It's been weeks - months? - since D.C. United gave us a league match to feel truly comfortable with, but Montego Bay United will hardly arrive for tonight's CONCACAF Champions League match feeling confident. MBU has changed coaches very recently, appointing Tim Hankinson, and they opened the group stage with a thud in losing 3-0 in Panama to Arabe Unido. As Charles Boehm laid out at MLSsoccer.com yesterday, the off-the-field concerns a club from Jamaica has to deal with in traveling for CCL play are also substantial.
The Black-and-Red, for their part, will try to be as unsympathetic as possible once the whistle blows. United's 1-0 win in Panama City saw them take control of Group H, but they'll only maintain their grip by winning twice at RFK. Despite the crop of reserves Ben Olsen will likely select tonight, the fact is that United's supposed B team has played more matches together in recent weeks than Montego Bay has. As a result, all the pressure will be on DCU to get the job done tonight and put themselves within one win of clinching a spot in next year's knockout round.
Key player: Markus Halsti
The Finn will be important in both directions tonight. Defensively, his positional sense will need to be keen due to Montego Bay's undeniable team speed. Halsti is going to have to be very smart for 90 minutes, picking the space he needs to occupy before the visitors have even really gotten their counterattacks moving. United can't match MBU for speed, so getting the mental game right is key.
On offense, Halsti's role may be an even bigger factor. Montego Bay is likely to focus on staying as compact as possible, but they appeared a long way away from an unbreakable side against Arabe Unido. Halsti's ability to spread the field out with his passing will pull them out of their shape, and his passing range means United could have the option of playing a forward in over the top as well.
Key question: Can United be as cruel as Arabe Unido was to Montego Bay?
In this group of Uniteds, the first two games outlined a pretty clear pecking order. Arabe didn't have much of the ball against Montego Bay on matchday 1, but they made their early control of the match count with a goal inside the first half hour. Adding to it, they seized on a goalkeeping mistake to essentially end the game just before halftime.
Montego Bay is around a month away from the start of their season, and they've had their preseason prep disrupted by a coaching change to boot. United may not be at their best right now in MLS play - far from it, sadly - but they have been pretty efficient when it comes to dealing with teams from lesser leagues. United will be in a very strong position with a win tonight, but matching or exceeding Arabe's 3-0 result against MBU would be a nice hedge against the admittedly unlikely prospect of Arabe Unido coming to RFK and taking three points in three weeks. A loss in that game would more or less turn the group into a goal difference race, and this is the single best opportunity to pad that number for the Black-and-Red.
Match date/time: Wednesday 8/25, 8:00pm Eastern
Venue: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
TV: Fox Sports 2 (English)
Online: Fox Sports Go (English), Fox Soccer 2Go (English, requires subscription)
Our gamethread will be up an hour before kickoff.