D.C. United, after possibly the strangest season in MLS history, is almost across the finish line. The Black-and-Red need just two wins in three games to get back into the MLS playoffs, and to affirm that the club’s investments in brick, mortar, and personnel were worthwhile. They can do half of the job tonight against Toronto FC, who have for a variety of reasons fallen off a cliff after having arguably the greatest MLS season ever in 2017. While TFC is likely to play a pretty unfamiliar lineup due to injuries and international call-ups, they’re still more than talented enough to potentially trip a fatigued D.C. up.
Key player: Yamil Asad
On Saturday, Asad showed us what a difference halftime can make. During the first half, Asad was mostly restricted to playing it safe as Dallas seemingly hemmed him in out on the left touchline and isolated him from Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta. A couple of tweaks from United — Asad set up shop a bit higher and narrower, and United got less direct — and the Argentine became a terror, nutmegging Ryan Hollingshead twice and drawing numerous fouls (including the one that gave United the set piece that Russell Canouse scored the winner from).
Teams are keying on Rooney and Acosta. Dallas being a tough nut to crack is no surprise, but Chicago also made life a bit difficult on D.C.’s dynamic duo. Rooney scored twice in that one, but they weren’t typical “LuchoRoo” goals. You can be sure that TFC’s gameplan involves compressing the space in zone 14, and Asad can make that far more difficult by being a major factor on the ball. It can also be a virtuous cycle, as Asad being more dangerous makes Rooney and Acosta harder to defend, which means they can find Asad’s runs more often.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Nick DeLeon, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Chris Durkin, Russell Canouse; Zoltan Stieber, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Travis Worra, Kofi Opare, Jalen Robinson, Kevin Ellis, Ian Harkes, Dane Kelly, Darren Mattocks
Ulises Segura might have been in line to start this game to freshen up the midfield, but he played the final 22 minutes for Costa Rica last night. I suppose he could show up tomorrow and make the 18, but you rarely see someone play the day after an international game unless they made just a tiny cameo.
If that’s the case, the one change we might see is Nick DeLeon getting the start. Ben Olsen said he wanted to push his minutes, and reading the tea leaves, I think United sees the veteran as being able to play 45-60 minutes. That might be it for rotation though, as the cupboard is kind of bare. Paul Arriola won’t be back until tomorrow, and the injury list is still 5 players long. If there’s one more move possible here, it could be Opare coming in for Brillant, though the latter had a good outing against FC Dallas.
Projected TFC starting 11: (352) - Alex Bono; Eriq Zavaleta, Nick Hagglund, Chris Mavinga; Auro, Jay Chapman, Liam Fraser, Ryan Telfer, Justin Morrow; Lucas Janson, Jozy Altidore
Greg Vanney’s intentions are hard to gauge at this point. We know Gregory van der Wiel is suspended, and Sebastian Giovinco seems unlikely to start given that he’s supposedly flying back from Europe to meet the Reds today. TFC had 6 players with Canada and the USMNT last night, but only Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado played major minutes (both went 90, so count them out for today). Chapman is the one player from that group that I expect to start, though Michael Bradley played just 12 minutes against Peru last night.
Vanney could play in this 352, but in their last two games TFC has deployed a 442 diamond. Without Osorio and Delgado, they probably don’t have enough midfielders to go that route. Altidore is also a question mark due to some lingering injuries. If he’s out, look for Tosaint Ricketts (who sat the bench for Canada), Jordan Hamilton, or possibly Giovinco to start up top instead.
Referee: Allen Chapman
Available TV: WJLA 24/7 and regional affiliates (check the link for the over-the-air alternate channel in your area), including CW Richmond in RVA.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Canouse’s goal on the weekend sparked this tribute to just how good he’s been. Filibuster should be up later today.
What are you drinking?: Temperatures are going to dip below 60 at kickoff, and it’s going to be a bit windy. I usually need a week or two to adjust once the seasons change, so coffee and/or green tea for me.
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