Thanks to D.C. United's clean sweep of Arabe Unido, tonight's CONCACAF Champions League game against Montego Bay United is purely academic. United has won Group H, and previous CCLs have shown us that quarterfinal seeding is nearly meaningless. Still, the Black-and-Red could use any sort of good news right now, and a win in Jamaica would be a lot better than a loss psychologically. Here's what United needs to get done if they're going to once again win all four group stage games:
Prevent MBU from using their speed advantage
Montego Bay is the faster team by some distance, even without suspended attacker Allan Ottey and his nearly Olympic-sprinter-level speed. That advantage seemed to define their play at RFK, as they looked to play attackers in behind as Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. We shouldn't forget that there was a spell in this game where United was giving up some real chances only for Andrew Dykstra, a retreating defender, or poor execution to get in the way of a Montego goal.
The downside for MoBay is that this appeared to be the only thing they had up their sleeves, and if this CCL group has shown anything it's that United can shut out teams with plenty of speed. That's in part from United's tendency to hold a moderately deep line no matter the opponent, but it also comes from reading the opposition's intentions and getting into good positions.
Thanks to the vagaries of CONCACAF scheduling, this is Montego Bay's first home game, and with nothing for either team to play for I would expect them to come out playing an attack-minded game. United needs to stay mentally ahead of Montego Bay so that there aren't passing lanes to exploit. Whether that means blocking off the runner just as the pass is struck, or forcing more sideways passing, doesn't really matter. The job is simply not to let MBU feed their speedsters in behind the defense.
Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces
This will come up a lot for any team who does have size but doesn't score much from open play. That's United these days, and there's no reason to shy away from finding goals on dead balls instead (it's better than just not scoring, after all). The Black-and-Red scored their second against Montego Bay in the aftermath of a set piece, hit the crossbar twice from such opportunities, and wasted a couple of sitters as well.
There are two issues at play for the Jamaican side: Goalkeeper Jacomeno Barrett is a bad combination of aggressive and spatially unaware, while the defense in front of him seems to immediately get disorganized when corner kicks or free kicks are on their way in. They have plenty of desire to get to the ball, but there's a lot of scrambling around and very little thinking going on.
One thing that I noticed last time around was that Montego Bay were particularly prone to losing their marks when there were attempts at deception. Short corners caused chaos inside the box before the cross was even put in, as did a free kick that was tapped to Jared Jeffrey (which went through a crumbling wall to smack the woodwork). United should once again look to take advantage of the lack of focus MBU has shown in these instances.
Make this game meaningful
With United clinching the group last week, there's nothing really on the line here. That shouldn't mean that United simply shows up to avoid forfeiting, though. For some DC players - think Collin Martin here - any action outside of training is a positive. For others - like Miguel Aguilar, who was left out of the 18 against Columbus - it's possibly the last chance to prove that they deserve to be making the squad in league play every time. Guys like Chris Pontius and Conor Doyle will be looking to hold off Aguilar's challenge for a spot on the bench. And let's not forget that Taylor Kemp is one card away from a suspension; Luke Mishu impressed against Arabe Unido at RFK, and he may be able to play his way into a spot start with another good outing.
There's also reason for the coaching staff to pay close attention to this one. Ben Olsen was once coached by current Montego Bay boss Tim Hankinson, and MBU has plenty of young, raw talent on their roster. I'm just spitballing here, but it seems to me that there are plenty of Jamaicans in MLS who were signed as projects who responded quite well to a couple seasons of honing their potential on these shores. Maybe I'm just envious of teams that have actual speed on their roster, but it seems to me that United should be thinking long and hard about taking on someone like the 22 year old Ottey or 23 year old left winger Jermaine Woozencroft. Those players have a higher ceiling than most draft picks, and at this point any speedster with potential should be of some interest to DC's decision-makers.