D.C. United kicks off the second half of their 2019 season tonight against Orlando City, and they’ll be looking to start it like they did the first half. United took 10 of 12 possible points to start the year, but since then have drifted to a shrug-worthy 4W-5D-4L since then, going from the top of the table in the East to 3rd overall (and 4th on a points-per-game basis).
They face a Lions side that has gone an unimpressive 2W-0D-4L in their last six games. However, Orlando has won twice in the Open Cup since their last league match, and won their last away game in the league 3-0. With games between these sides usually feisty battles decided by a single (often late) goal, United had better be prepared for Orlando to bring their very best to the table tonight.
Key player: Lucas Rodriguez
With Paul Arriola’s Gold Cup absence, the focus on United’s rather meh offensive output recently has often fallen on whether Ulises Segura merits a starting role. However, it has to be said that the Black-and-Red aren’t getting much from either wing. Rodriguez has gone 11 games (9 in MLS, 2 in the Open Cup) without posting a goal or assist. There are some positive data points — Rodriguez is 8th in all of MLS in terms of successful dribbles per 90 minutes, and has drawn four or more fouls in 3 of the last 5 games — but right now, it’s too easy for teams to collapse on Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta.
There’s no doubt that Rodriguez can be an electric player. He has scored two of the very best goals in MLS this season, and with his dribbling ability and his ability to win the ball when United presses, the potential is there for him to re-emerge as a major factor for United. Will he? The answer is probably an strong indicator of how the next two games will go.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Leonardo Jara, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Chris Durkin, Russell Canouse; Ulises Segura, Luciano Acosta, Lucas Rodriguez; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Chris Seitz, Donovan Pines, Jalen Robinson, Chris McCann, Zoltan Stieber, Griffin Yow, Quincy Amarikwa
There is a solid argument for Ben Olsen shaking things up, and maybe he will. Pines could be fit to start over Brillant, which would help cover for Jara’s attacking instincts. Yow is also arguably the in-form winger among those not away on international duty, though it would come as a major surprise for Olsen to start him.
Hamid was back in training this week, so it seems likely that he’s back in goal instead of Seitz. It is plausible that, with Toronto FC coming to town on Saturday, Olsen might rotate, but after this break, it seems likely that both games will see 9+ regular starters.
Projected Orlando starting 11: (433) - Brian Rowe; Ruan, Lamine Sané, Robin Jansson, Joao Moutinho; Dillon Powers, Sacha Kljestan, Carles Ascues; Nani, Tesho Akindele, Chris Mueller
James O’Connor has, over the last 6 weeks or so, settled into a 433 that includes a regista at the base of the midfield triangle. Sebastian Mendez has been preferred, but he’s injured, and Sacha Kljestan has been in that spot in each of their Open Cup wins.
Injuries and absences are influential here. O’Connor’s current first-choice midfield would be Mendez underneath Will Johnson and Cristian Higuita, but Johnson is with Canada at the Gold Cup, and Higuita is out due to injury. That means a rare Powers sighting, and it also means Ascues (more of a center back/anchor midfielder) playing a bit out of position.
One other issue: Moutinho is questionable with a quadriceps strain, and if he is ruled out, the Lions are painfully short in terms of depth, with Danny Acosta at the Gold Cup. Center back Alex De John is the probable replacement, though right wingback Kyle Smith could also be asked to switch flanks.
Referee: Alex Chilowicz
Available TV: None in the DMV.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Filibuster touched on this game, and we’ll have look at the lineups of both teams later this morning.
What are you drinking?: It’s gonna be warm and muggy tonight, so I’m gonna be pounding sponsor-provided bottled water.
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