There’s no need to sugarcoat D.C. United’s need for a win today against the Columbus Crew. “Need” might seem unfair, since the season will have 28 more games left no matter what happens today, but the past and the future both dramatically underline that if this is not an actual must-win, then it’s certainly the closest thing to it. Yesterday marked 203 days without a win for United, whose last triumph in a real game was back on September 23rd of last year.
Looking ahead, today’s “home” game in Annapolis is also something of an oasis in the desert. United has eight straight road games after this, including four on the other side of the country, another at elevation, and one more against a Toronto FC team that is arguably the favorite to take this year’s CONCACAF Champions League. Failing to win today, regardless of bad luck or injuries or circumstances, will leave United in some truly dire straits.
The pressure is on. Will this team respond?
Key player: Darren Mattocks
Mattocks started the season in good (if frustrating) form, scoring 2 goals in 3 games and finding a few other big opportunities along the way. Since then, though, he’s cooled off. A wasted breakaway and a minor injury marred his game in Columbus, forcing a halftime substitution. Against KC, he and the rest of United’s attack couldn’t generate much in the way of good looks.
That’s got to change tonight, because it’s probably going to require more than one goal for United to get themselves a badly-needed win. Mattocks has the ability to trouble the Crew, with his speed and United’s willingness to high-press aspects particularly valuable in that regard. However, Mattocks has to be able to turn those moments of danger into something we see on the scoreboard. With United’s other forwards not offering much in the way of competition lately, it feels a lot like United will only be as good as Mattocks is in a given game.
Location: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Annapolis, MD)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm 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, Patrick Mullins, Dane Kelly
Travis Worra was still training with United as of yesterday, a sign that Ousted’s foot injury might require a pre-game fitness test. If he can’t go on the artificial turf surface, Clark will get the nod against his former club instead.
Stieber could actually be in line for a start over Arriola depending on how training has gone over the past two weeks, while Ben Olsen could opt to include Junior Moreno or Russell Canouse in the 18 instead of Kelly if either is deemed fit enough.
Projected Columbus starting 11: (4231) - Zack Steffen; Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams, Milton Valenzuela; Wil Trapp, Artur; Cristian Martinez, Federico Higuain, Pedro Santos; Gyasi Zardes
The only real question in the Crew starting lineup is whether Williams will start over Lalas Abubakar for the second straight game. The last time these teams met, United had some success attacking Abubakar, who also escaped a deserved second yellow that could have turned that game. It was no accident that Gregg Berhalter hauled him off at halftime, but he has a bit more speed and strength than Williams, making him arguably more capable of competing with Mattocks.
Referee: Ismail Elfath
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.
Available streaming: ESPN+ for those outside the blackout radius (you might want to check that against this from MLS, which checks your zip code against the blackout list...but with this being the first weekend of ESPN+’s lifespan, we’re not sure how things are going to go)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: We spent plenty of time on this one on Filibuster, looked at what is probably the last starting 11 for a while without Canouse, and predicted a little bit of everything. Check back in a few hours for a look at the Crew lineup.
What are you drinking?: I’ll be heading to Ceremony Coffee before going over to the stadium for what is bar none the best coffee in the region.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos remembering what it’s like to win a game!