For D.C. United, the last successful road trip to face the Columbus Crew came back when Ben Olsen was a player. Since a 2-0 win in August of 2007, United has made an annual tradition of coming up short in Ohio, sporting 7 losses in 10 visits and an ugly -15 goal difference in those games. The good news is that when the Black-and-Red score a goal, they generally take a point home. The bad news? They’ve only scored four goals in a decade’s worth of visits to the Ohio state fairgrounds.
It’s been a bizarre series, too. The side that fought their way to the Eastern Conference final in 2012 meekly lost 1-0. The United team that nearly won the 2014 Supporters Shield were up 1-0 and playing 11v10, only to concede an 89th minute equalizer. The scoreboard went up in flames before a 3-0 loss, while the 2015 version of United went from rounding into form before the playoffs to being clowned 5-0 by a badly short-handed Columbus squad.
It’s high time United put a stop to this and got back to being the team that Crew fans feared the most. To do that today, though, will require by far their best performance of this young season, because Columbus is among the best teams in MLS.
Key player: Chris Durkin
Rejoice, #PlayYourKids fanatics! It appears that Durkin is firmly in line to get his first MLS start. Durkin has appeared in all three of United’s games this season, and with Junior Moreno (hamstring) and Russell Canouse (knee) injured, Durkin’s only competitor for a start is Jared Jeffrey, who has not been included in a gameday roster for D.C. since midway through the preseason.
While much has been made of Durkin’s distribution and field vision, today will primarily be a test of his defensive chops. The Crew spread teams out thanks to their aggressive fullbacks and then flood the center of the field with numbers, as their wingers cut inside. Stopping them also means shutting down Federico Higuain, who looks to be very sharp to start 2018. It’s a big test for any MLS defensive midfielder, much less someone who has never started a game at this level.
If Durkin can do his part and help United put in a strong team performance defensively, this may be the beginning of something special for D.C.’s latest homegrown product. The hype train is certainly ready to go.
Location: Mapfre Stadium (Columbus, OH)
Kickoff time: 6:00pm Eastern
Projected Actual D.C. United starting 11:
This is literally all the available players, save for Travis Worra (who, for obvious reasons, will stay on loan with Richmond). There’s a real chance that United will give Mattocks some minutes on the wing and Mullins up top in this one, which could be an interesting look. Durkin and Harkes will replace Moreno and Ulises Segura (international duty). The other absentees: Oniel Fisher and Dane Kelly are with Jamaica, Bruno Miranda is with Bolivia, and Zoltan Stieber is with Hungary. Canouse and Taylor Kemp are both still a little ways off from returning to training.
One final note: is this going to be a 4231 or a 4141? I think Olsen would prefer Harkes playing as the #8 in a 4141, but against the Crew and with United’s defensive issues lately, dropping an extra man in to shield the defense makes a lot of sense.
Projected Actual Columbus starting 11:
Referee: Drew Fischer
Available TV: NewsChannel 8 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?: Filibuster focused on the changes in Columbus, while Ben Bromley will just about lose his mind if Durkin isn’t given a spot in United’s lineup. We also took a look at what the Crew will look like tonight, checked in with Durkin after training this week, and predicted...well, we aren’t entirely pessimistic, but this one might be tough.
What are you drinking?: I’m thinking it’ll be time for a burro (a Moscow Mule, but with tequila instead of vodka). Going with Suerte Blanco, because United probably needs a slice of luck today if they’re going to get a positive result.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos Durkin!