Just about any discussion of D.C. United this summer ends up containing the phrase “games in hand,” and today against New York City FC, United has to start making them count. The Black-and-Red are 6 points out of a playoff spot having played 3 fewer games than the sixth-placed Montreal Impact, but that doesn’t matter if D.C. fails to put wins on the board in those extra matches.
This is a tough one, too, as United is missing nearly 40% of their roster, and they’re traveling to a venue in which NYCFC has lost just twice in the last calendar year. History also favors the Pigeons: United has lost every time they’ve gone to Yankee Stadium, giving up three or more goals on every visit.
Is there any reason for hope? Well, NYCFC is on a 1W-2D-4L run recently, and is on short rest following a 1-0 loss to New England on Wednesday. If there were ever a chance for United to break through in the Bronx, it’s right now.
Key player: Kofi Opare
Despite that aforementioned loss, the Pigeons took 27 shots on the Revs, mostly pinning the visitors back and controlling possession on the phone booth-sized playing surface they call home. However, 9 of those shots were blocked, and emergency defending is critical any time you’re on a field with tight dimensions. It’s easier to get the ball into the box, and so many of NYCFC’s home goals over the years have come via rebounds falling to sharpshooters like David Villa.
Opare has emerged as a starter in part because he’s more agile and better at producing blocks and clearances than former NYCFC center back Frederic Brillant. He’s going to have to be at his best in this one, because even though the Citizens are in poor form, they’re still creating plenty of work for opposing center backs. If Opare stands out, the chances of United frustrating their hosts and getting them to take longer-range pot shots rather than higher-end efforts inside the box goes up, as do the odds of a victory.
Location: Yankee Stadium (The Bronx, NY)
Kickoff time: 4:55pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Jalen Robinson, Kofi Opare, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Chris Durkin, Russell Canouse; Ulises Segura, Ian Harkes, Luciano Acosta; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Travis Worra, Frederic Brillant, Kevin Ellis, Jared Jeffrey, Yamil Asad, Dane Kelly
Ben Olsen is down to bare bones here. Paul Arriola, Darren Mattocks, Bruno Miranda, Junior Moreno, and Zoltan Stieber are all away on international duty. Nick DeLeon and Taylor Kemp are out with long-term injuries. David Ousted, Vytas, Oniel Fisher, and Chris Odoi-Atsem are out with shorter-term injuries. That’s 11 players unavailable for today’s game, and a total of 17 (including Ellis, who was signed yesterday) available. Yikes.
With that in mind, I think Asad’s status will determine whether United plays a fairly conventional 4231, with Segura and Asad as the wingers, or something a little more odd. Asad having more than a few minutes in him on an ankle that probably isn’t in great shape is doubtful, so I’m thinking we’ll see Acosta “wide” left, at least defensively. The idea here will be for Harkes to break up NYCFC’s possession while providing an extra option while Rooney and Acosta are given freedom to do their magic. Acosta might not have much of a defined position when United goes forward.
Of course, this is just a guess. Olsen has no straightforward options if Asad can’t start, and in fact might not even have Asad in uniform. This is going to get weird.
Projected NYCFC starting 11: (433) - Sean Johnson; Anton Tinnerholm, Sebastien Ibeagha, Alexander Callens, Ben Sweat; Maxi Moralez, James Sands, Eloi Amagat; Jonathan Lewis, David Villa, Valentin Castellanos
The Pigeons are almost as short-handed as United, making predicting their eleven tricky. Ronald Matarrita could start at left back, or over Amagat in the midfield, or on the left wing (with Castellanos moving to the right). Last week, Domè Torrent played a 442 diamond with Matarrita on the left side of the midfield, with the right side manned by the suspended Alexander Ring. The Finn is a huge loss for Torrent, who if he goes that route would drop Lewis and move Amagat to the right, pushing Moralez up underneath Villa and Castellanos. Tommy McNamara could start as well, either in Amagat’s spot in this 433 or on the left side, which would mean Castellanos playing on the right and Lewis moving to the bench.
On top of all that, Callens is questionable with a knee problem. NYCFC is in enough of a tough spot defensively that they’d probably have to move either Tinnerholm or Sweat in as a center back, bringing in either Saad Abdul-Salaam on the right or starting Matarrita on the left.
Referee: Kevin Stott
Available TV: Univision, UniMas, Univision Deportes
Available streaming: Univision Now, Twitter (yes, Twitter)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: The back half of Filibuster was all about NYCFC’s middling recent form, we took another guess at United’s possible lineup, and went into more detail about all these international call-ups in case you find yourself saying “where the hell is everyone?” today. Opposition 11 will be out later this morning.
What are you drinking?: Patron añejo Barrel Select, neat. Something strong to guide me through this game with so many absentees.
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