D.C. United hosts Orlando City tonight in a game that feels more vital for both sides than a typical mid-August match. The Black-and-Red sit 12 points out of the playoff places, but have 6 games in hand on Montreal. With three home games in the next seven days, the door is open for United to vault back into contention, but only if they take full advantage. The Lions, meanwhile, are mired in a horrific 1W-1D-12L run in MLS play, and are going to be without numerous starters. If they don’t stop the rot soon, it’s hard to see them recovering at all.
Key player: Wayne Rooney
Rooney’s short time in MLS has been pretty good. He’s clearly one of the smartest players in the league, his technical ability is at the level you’d expect from someone with hundreds of Premier League starts, and he clearly cares deeply about winning here. However, those not paying close attention to United can be forgiven for looking at his stats (1 goal/1 assist in 311 minutes) and thinking “that’s it?” Rooney is on course to get somewhere around 4g/4a by the end of the season. Pretty good, but not world-famous star with a multi-million dollar salary good.
It’s important to look beyond the surface, though. With some better finishing from his teammates, Rooney is probably already on 3 or 4 assists, and he missed a goal in Montreal by the width of the post. Despite having to play his way from preseason fitness and sharpness in the middle of an MLS season, Rooney has been thisclose to having some stats that would quiet down most skeptics.
Against by far MLS’s worst defensive team (Orlando has conceded a staggering 54 goals already), it’s time for Rooney to go from showing promise to being dominant.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4141) - David Ousted; Oniel Fisher, Kofi Opare, Steve Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Chris Durkin; Zoltan Stieber, Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Steve Clark, Frederic Brillant, Vytas, Russell Canouse, Ian Harkes, Ulises Segura, Darren Mattocks
Ben Olsen said earlier this week that he wants to field a “more attacking” team than he did in Montreal, and this is his most attack-minded lineup that doesn’t involve a major formation change. It does mean a return to the 4141, though, and a return to the starting eleven for Arriola. Elsewhere, with Jalen Robinson suffering an MCL sprain during the week, there’s room to add new signing Vytas to the 18. Where’s Bill Hamid? It’s been a while since he’s played a competitive game, and he was still in the Danish preseason when his loan went through, so it might be a couple of games before we see him starting.
Projected Orlando starting 11: (433) - Earl Edwards Jr.; Scott Sutter, Shane O’Neill, Amro Tarek, PC; Cristian Higuita, Tony Rocha, Will Johnson; Josue Colman, Dom Dwyer, Mohamed El-Munir
First, the big news: top center back duo Jonathan Spector and Lamine Sane are out injured, and Sacha Kljestan almost certainly is as well (despite not being listed on the injury report). Yoshimar Yotun is suspended as well, leaving the Lions without 3 of their 4 best players as well as a center back with recent Bundesliga experience.
New head coach James O’Connor has made some pretty major changes in terms of the Orlando depth chart. Edwards now starts over Joe Bendik, utility midfielder/defender Rocha is now their midfield anchor, and left back El-Munir is now a wide forward. Look for the combustible Johnson to replace Yotun in the midfield, while Colman will step in for Kljestan as the team’s playmaker despite being out on the wing.
Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero
Available TV: Fox Sports 1
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer Match Pass
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: A lot! Filibuster talked about O’Connor’s preference for different roles for certain players, Steven Streff got a feel for United’s tactical approach tonight, Ben Bromley took a deeper look at the projected DCU lineup above, and we unanimously predicted a (high-scoring) win.
Plus, Opposition 11 will be coming up in the next few hours. Finally, yours truly looked at what figures to be a short-handed Orlando starting eleven.
What are you drinking?: I woke up earlier than I had planned, so while normally I try to avoid soda, I might be in need of some caffeine in the press box tonight. Looks like it’ll be a standard Coca-Cola for me.
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