Having won their CONCACAF Champions League group, D.C. United could be forgiven for taking the night off against Montego Bay United. The starters are all focused on Saturday's trip to Montreal, and teams don't get a special prize for winning all of their CCL games. Plus, when they last met Montego Bay, the Black-and-Red were pretty clearly the better team.
However, we're also talking about a team whose only wins in the past six weeks have been in CCL play. A win tonight won't make up for losing to Columbus Saturday, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. Montego Bay will surely have made some strides now that they've completed their preseason as well, so any expectation that this game will be just as straightforward as the first meeting at RFK is misplaced.
Key player: Jairo Arrieta
In the previous meeting between these clubs, Arrieta had a few looks at goal that he just couldn't convert. His 2015 has actually exceeded most expectations - only Chris Rolfe has scored more goals across all competitions for United, and Arrieta is joined only by Kofi Opare in having a goal in every competition United entered this season - but barring an injury to someone else tonight is likely his last start of the season.
However, that's not to say that Arrieta can't still make a big impact for United down the stretch or in the playoffs. Ben Olsen likes to use him as a sub because he's active and tends to change the tenor of games thanks to his irascible nature. However, for him to change games in a more tangible way he's going to have to be confident and in form. A goal or two tonight would go a long way towards Arrieta being at his best when United, in a big game, really needs a goal off the bench.
Key question: Will United be able to stay focused on this game?
Tonight's match won't have any bearing on who wins Group H, leaving both teams with no tangible reward for playing their best soccer. Furthermore, United has a bigger game this weekend coming up, a league losing streak that requires correcting, and the level of play involved in this game will be a step down for the Black-and-Red.
All of that points to a match that United will be tempted to look past. For a lot of individual players in this match, that would be a mistake. Ben Olsen has talked about narrowing down the players he regularly uses to a group of 15 or 16, and he may have made most of his choices on that front already. This could be the last argument most of today's starters make for inclusion in the final 4 MLS games and the playoff match(es) to come.
There's also CCL seeding, for whatever that is worth. A win would guarantee United the right to host the 2nd leg in next year's quarterfinals (though given this team's first leg woes over recent years, maybe that's not actually good news). It would also make it highly likely that United doesn't have to face a team like Club America straight out of the gate. That's a good thing; it would be far better to play another MLS team in preseason form, or possibly a surprise qualifier (maybe someone like Isidro Metapan?) than to play the wealthiest club in CONCACAF.
Match previews: Our staff predictions are very optimistic, while Keys to Victory has hopes for United on and off the field in this one. Over at MLSsoccer.com, Pablo Maurer points out that Ben Olsen has stayed in DC to focus entirely on this weekend's game in Montreal.
Match date/time: Tuesday 9/22, 8:00pm Eastern
Venue: Montego Bay Sports Complex (Montego Bay, Jamaica)
TV: Fox Soccer Plus (English)
Online: Fox Soccer 2Go (English, requires subscription)
Our gamethread will be up an hour before kickoff.
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