D.C. United’s erratic season continues tonight with the first chapter of 2019’s Atlantic Cup, as they host a New York Red Bulls team in a similar situation. Neither team is where they thought they’d be at the start of the season, with United holding a home playoff game by a one-point edge over their oldest rival. It’s hard to say what we’ll get from either team, as neither has managed anything resembling a consistent run of form in months.
Regardless of their inconsistency, it’s crunch time for both teams. After tonight, United only has two more home games left on their schedule; it’s hard to believe they can seal a home playoff game without winning tonight. For the Red Bulls, losing means falling 4 points behind United, likely consigning them to simply trying to qualify for the postseason rather than competing for a home game of their own.
In other words, it’s not just a big game because it’s MLS’s oldest rivalry. It’s also a real chance for one of these inconsistent teams to jump-start their seasons just as the stretch run beings.
Key player: Luciano Acosta
There are three ways this can go for Lucho. The simplest is that Ben Olsen keeps him stuck to the bench, in which case he probably won’t be a major factor here. That would be less than great! The second, which isn’t great either, is that he starts, but he doesn’t really show us what he’s made of. The game passes him by, he can’t do enough to help United break the NYRB press, and we continue having to wonder whether this choice to drop him has been justified.
What United needs is the third outcome: Acosta shows renewed vigor and sharpness, and repeatedly uses his quick feet and balance to escape when the Red Bulls send two or three players at him trying to win the ball back. If United can break pressure (and Acosta is the best player on the team at this), they’re going to have a great chance of winning this game. It’s not even necessarily about goals and assists for Acosta tonight. If he’s fully engaged and at his best, the Black-and-Red’s hopes are vastly improved.
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; Felipe, Junior Moreno; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Emmanuel Boateng; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Chris Seitz, Donovan Pines, Jalen Robinson, Ulises Segura, Lucas Rodriguez, Ola Kamara, Quincy Amarikwa
Rotation would normally be expected on a Wednesday, after a trip out to the west coast, for a game on turf. However, with United more or less needing this one, we suspect very little in the way of change. Acosta, as we already discussed, probably gets back in after spending two games on the substitutes’ bench. We’ve also got Boateng listed in here for his first start, and it’s for a reason: the Red Bulls are vulnerable over the top, and you might as well put your fastest attacker out there to take advantage.
It seems reasonable to expect Kamara to get increased minutes, but we’re thinking more in the 30-35 minute range. If we had to add one more player to the list of players to rotate in, it might be Robinson coming in for Jara (though Jara only played 67 minutes at Vancouver).
Projected NYRB starting 11: (4231) - Luis Robles; Rece Buckmaster, Tim Parker, Aaron Long, Kemar Lawrence; Sean Davis, Cristian Casseres Jr.; Marc Rzatkowski, Kaku, Daniel Royer; Bradley Wright-Phillips
Wright-Phillips hasn’t been the starter for much of this season, but Brian White (9 goals in 18 appearances) hurt his ankle on the weekend and is listed as questionable. It seems safe to expect rotation there, which is bad news given that Wright-Phillips has 10 goals in 15 regular season appearances against United.
Elsewhere, Buckmaster has been keeping Michael Murillo out of the team lately, but we could see rotation there. Alex Muyl is also a distinct possibility on the right wing, with Rzatkowski able to rotate back for either holding midfielder.
Referee: Ismail Elfath
Available TV: UniMas, TUDN USA (formerly Univision Deportes)
Available streaming: Twitter (we’ll add a link to the stream when we have it), Univision Now, TUDN En Vivo
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: The back half of Filibuster is all about what’s going on with the Red Bulls.
What are you drinking?: Gonna need to re-hydrate after what I’m sure will be a lovely drive through rush hour traffic on a hot, muggy day. Water, water, and more water.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos United!