For all of the talk surrounding D.C. United, their MVP nominee Wayne Rooney, their brand-new home at Audi Field, and one of the best runs of form they’ve ever been on, all they’ve gotten is one tangible thing: a home MLS playoff game against Columbus Crew SC. That’s how this league is set up. You can be brilliant, you can change how your fanbase and how the world define you, and you can still end up done for the year with one bad night.
2018 is going to be a benchmark year for United in so many ways, but ultimately all the good times and positive changes are about one thing above all others: winning a fifth MLS Cup. That’s how you re-establish this team as the premier team in American men’s soccer, and that path starts tonight.
Key player: Wayne Rooney
Sure, this may seem like taking the easy way out, but in all likelihood this game hinges on whether the Crew can compress the space Rooney and Luciano Acosta work in. Columbus finished the regular season with the fewest road goals (11) in all of MLS, and there is little reason to expect them to survive getting into a shootout with a team that scored 37 goals at home on the year. They’ll be looking to force United wide and reduce their options down to hopeful crosses or worse.
We know Rooney has the technical ability, creativity, and vision to be able to play with little space, but it’s his movement that is the real key. Rooney can not only buy himself more time and better opportunities, but can drawn defenders and open up the game for United’s other attackers. You know, like Acosta (10 goals/17 assists), Yamil Asad (9 goals/8 assists), and Paul Arriola (7 goals/7 assists).
Rooney doesn’t have to win this game himself (though it would be cool if he did!). If his off-the-ball play keys the sort of varied, dangerous Black-and-Red attack that we usually see, this should become the kind of game the Crew are specifically hoping to avoid.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Nick DeLeon, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Travis Worra, Kevin Ellis, Jalen Robinson, Chris Durkin, Ulises Segura, Zoltan Stieber, Darren Mattocks
Is DeLeon fit to start again on short rest? If not, will Ben Olsen move Arriola to right back and start Segura again? Or will he go to Robinson (or Ellis)? These are the questions we keep having at the moment, and we won’t know for sure until tonight. Other than that, though, it seems pretty straight-forward...except maybe with Asad, who didn’t start on the weekend for precautionary reasons.
Projected Columbus starting 11: (4231) - Zack Steffen; Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams, Milton Valenzuela; Wil Trapp, Artur; Niko Hansen, Federico Higuain, Justin Meram; Gyasi Zardes
Gregg Berhalter has shown a willingness to bunker (remember last year’s dramatic playoff game in Atlanta, or their low-block 343 at RFK a couple of years ago?) if he has to, but most likely he’s going to stick with the formation he’s most associated with. In that case, the only issues are whether Williams starts over Gaston Sauro, and which pair of wingers will get the nod. Pedro Santos could start over Hansen or Meram, but it was telling that in a must-not-lose game last week, it was the pricey Portuguese winger starting on the bench.
Referee: Allen Chapman
Available TV: Fox Sports 1, UniMas, Univision Deportes
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer Match Pass, Univision Now
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: We have a look back at United’s playoff history with Columbus and at the pivotal games that got them here, some thoughts about D.C.’s defense, a full episode of Filibuster previewing tonight’s game, and a projected Black-ad-Red lineup. Opposition 11 will be up later today.
What are you drinking?: I’ll get a cold brew coffee on my way to Buzzard Point, and then stick to sponsor-provided press box water for the rest of the night.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos five stars!