D.C. United has to bounce back quickly after having a five-game unbeaten streak broken, as tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Union is likely to be pivotal for both teams. A win could get the Black-and-Red within three points of the final playoff berth in MLS’s Eastern Conference and within six of Philadelphia. Meanwhile, a victory for the Union would push Philly within 1 point of Columbus in 4th, essentially turning the “five teams battling for two playoff spots” narrative in the East into a situation where four teams are vying for 6th place.
To get a vital win, United needs to reverse some unpleasant recent history against the Union. They’ve lost each of the last three meetings, being outscored 8-2 in the process. Going back to the start of the 2016 season, United is on a 1W-1D-5L run against the Doopers (Doop Guys? Doop Dudes?) and has given up over 2 goals per game. It doesn’t take much expertise to tell you that this has to change, starting tonight.
Key player: Zoltan Stieber
Yamil Asad seems to be in significant doubt to play tonight after picking up what looked like a rolled ankle on Sunday, and that almost certainly means a start for Stieber. It’s been a good season overall for the Hungarian, with 5 goals and 7 assists, but it hasn’t been consistently good. Stieber wasn’t directly involved with a goal until the seventh game of the season. However, from that game (oddly enough, against this Union team) onward, he went on a tear, getting 4 goals and 7 assists in the next 12 games. He’s gone cold again, though, with just 1 goal in 5 games since that streak ended.
United desperately needs the best out of Stieber today. He has seemed a bit rushed since being demoted to a bench role, even when you account for the goal that ended New England’s resistance recently. When Stieber is playing calmly and not trying to force things, that’s when we see the precise service into the box or those powerful strikes from distance. If Asad can’t go, United is going to need a goal threat to supplement Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta, which is another way of saying they need Stieber to come through today.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Oniel Fisher, Kofi Opare, Steven Birnbaum, Vytas; Junior Moreno, Ulises Segura; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Zoltan Stieber; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Travis Worra, Frederic Brillant, Joseph Mora, Chris Durkin, Russell Canouse, Ian Harkes, Darren Mattocks
Asad’s injury means a straightforward move for Ben Olsen, with Stieber coming in and Harkes making the bench. From there, this is guesswork due to what is probably required rotation due to the short rest, the physical opponent Sunday, and the withering weather conditions. I have a feeling Segura starts, but where? United might prefer to have Canouse well-rested for Atlanta on the weekend as well. The Union’s size is why I’m going for Vytas to make his debut, spelling Mora at left back.
Projected Philadelphia starting 11: (4231) - Andre Blake; Keegan Rosenberry, Jack Elliott, Auston Trusty, Raymon Gaddis; Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya; CJ Sapong, Borek Dockal, Fafa Picault; Cory Burke
Philly has an extra day of rest compared to United, and their weekend opponent is lowly Orlando City. As such, expect Jim Curtin to roll out what is currently his best 11. That is Sapong on the right, where he’s started 3 straight. Look for him to go hard for an hour or so before making way for Ilsinho, a game-changer who has bedeviled D.C. in the past.
Referee: Nima Saghafi
Available TV: WJLA 24/7 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 Opposition 11 later today, plus another article if time permits, but if you don’t want to wait, Filibuster spent plenty of time on tonight’s game.
What are you drinking?: It’s going to be miserably humid all day, with kickoff temperatures staying well into the 80s. Water, and lots of it. I’m going to hoard bottles in the press box.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos getting back on track!