match against San Miguelito but Arabe really relies on his ability to cover a ton of ground. In a game as big as this one, he'll probably start. Patrick could theoretically replace him, but I'd be surprised to see that.
Out on the left, Josimar Gomez is a rather flamboyant player. If Arabe prefers the diamond, he'll play at the point but will roam around looking for openings rather than staying centrally all the time. Out on the left against Montego Bay, he looked a little subdued, but he still has adequate speed to play a wide role.
Up front, Renan Addles reminds me of Jurgen Klinsmann's description of Clint Dempsey: He "tries shit." It's not always a good idea, and Addles is nowhere near as good as Dempsey, but the backbreaking second goal Arabe Unido scored last week was an example of the 25 year old's mindset. Addles just decided to blast the ball as hard as he could without getting under it, and the resulting shot dipped enough to deceive Jacomeno Barrett and fly into the net. It was bad goalkeeping, to be sure, but it only happens because Addles thought "why the hell not?" He also managed to sombrero two different Montego Bay defenders inside the box, then fake past a third before badly slicing his shot wide in the opening moments of that same game. He's going to go for it every time he's on the ball, basically, and that audacity can be a threat even if he only delivers in the technique department every once in a while.
His partner will probably be Armando Polo, who returned to the club from Guatemalan side Deportivo Coatepeque. Polo is not a particularly big player, but he has a target man's instincts. Arabe's ability to get in behind Montego Bay's defense often relied on Polo's good first touch and his quickness in shuttling the ball off to a runner. I'm not sure he'll be able to hold things up quite so well against United's larger center backs, but like Jairo Arrieta knows, half the battle up front is avoiding that initial contact rather than going all David vs. Goliath.
Off the bench, I'd expect Pereira to come in for Barcenas (or possibly Gonzalez) at some point. I also think we'll see Enrico Small, who lives up to his name (he's probably only 5'5"). Small is a bundle of energy, though, and has good speed. He's been used as a supersub for two or three years now in CCL play, and there's no reason to expect that to change. Abdiel Arroyo - who at 21 has previously done well in this tournament and has caps for Panama - is stuck behind Polo at the moment, but it seems safe to expect him to come on.