Things are going well for D.C. United these days. They’re winning games, and mostly in a stylish manner. Fans are turning up in big numbers at Audi Field, morale within the squad appears sky high, and pundits are impressed. However, while United’s March featured some tricky games, the Black-and-Red are facing their biggest test of this young season today, facing Los Angeles FC. United is the best team in the East, LAFC is the best in the West, and we just may have one of the best games of the MLS season on our hands today.
Key player: Chris McCann
Defensively, United has to prepare for arguably the best player in MLS at the moment, and Carlos Vela has a supporting cast full of talent. That’s also the part of the field where United is dealing with the first truly enforced change to the lineup, as Joseph Mora’s broken jaw will force Ben Olsen into a change.
With Vela mostly setting up on the right wing, McCann is going to see more of the Mexican attacker than anyone else for DCU. It’s certainly not as simple as McCann having to shut Vela down all by himself (thankfully, United doesn’t use San Jose’s man-marking system, which LAFC just ripped to shreds), but if McCann struggles, we’re probably going to see Vela get a ton of chances. That’s a recipe for defeat.
Last week, McCann used his head to keep Orlando’s pacy wingback Ruan contained. It wasn’t anything flashy: McCann got tight to dissuade Orlando from passing towards Ruan, and made sure to give him a bump before he could accelerate to mitigate a significant difference in speed. In other words, McCann used his brain to avoid letting an opponent make use of said opponent’s most prominent skill.
Vela’s a very different (and far more challenging) prospect; get too close and he’ll be able to lose you with a feint or a flick. Stand off, and he can put the ball wherever he wants either as a passer or going to goal. McCann won’t have to worry much about losing a straight-up footrace, but Vela’s technical ability and vision give him a wide array of options. If United is going to get the kind of game they want, McCann’s first start needs to result in a very solid, intelligent 90 minutes.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 3:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Leonardo Jara, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Chris McCann; Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Lucas Rodriguez; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Chris Seitz, Jalen Robinson, Akeem Ward, Chris Durkin, Ulises Segura, Zoltan Stieber, Quincy Amarikwa
As we’ve already discussed, McCann should end up replacing the injured Mora at let back, which makes room for Ward to make his first gameday 18 after previously starting in Loudoun United’s first three games. Now, we could see some bigger changes here, since United has an Eastern Conference match-up with Montreal in just three days, but I suspect Olsen is going to save the rotation for that game and next weekend’s trip to Colorado.
If there is rotation with the Impact in mind, I’d say the most likely choice is Segura coming in for Arriola followed by Durkin giving one of the defensive midfielders a rest. But again, most likely it’ll be the best available 11 today.
Projected LAFC starting 11: (433) - Tyler Miller; Steven Beitashour, Walker Zimmerman, Eddie Segura, Jordan Harvey; Latif Blessing, Eduard Atuesta, Mark-Anthony Kaye; Carlos Vela, Adama Diomande, Diego Rossi
With Lee Nguyen confirmed as out for this game (by the way, that’s a major absence), the only real question mark for Bob Bradley’s side is whether it’s Diomande or Christian Ramirez starting up top. They’ve been rotating on an almost game-to-game basis, but after the 5-0 win over San Jose last week, Diomande might have the slightest edge.
Referee: Robert Sibiga
Available TV: Fox. That’s over-the-air Fox, not Fox Sports.
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer Match Pass
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: On Filibuster, we talked to Alicia Rodriguez of Angels on Parade about what to expect out of LAFC. Steven Streff went to training and found United raring to go, while we also had a little fun in downplaying LAFC’s chances. Later this morning, we’ll have our predictions, Opposition 11, and some brief keys to today’s game.
What are you drinking?: I’ll be in the press box and have to leave immediately after post-game media availability to head to the Plex for the Spirit’s preseason game, so I’ll be sticking with MLS sponsor-provided bottled water.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos taking over at the top of the table!