We can talk around it, and talk about games in hand, and prevaricate all we want, but for D.C. United, today’s game against the Montreal Impact will be decisive. A failure to win will not mathematically eliminate the Black-and-Red, but it will make any hope of advancement to the MLS playoffs an unrealistic hope. The math is simple: today, 5 points back with 5 games to play? Yeah, they’re still very much in it thank to the Impact having played more games. 8 points back with 4 to play? Game over, man.
The game, in a series that is dead even (5W-6D-5L, 19 goals for and 19 against), figures to be an intriguing clash of styles. United will possess, they’ll play on the front foot, and they’ll push numbers upfield. Montreal will sit in with 10 or 11 behind the ball whenever possible, all in hopes of catching a mistake and launching the counter-attacks that are their bread and butter.
Key player: Luciano Acosta
When United has really needed someone to step up and deliver, Acosta has been the man. A goal and an assist in the “home” games back in the spring, an assist when these teams last met, a hat trick against Orlando, 2 goals against Atlanta when D.C. needed to bounce back from a devastating loss to Philly...La Joya has been nothing short of precious for this team.
United has never needed a big game out of Acosta more than they do tonight. The good news is that his close control, his dribbling, and his audacity are all well-suited for breaking down the extremely deep defensive block that Montreal plays out of. Acosta’s connection with Rooney is going to be more complicated than normal due to the Impact’s tactics, but they’ve got to find a way to thrive nonetheless.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Oniel Fisher, Frederic Brillant, Steve Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Travis Worra, Jalen Robinson, Kevin Ellis, Chris Durkin, Ulises Segura, Zoltan Stieber, Darren Mattocks
Ben Olsen will have a strong 18 even though 7 players are listed as out for this one. He’ll probably revert to the 4231 because a) Asad is probably fit enough to start and b) because United looked better out of it than the 352 or 4321 we saw in the first 55 minutes against the Red Bulls. However, if United holds a lead, that 352 could return as an option to slow the Impact’s transition-based attack.
Projected Montreal starting 11: (4141) - Evan Bush; Bacary Sagna, Rod Fanni, Rudy Camacho, Dan Lovitz; Samuel Piette; Alejandro Silva, Micheal Azira, Saphir Taïder, Ignacio Piatti; Quincy Amarikwa
Remi Garde has, after a long struggle early this season, settled into a very Mauro Biello-esque playing style. The Impact will sit deep, stay disciplined, and wait to pounce on any opportunity to counter. They’re a tricky, dangerous opponent that will require patience and consistent execution in possession. They’ll probably bring Matteo Mancosu (a frequent source of trouble for United since he came to MLS) off the bench, but we could also see wild card Jeisson Vargas come in for Azira if they really want to go for broke.
Referee: Sigh...it’s Ted Unkel
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.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: This game took up almost all of Filibuster, Steven Streff checked in with Olsen and Canouse at training earlier this week, and I looked back on United’s other huge games this season. I’m hoping there will be time to write up Opposition 11 later this morning.
What are you drinking?: They put a Keurig in the press box, so I’m hoping there will be a Caribou Coffee K-Cup in the box of random K-Cups available. It’s that and water, you know the drill.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos keeping this season going!