D.C. United faces their first game since Wayne Rooney announced his winter move to Derby County tonight as they host Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy. United is at a crossroads as a season that began with real promise has come off the rails, with the Black-and-Red having just 2 wins in their last 13 games (and 1 win in 7). The Galaxy come to town in somewhat similar circumstances, having lost 3 of their last 4 thanks to a defense that has conceded 12 times in that time.
Tonight could well be a crucial turning point for one of these teams, and new signings could be the key. United will have Emmanuel Boateng (who, until Wednesday, played for the Galaxy) and Felipe in the fold, but will not be able to call on Ola Kamara, whose work visa did not arrive in time. The Galaxy, on the other hand, will be able to call on landmark signing Cristian Pavon, though it is unclear whether the Argentine winger will be used from the start.
Key player: Wayne Rooney
There’s a lot of uncertainty in how United will line up tonight (as you’ll see below), and while it is tempting to cite a center back in a game where Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on the other team, let’s not over-think this one. United’s problem of late has been an inability to create genuine scoring chances, and now their most important attacking player has confirmed that the clock on his time with the club is ticking.
Is settling his departure to Derby County a tonic for Rooney? It could be just the thing he needs to focus purely on these final 9 games. No one really doubts that Rooney will give his all, but there’s a difference between giving full effort and playing truly inspired soccer. United, barring some sudden return to form from some other attacking players, needs Rooney to do the latter to jump-start a side that just hasn’t been able to get it done in recent weeks.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern (but really, more like 7:50 or so)
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Donovan Pines, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Felipe, Leonardo Jara, Joseph Mora; Paul Arriola, Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta
Bench: Chris Seitz, Jalen Robinson, Marquinhos Pedroso, Ulises Segura, Lucas Rodriguez, Emmanuel Boateng, Quincy Amarikwa
Let’s start with the easy part: between injuries, players who played for Loudoun on Friday night, and Kamara not getting his work visa yet, Ben Olsen has 18 players to choose from. We also have a good reason to believe that United will slot Felipe right into the starting lineup, because he’s the only specialist defensive midfielder available.
Now for the hard part: how will Olsen cobble this specific 18 into a lineup? Will we see the 343 that hasn’t been working given another shot? The argument would be that having three center backs helps neutralize Ibrahimovic, which is to say it would neutralize LA’s entire attack. On the other hand, let me just gesture towards United’s record playing a back three/back five against anyone that isn’t the dregs of MLS: 0W-4D-3L, and a -7 goal difference (with only 4 goals scored).
Playing a 4231 with Odoi-Atsem at right back, Jara and Felipe underneath Arriola, Acosta, and Rodriguez in the midfield, and Rooney up top seems very plausible as well, but who knows? This post could become a 3,000 word preview if we delved into all of the possibilities.
Projected Galaxy starting 11: (4231) - David Bingham; Rolf Feltscher, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Dave Romney, Diego Polenta; Jonathan dos Santos, Joe Corona; Sebastian Lletget, Fabio Alvarez, Uriel Antuna; Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic and Polenta are back from suspension, and will walk right back into the lineup for Guillermo Barros Schelotto; There are only a couple real questions here: will Romney maintain his place over Dan Steres at center back? And can Pavon be ready from the start?
We’re going with Romney over Steres, and expecting Pavon to be a substitute rather than a starter. That brings us to another question: who gets the nod on the right wing? The easy answer would be Efrain Alvarez, but he’s suspended. Julian Araujo has been preferred more often, but is more of a right back. Lletget, meanwhile, got to start last week, and though he’s better centrally, is the more experienced option.
Referee: Alan Kelly
Available TV: Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes
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?: We tried to grapple with all the possibilities (and absences) involved in picking today’s United lineup.
What are you drinking?: With all of our teams playing home games this weekend, multiple long drives, and no time to cook my own food, I have taken in too much salt in the past few days. Water, and lots of it.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos turning this ship around!