Generally in MLS, you start looking at the standings more often after Labor Day, but for D.C. United, those days have already started. When today’s game against the Montreal Impact kicks off, the Quebecois side will be 11 points ahead of the Black-and-Red having played 5 more games. With four of the six Eastern Conference playoff spots already more or less sewn up, falling 14 points behind another competitor with 15 games left to play feels like too much of a mountain to climb, even with a seven-game stretch at home still coming up.
United isn’t in must-win territory yet, but this one sure does feel like it’s a must-not-lose sort of game.
Key player: Frederic Brillant
It’s easy to think that right back is the issue against Montreal, who still feel an awful lot like Ignacio Piatti and 10 other dudes. The issue with Piatti is that he torches every right back in the league; it’s just what happens. The teams that have been able to hold him off are the teams that can still cover for their right back, and that’s where the pressure is on Brillant. If he can support Oniel Fisher without getting pulled out to the touchline to defend Piatti on the run, United is probably in business. If not, though, D.C. is in deep trouble.
On top of that, Brillant needs to be a solid organizer against an Impact side that loves to play on the break, and he’s got to have a good connection with Steve Birnbaum. Matteo Mancosu has troubled United in the past, and if he’s splitting the center backs on a regular basis, Piatti can turn provider, which is almost as dangerous as when he’s the main goal threat.
Location: Stade Saputo (Montreal, Quebec)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4141) - David Ousted; Oniel Fisher, Frederic Brillant, Steve Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Chris Durkin; Zoltan Stieber, Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Travis Worra, Jalen Robinson, Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse, Ian Harkes, Ulises Segura, Darren Mattocks
This is 16 of the 18 that were in the squad for the win over Colorado. The changes? Kofi Opare making way for Paul Arriola, who will return from suspension and go right back into the starting lineup. The other change is Worra, who posted an Instagram story that included his boarding pass to Montreal. Given that Ousted was also in United’s social media posts from yesterday’s training session up there, it would appear that Steve Clark is going to miss this one.
One final note that I’d make: With a lead last week, United moved into a 4231, with Canouse dropping alongside Durkin. That might not be a bad idea from the start here, either with Arriola deeper than usual or with Arriola on the right, Canouse coming in, and Stieber going to the bench. It’s something to keep your eye on.
Projected Montreal starting 11: (433) - Evan Bush; Jukka Raitala, Rod Fanni, Rudy Camacho, Dan Lovitz; Ken Krolicki, Samuel Piette, Saphir Taïder; Alejandro Silva, Matteo Mancuso, Ignacio Piatti
Raitala, a left back who has a large handful of starts at center back this year, is probably going to play his third straight at right back despite Montreal having a Canada national team right back in Michael Petrasso languishing on the bench. Another supposedly vital offseason pick-up, attacker Jeisson Vargas, has become a late-game sub as well. The emphasis here is mostly on staying simple, staying compact, and looking for moments to spring Piatti, which is exactly what they did last year before Remi Garde took over.
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)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Filibuster talked about the Impact’s weaknesses, our predictions are kind of all over the place, and discussed United’s possible lineup. We’ll have a look at Montreal’s projected team later this morning.
What are you drinking?: Jalapeño limeade with El Buho mezcal on ice. Spicy, sweet, smoky, and tart. Can’t recommend it enough.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Allez United!