D.C. United hosts Sporting Kansas City tonight in a game that signals the start of the busiest stretch of the Black-and-Red’s 2019 season. United has 6 games and a friendly in the next 20 days, including a brutal 3 games in the next 6 days. There will be no sympathy from KC though, as Sporting has already played 15 competitive games (including trips to Mexico and Panama) and has an enormous list of injured players to cope with.
This spell could well be a turning point for United’s season, and pouncing on a wounded, struggling KC team is the ideal way to get it started.
Key player: Steven Birnbaum
KC is pretty depleted at the back and in the midfield, so you should be confident in United’s attack putting goals on the board. The major concern should be that it might take quite a few goals, as Sporting can still put a very good attacking trio on the field. With a likely debut at left back for Marquinhos Pedroso and players like Johnny Russell and Kristian Nemeth lurking on the other side, Birnbaum needs to be at his very best.
Normally that means dominating in the air, but Kansas City doesn’t exactly pump long balls forward or bombard you with crosses. For Birnbaum and United, a lot of the defensive work in this game is going to be about positioning, quickness, and anticipation rather than aerial dominance. Reading the runs off the ball, shutting down passing lanes, and making it hard to find a way forward for KC is obviously a team job, but Birnbaum’s leadership and ability to step forward and win the ball between the lines are huge for United getting the three points today.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: “7:00pm” Eastern (more like 7:25pm per Steve Goff)
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Leonardo Jara, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Marquinhos Pedroso; Chris Durkin, Junior Moreno; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Lucas Rodriguez; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Chris Seitz, Jalen Robinson, Chris McCann, Russell Canouse, Ulises Segura, Zoltan Stieber, Quincy Amarikwa
This is just speculation, but with an Eastern Conference away game and a challenging trip to Houston within the next six days, and Durkin leaving soon for the Under-20 World Cup, this might be a good game to start him and rest Canouse (or Moreno, for that matter). We may see Ben Olsen make some other moves in a similar vein, with Segura for either of the wingers distinctly possible.
We’ll probably also see some earlier substitutions than Olsen has preferred of late, especially if DCU can build a lead in the first hour.
Projected Kansas City starting 11: (433) - Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Botond Barath, Graham Smith, Seth Sinovic; Felipe Gutierrez, Ilie Sanchez, Kelyn Rowe; Johnny Russell, Krisztian Nemeth, Daniel Salloi
Sporting is missing a whopping 10 players and has 2 more listed as questionable, and that doesn’t even include Ilie and Sinovic playing so quickly after returning from injury. Zusi might not be able to play, Smith has just 3 MLS appearances in his career (though Matt Besler could possibly get the nod instead), and United should really bring the attacking aggression as a result.
Referee: Alan Kelly
Available TV: Fox Sports 1
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?: If you want to read, we have a look at KC’s probable starters as well as D.C.’s likely return to 4231. If you want to listen, Filibuster talked over this game. If you want to wait, our predictions are coming up in a couple of hours.
What are you drinking?: You may think it’s May, so it’ll be warm, but I’m looking at a weather app that says it’ll be 54 and drizzling throughout this game. So, I think I’m going to hit up the trusty old (actually not old) press box coffee maker.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos victory hat trick for our teams!