Until just a few days ago, figuring out which Arabe Unido players would start against D.C. United seemed pretty straightforward. There was a suspension to account for, but beyond that the team seemed to pick itself. And that's for good reason: The only loss Arabe Unido has suffered this season under Colombian boss Juan Guzman was United's 1-0 victory down in Panama last month. In league play, they've got 7 wins and 2 draws from 9 games (having only conceded 5 times in the process).
However, just three days ago la furia Colonense announced two big signings: Midfielder Armando Cooper - an on-again, off-again target for various MLS teams over the year - and defender Luis Fraiz both left European clubs and have signed on with Arabe. Cooper is returning to the club after spending the last 4 years playing in Argentina, Romania, and most recently with FC St. Pauli in the German 2.Bundesliga. He has 54 caps for Panama and is very much in their current best 11. Fraiz, meanwhile, was on loan with Italian side Frosinone as they earned promotion to Serie A; he's returning to Arabe Unido because he couldn't get playing time. He hasn't played for Panama's senior team just yet, but at 22 the left wingback/midfielder is a regular for their under-23s.
Those are big moves for a club that seemed to lack the mettle necessary to compete in the CCL based on the first meeting between these sides. Cooper is apparently just treating this as a stopover until the winter window opens up in Europe, but if he's eligible - and nothing I've read has indicated anything beyond the duo being available to play Chepo FC in Arabe's next league match - he's precisely the kind of player Guzman's club needed last month.
Other than that, I'm expecting the flat 442 that Arabe has gone with whenever they're worried about defensive solidity (rather than the diamond Guzman usually plays and switched to after 33 minutes in the first meeting):
In goal, Miguel Lloyd is a stable shot-stopper, but isn't the best coming off of his line. This seems to be the result of questionable footwork combined with some iffy judgment. If United can get more than one runner into the area, crosses may put him in a very difficult position.
Right back Rigoberto Niño ended up being one of Arabe's best players last month, and I'd expect more of the same from him this time around. He may not be in the reckoning for the Panamanian national team, but he's solid enough and adds plenty to the attack as well. On the left, Daniel Ortiz is more vulnerable; if Fraiz has the relevant paperwork to take the field, Guzman may be tempted to play him from the start even though he's only had a few training sessions since returning home.
In central defense, Fidel Caesar will likely captain the side as he did at the Estadio Maracana. The veteran will not have his normal partner, however: Jean Cedeño was booked in both of Arabe's CCL games thus far, which means he is suspended for tonight's match. 20 year old Shaquille Coronado appears to be the clear option to replace Cedeño in the heart of the defense. United's goal in Panama came right up the gut; with an inexperienced player stepping in, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Ben Olsen's team looking to replicate the combination play that opened up that space.
In the midfield, look for Leslie Heraldez and Abdiel Macea to set up as a conservative double pivot. However, if Guzman decides to go back to the diamond - and that's a safe bet unless the visitors have a lead to protect in the second half - look for Heraldez to get the hook. In that alignment, Macea will sit deep, and the attacking midfield role will go to either Josimar Gomez, Renan Addles, or Cooper if the latter is available.
On the flanks, Gomez will start out on the right while Jose Gonzalez will set up on the left. If Cooper is available, however, look for him to replace Gomez in the starting lineup. Cooper has both creative vision and speed, so he'll be a major threat if he plays. If Gomez or Cooper are moved into the middle in the aforementioned switch to a diamond, look for Joel Barcenas to come in on the right. Gomez and Gonzalez could switch wings without too much of an issue, and Gonzalez's mobility in general serves to unbalance defenses. He has a knack for attacking teams at angles they aren't expecting.
Up top, Addles should be partnered by Armando Polo, who was held out of this weekend's 2-0 win over Alianza FC. He and Caesar were the only likely starters to rest in that game, however, so United will be the fresher team. Addles is a creative player, but he has no chill. Arabe Unido as a team tends to look only for killer balls instead of showing anything resembling patience; Addles is a big reason why. Polo, meanwhile, is mostly a poacher; he does work hard and can finish pretty well, but in build-up play he's not going to contribute much.
Off the bench, Cooper and Fraiz could both be options if they got their ITC paperwork in time to have made the trip. Barcenas is also an option if the diamond is preferred, or if Gomez simply gets tired. Pint-sized striker Enrico Small is also a possibility if Arabe wants Addles to drop in as the #10. Small is very fast and has a pesky air about him, so he could sub in whether or not a formation change is coming. Abdiel Arroyo should be a bigger name for this club, but the 21 year old appears to have plateaued after bursting onto the scene with CCL goals as a teenager. He'll still probably get into this game, particularly if Polo is struggling to make an impact.