D.C. United’s season, from the moment the MLS schedule came out, was built around the idea of having a chance to turn seven straight home games into a playoff berth. United has done the work, going 5W-1D-0L and putting themselves just one more result away from a spot in the postseason. However, it’s not going to come easy, as New York City FC comes to town looking to end a listless run of form. Perhaps more importantly, NYCFC — who somehow have not played a game in 22 days — will be well-rested, whereas United has recently started to show some signs of a crowded fixture list sapping their energy.
Key player: Luciano Acosta
Since winning Player of the Month after a 4 goal/6 assist September, Acosta has found things just a bit tougher in October. It’s not that his level of play has dropped dramatically so much as it is more teams are gameplanning specifically around stopping his runs and being in his face whenever he’s on the ball in the attacking third. Teams are selling out to shut down Acosta and Wayne Rooney, and United’s success lately has relied on good defending in the box and capitalizing on set pieces.
With NYCFC likely playing a fairly conservative midfield trio out of necessity (we’ll get into that below), Acosta is going to find himself mobbed once again. The good news is that he’s still been dangerous in recent games, and the attention doesn’t seem to be putting him off his game. Acosta needs to maintain his focus and discipline despite the crowding, and don’t be surprised if we see him looking Paul Arriola’s way frequently when play opens up.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 3:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Jalen Robinson, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Travis Worra, Kevin Ellis, Nick DeLeon, Chris Durkin, Ulises Segura, Zoltan Stieber, Darren Mattocks
A lot hinges on the status of DeLeon. If he bounces back from a full 90 after being out for so long, he may get another start. We’re expecting Robinson to get the nod instead, but it could be DeLeon, or Ellis, or Arriola. Speaking of the USMNT winger, Arriola’s return will bring some welcome quickness to an attack that has been just a touch off their best in the past two games. However, if he’s playing right back, look for Segura to get the nod on the right wing. Mattocks is expected back after missing the mid-week win due to an illness.
The big worry is Hamid, after a scary-looking knee injury on Wednesday. If he can’t go, Worra will get the nod, and one presumes United would have to bring MLS pool GK Chris Konopka back to town (he also dressed for D.C.’s friendly draw with CD Olimpia last month).
Projected NYCFC starting 11: (433) - Sean Johnson; Anton Tinnerholm, Sebastian Ibeagha, Alexander Callens, Ben Sweat; Eloi Amagat, Alexander Ring, Ebenezer Ofori; Valentin Castellanos, David Villa, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi
The Pigeons announced that Maxi Moralez and Jo-Inge Berget are both out earlier this week, which really changes their team. The diamond they fielded against D.C. is probably off the table, but Domé Torrent has gone back and forth between that and a 433 lately anyway. Without Moralez, look for a 433 with the veteran Amagat (who is not exactly a fan favorite in the Bronx) getting the nod over Tommy McNamara. Berget’s spot on the left wing likely goes to Tajouri-Shradi, who could also move over to the right if Jesus Medina gets a start instead of Castellanos.
Referee: Chico Grajeda
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 are you drinking?: Coffee on my way in, then water, then probably some more coffee, and then some tea just to stay warm on what will be a brisk, windy day.
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