A huge challenge awaits D.C. United tonight if they're going to stay alive in the CONCACAF Champions League. They have to beat Queretaro either 2-0 (which would force 30 minutes of extra time, in which the away goals rule no longer applies) or by a three-goal margin to advance to the semifinals. Queretaro already skews defense-first, and their coach Victor Manuel Vucetich has won the CCL before in part by not screwing up in the second leg.
Los Gallos Blancos are going to show up prepared to slow the game whenever possible, especially after using the last half an hour of their Liga MX game at Morelia on the weekend as a dress rehearsal. That's not to say they'll park the bus, though. With one goal, Queretaro will put United in a spot where they have to score four times to advance. Look for the visitors to play a bit more open than you'd expect in the first 15 minutes, and then prepare for them to try and take the air out of the ball for the rest of the game.
D.C. United Projected 11: There's no reason to expect any changes. Andrew Dykstra will start in goal. The back four will be Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp. The midfield will feature Patrick Nyarko, Marcelo Sarvas, Nick DeLeon, and Chris Rolfe. Luciano Acosta will play underneath Fabian Espindola.
Off the bench, United is probably going to have to make 3 attack-minded subs. Look for Miguel Aguilar to come in for one of the wide midfielders, and for Alvaro Saborio to come in up front at some point. The last sub? Maybe Julian Buescher, but for one of the central midfielders rather than for Acosta. It could also be Rob Vincent coming in opposite Aguilar, with Rolfe moving up front and United going with 2 forwards in front of Acosta.
Match previews: Let's start with our pieces from training, where Steven Streff found United looking to balance the need to score with the need to keep a shutout and then talked to Sarvas and DeLeon about their burgeoning central midfield partnership. We also looked at the probable Queretaro starters, talked about the things United has to do to get the job done tonight, and focused on Espindola in our preview.
Referee: John Pitti (Panama), Linesmen: Gabriel Victoria, Ronald Buena, Jafeth Perea (4th), (Panama)
What are you drinking?: I plan on picking up a six pack on my way to the stadium to share with friends, but I'm not sure what I'll get. Probably not a stout or porter given today's late spring weather. Maybe some kind of pale ale?
Prediction: I am convinced that United is going to win tonight. Queretaro didn't look particularly good at home, they've had a couple of small injuries, and they had to play Saturday night before flying up here. United, even though they have just 90 minutes under their belts, should be beating this team at RFK.
However, I can't shake the suspicion that they won't keep a shutout, and I don't see four goals coming tonight. Give me a 2-1 or 3-1 win, with Birnbaum and Rolfe getting goals, but Queretaro snags a goal sometime in the second half to knock United out. We're going to be ruing that Edgar Benitez goal in the first leg for the rest of the season.
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