D.C. United’s preseason has reportedly gone well enough, but with the games not on TV or online, fans have not been able to judge for themselves. That won’t be the case tonight, as the Black-and-Red face the Tampa Bay Rowdies as part of the 2019 Suncoast Invitational (which will be streamed). It’s a familiar setting for United at this time of year, as this represents the fourth straight year in which D.C. has played in this preseason tournament. Oddly enough, though, this will be the first meeting between these clubs since 2016, when United won 1-0 on a goal from Fabian Espindola.
Key player: Zoltan Stieber
Stieber’s situation is an interesting one right now. Once Lucas Rodriguez was acquired, it looked like United would try to find a buyer from abroad to get the Hungarian’s hefty deal off their books. Since Velez Sarsfield wanted more for Yamil Asad, though, Stieber suddenly became a piece of the puzzle this team probably can’t do without.
On the other hand, this is not just a straightforward competition between Stieber and Rodriguez. After all, last year Stieber’s tepid form opened the door for Ulises Segura to push him aside through sheer effort. Segura’s certainly got his place in Olsen’s regular rotation, but in terms of ability and experience, Stieber should have been able to lock down a starting role once Paul Arriola had to shift to right back late in the season.
For Stieber, this preseason is about showing that he can consistently bring his undoubted quality to bear on a more consistent basis, but it’s also what he does without the ball. Can he show the anticipation and willingness to high-press like Asad? Can he make up for being less physical than Segura or Arriola?
Location: Al Lang Stadium (St. Petersburg, FL)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Leonardo Jara, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Zoltan Stieber; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Chris Seitz, Earl Edwards Jr., Akeem Ward, Donovan Pines, Jalen Robinson, Chris McCann, Chris Durkin, Bryang Kayo, Ulises Segura, Antonio Bustamante, Shinya Kadono, Quincy Amarikwa
We know that Rodriguez will miss out due to a knock, and while we’ve got McCann listed here, it sounds like he might not play much (if at all). With trialists Peabo Doue and Colton Storm reportedly cut from camp, that leaves Ward and a question mark to sub in as fullbacks whenever Ben Olsen opts to make his line change. Don’t be surprised if we see a Loudoun trialist or academy player filling in at either right or left back.
Elsewhere, there aren’t many mysteries. Amarikwa isn’t officially signed, but he might as well be, so we’ll get to see him in a United shirt for the first time. Kadono may end up giving way to Griffin Yow depending on how serious D.C. is about possibly making a third Homegrown signing in one offseason.
Projected Tampa Bay starting 11: (532) - John McCarthy; Dominic Oduro, Shawn Barry, Mohamed Kone, Pape Diakite, Caleb Richards; Zach Steinberger, Kwadwo Poku, Andrew Tinari; Sebastian Guenzatti, Brandon Allen
I know more than is reasonable about a lot of American soccer teams, but this is very much a guess. Per Tampa Bay’s site, several players will be held out for various reasons, so there will be trialists and guest players from their academy involved. You may recognize some names on this list, which features 5 players with MLS experience. There’s also Oduro, who is not the one you’re thinking of. This one is a wingback/defensive midfielder who spent time with Man City’s youth teams and FC Nordsjaelland in Denmark before being one of those rare young foreign prospects that MLS will just add to the SuperDraft list.
Available TV: None.
Available streaming: Yes! The Rowdies are going to stream this game because they’re good and pure. Watch it on their Youtube page.
What are you drinking?: Maybe a Kentucky Mule? Something ginger-y.
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