D.C. United will be hoping to end some frustration today, but to do so they’re going to have to take down one of the better teams in MLS’s early going by going to Kansas and beating Sporting Kansas City. This isn’t the normal KC side; a club associated with tough 1-0 wins has instead emerged as both MLS’s highest-scoring team (9 goals for) and tied with United as their most vulnerable defense (9 goals against). It might get weird tonight.
For one thing, United has a weird knack of getting the job done against KC. It’s been over four years since D.C. lost to Sporting, and they’ve conceded just one goal in the last five meetings between the clubs. Even in 2013 and 2017, United managed to split the season series against the Sporks. Hopefully that stout defensive form can carry over for another game, because the Black-and-Red badly need some good news at the moment.
Key player: Anyone that plays defensive midfield
United is probably going to stick with the 4231, which means Chris Durkin and either Ulises Segura or Ian Harkes should be in the engine room tonight. Regardless of which player from the latter duo gets the nod, this is the area of the field that will likely win or lose this one for the Black-and-Red. United has been extremely vulnerable to late runs out of the midfield, and KC happens to have an expert at turning those looks into goals. Felipe Gutierrez isn’t tied for the MLS scoring lead on accident.
Tracking late runners is a team-wide issue, but the most dangerous player off the ball tonight is going to be Gutierrez, and he’ll be mostly running from areas that fall under a defensive midfielder’s purview. On top of that, Sporting’s main weakness this season is that it’s easy to play back across their midfield when they try to press, which allows teams to break into space and create chances while KC is overloaded to the other side. Seeing those opportunities and executing when they come up will be critical if United is going to put goals on the board.
Location: Children’s Mercy Park (Kansas City, KS)
Kickoff time: 8:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - David Ousted; Nick DeLeon, Frederic Brillant, Steve Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Chris Durkin, Ulises Segura; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; Darren Mattocks
Bench: Steve Clark, Kofi Opare, Oniel Fisher, Ian Harkes, Zoltan Stieber, Dane Kelly, Patrick Mullins
With Bruno Miranda coming back from international duty with a knee injury that he didn’t have when he left, it seems like Kelly has to be in the squad for a game that probably will require goals (plural) if United is going to get a result. Elsewhere, Segura and Fisher return to the gameday squad, with Segura replacing Harkes as a starter and Fisher replacing Chris Odoi-Atsem in the 18.
The toughest call is probably between Arriola (who was ineffective against Columbus last week) and Stieber. My guess is that Stieber, coming off of a long flight to Europe, starts on the bench, but don’t be surprised if Ben Olsen is looking for a way to give him more than just 30 minutes.
Projected KC starting 11: (433) - Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Gutierrez; Khiry Shelton, Diego Rubio, Johnny Russell
There are three question marks here. Left back has been a revolving door, with 3 players receiving significant playing time there already this season. Up front, Shelton could move into the middle if Yohan Croizet is given a start over Diego Rubio (who might not be fit enough to start).
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
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 are you drinking?: I will probably be arriving home from the Spirit game about half an hour before kickoff, so there’s a real chance that I’m picking up something from a drive-thru on my way. That means iced tea, most likely.
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