In the recent past, D.C. United started each season with hope, but not necessarily with truly high expectations. That, more than anything else, is what has changed this winter, and this evening the Black-and-Red get a chance to prove they can meet those lofty expectations by defeating Atlanta United, the 2018 MLS Cup champions, in the league opener for both clubs. If D.C. has championship aspirations, there’s no better way to get started than by knocking off the team that has the hardware.
Key player: Luciano Acosta
It has to be Acosta, who has tormented Atlanta throughout the Georgia-based club’s existence. Today, given how the Five Stripes set up in the midfield, he’s going to have room to do what he does best: combine with Wayne Rooney between the lines, dribble at defenders, and create chances for himself and others.
Everyone in D.C. soccer was concerned that his focus would drift after his near-miss transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, but if anything Acosta has seemed bound and determined to take his angst out on the rest of MLS. That’s great news for Black-and-Red fans, and it would be lovely to see him start this season by taking down one of his favorite targets while putting on a show in the process.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 6:00pm 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, Ulises Segura; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Chris Seitz, Jalen Robinson, Chris McCann, Chris Durkin, Lucas Rodriguez, Zoltan Stieber, Quincy Amarikwa
Pretty much everyone is available, with only Oniel Fisher (knee) and Chris Odoi-Atsem (fitness following his course of chemotherapy) unavailable. The first question mark is whether Mora is truly alright after a collision in last week’s preseason game; he’s not on the injury report, so we’re going to assume he’s fine. The more well-known issue is up that same flank, where the left wing role could go to Segura, Stieber, or Rodriguez. We’re placing a bet on Segura, but realistically it could easily be any in that trio.
Projected Atlanta starting 11: (3421) - Brad Guzan; Miles Robinson, Michael Parkhurst, Florentin Pogba; Gordon Wild, Jeff Larentowicz, Darlington Nagbe, George Bello; Hector Villalba, Pity Martinez; Josef Martinez
There is a lot of rotation here, and there could be more if Frank de Boer opts to rest either Martinez or Parkhurst. Players like Romario Williams, Andrew Carleton, and Mikey Ambrose could be called on in those instances, but we could also see some different regulars (think Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Eric Remedi, Julian Gressel, and Ezequiel Barco) also get the start. It’s hard to gauge de Boer’s habits at this point, but with a game at Monterrey on Wednesday, it seems clear that someone is going to have to rest.
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Available TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes
Available streaming: WatchESPN and ESPN+ for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: (takes deep breath) We checked in at training, we tried to sort out D.C.’s lineup, we also took a shot at figuring out Atlanta’s rotated team, and previewed this game on Filibuster. We’ve also got our staff predictions coming up later this morning, and if you’re new here, here’s our season preview.
What are you drinking?: It’s going to be barely above freezing, first snowing and then raining, so whatever variety of K-Cup coffee I can get my hands on in the press box. Bundle up and fortify yourselves with whatever you need to get through this one.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos 2019!