Amid all this Wayne Rooney to D.C. United talk, and after a spell in which the Black-and-Red have had two games in six weeks, United actually has a game to play. It’s a tough one, unfortunately, as United heads to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake. For United, it’s the second of eight straight away from home; for RSL, it’s a chance to make it four straight wins at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL’s young defense and injury-hit squad surely pose an opportunity for United to add to their paltry total of one point away from home, but the Beehive State has not been friendly over the years. Yes, United won the 2013 U.S. Open Cup at this venue, but in regular season play it’s been all RSL. Since a 5-1 win in Real’s expansion season, United has picked up just two points in nine games, conceding over 2 goals per game in the process.
Key player: Ulises Segura
United never opted to pull Segura back in an effort to contain Philadelphia’s midfield in their last outing, and RSL’s creators have a similar ability to break this game open and really get at United’s defense. I’m curious to see whether Ben Olsen drops Segura in alongside Chris Durkin rather than leaving the 18 year old to screen the defense all on his own.
We may also see something of a more fluid arrangement, where Segura drops deep early to frustrate RSL’s early pressure before moving up to join Luciano Acosta and give United a chance to stake themselves to a lead. Or, it could be the other way around, with D.C. pressing early for a goal before adjusting to slow the home side down.
Either way, Segura needs to have a very strong outing. If RSL is allowed to get out on the run in transition, they’re going to create the kinds of chances they did in Orlando, where they botched two one-on-ones with Joe Bendik, hit both posts, and generally had a chance to blow the Lions out over the first 55 minutes. If RSL’s midfielders are allowed to pick their heads up and break lines with their passing, United is in a heap of trouble. It’s going to take a team effort to prevent that, but no one has a bigger role than Segura.
Location: Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy, UT)
Kickoff time: 9:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4141) - Steve Clark; Nick DeLeon, Frederic Brillant, Steve Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Chris Durkin; Zoltan Stieber, Luciano Acosta, Ulises Segura, Yamil Asad; Darren Mattocks
Bench: David Ousted, Kofi Opare, Oniel Fisher, Ian Harkes, Paul Arriola, Bruno Miranda, Patrick Mullins
There aren’t too many mysteries in the 18 today, but there are question marks in the starting 11. Let’s go in order from the most clear situation to the murkiest: Mattocks seems like a lock to push Mullins back to the bench. Stieber’s goal and assist at Philly probably gets him a start over Arriola, who returns from suspension. Clark was unconvincing against the Union, so we might see a way back between the sticks for Ousted.
Projected RSL starting 11: (4231) - Nick Rimando; Brooks Lennon, Justen Glad, Nick Besler, Pablo Ruiz; Kyle Beckerman, Damir Kreilach; Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata; Corey Baird
Mike Petke’s club is pretty banged up right now, especially in the back. RSL has three defenders unavailable, as well as a player with experience at right back in Jordan Allen, and David Horst is no better than questionable. The fullbacks are a converted winger (Lennon) and a 19-year-old converted midfielder (Ruiz), and Besler is also more of a defensive midfielder than a center back.
On the other side of the coin, that attacking midfield trio is a nightmare, and Baird has opened the field up for them by constantly looking to run in behind.
Referee: Rubiel Vazquez
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)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: We’ll have a deeper look at RSL’s lineup for you later today. Until then, tide yourself over with Steven Streff’s piece from training and a set of predictions that...well, let’s hope we’re wrong. Filibuster also spent plenty of time talking this one over with Brian Dunseth.
What are you drinking?: This game will start just a couple of minutes after the Spirit’s ends, so I won’t have time to make anything fancy. Let’s go with Osocalis Rare Alambic brandy, because I’m nothing if not elegant.
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