D.C. United and Toronto FC face off tonight in a battle between two teams that could probably use a couple more days of rest and recuperation after mid-week wins. That’s not how MLS operates, though, and so both teams face their second game on short rest in the thick of a summer heat wave. As any experienced player or coach will tell you, it’s the time of year where the teams that can grind out wins tend to separate themselves from the pack.
Coming into this one, United eked out a 1-0 home win over Orlando City thanks to Wayne Rooney’s entry into this year’s MLS Goal of the Year balloting, while TFC needed both a stoppage time penalty kick conversion for themselves and a missed spot kick from Atlanta to down the defending champions 3-2. With both sides missing key players to international duty and injury, it feels like this will be another tightly-fought, tense contest.
Key player: Leonardo Jara
Jara isn’t an obvious pick here, but in a lot of little ways he could make a big difference tonight. First of all, TFC shredded Atlanta on the right mid-week by getting Michael Parkhurst to commit to tackles he couldn’t make, so Jara’s timing and anticipation will be tested. Secondly, with all of Joseph Mora’s replacements being in the “defense first” mold, Jara is going to have to shoulder some extra responsibility in aiding the attack. United could really use a recurrence of his ability to play a perfectly-weighted through ball from a place they don’t normally come from in MLS.
Finally, Jara’s fitness needs to be watched. He had to come out at halftime against NYCFC due to an illness, and back-to-back games in DMV summer humidity is tough to deal with at the best of times. There might be reason to expect him to play an hour or so before either Jalen Robinson comes on to protect a lead or things get weird as United chases a goal.
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, Marquinhos Pedroso; Chris Durkin, Russell Canouse; Ulises Segura, Luciano Acosta, Zoltan Stieber; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Chris Seitz, Donovan Pines, Jalen Robinson, Chris McCann, Lucas Rodriguez, Griffin Yow, Quincy Amarikwa
Mora’s replacement is completely unclear at this point. Pedroso, the most well-rounded option in theory, makes the most sense...except he hasn’t played a game in nearly a month, and made mistakes that cost United goals in each of his last two appearances. It could be Robinson, it could be McCann, it could even be the 3421.
Elsewhere, I don’t expect Ben Olsen to rotate much despite playing two games in the heat and humidity of a D.C. summer. Rodriguez strikes me as a possible candidate to rest, though, with Stieber or Yow both in the mix to replace him. We could also see Pines get the start over Brillant, or Robinson over Jara, but a lot depends on exactly how much those players had in the tank after Wednesday.
Projected Toronto FC starting 11: (4312) - Quentin Westberg; Richie Laryea, Laurent Ciman, Chris Mavinga, Justin Morrow; Nick DeLeon, Liam Fraser, Marky Delgado; Jay Chapman; Alejandro Pozuelo, Terrence Boyd
With Drew Moor injured, Greg Vanney is unlikely to turn to the 352 TFC had been using coming into this week. They played a 4141 against Atlanta, and as always with Vanney, the prospect of various looks makes it complicated to predict his lineup. It only gets trickier when Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Jonathan Osorio are away on international duty.
Chris Mavinga and Auro are both apparently healthy enough to play, and Vanney has said he wants them both to get minutes tonight. Look for Mavinga to start, and for Auro to sub in for 30-45 minutes at right back.
This formation is a bit of a stab in the dark. It would allow Vanney to rotate, which is probably important for them on the road, but it would also mean dropping young wingers Jacob Shaffelburg (who gave Michael Parkhurst fits mid-week) and Tsubasa Endoh (who produced a goal after spending a spell in TFC’s dog house). We could well see one or both get the nod if the 4141 is retained, which would probably mean Boyd losing his spot and TFC playing without a true striker.
Referee: Robert Sibiga
Available TV: None in the DMV.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: I took some time to dig into the Mora issue in depth. Hopefully we’ll have more for you later today.
What are you drinking?: It will be like 88-89 degrees and muggy at kickoff. Stay hydrated, y’all. I’m probably going to need caffeine after not sleeping much last night, so look for me driving into D.C. with a large cold brew from somewhere. At the game? Lots and lots of water.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos surviving summer soccer!
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