It’s been a cruel summer for D.C. United, who badly need a victory today as they travel a couple hours north to take on the Philadelphia Union. The last meeting between these sides was a season low point for United, but after they responded with a gritty win over the LA Galaxy, two flawed performances have ended with two straight losses. For the first time all season, United has fallen out of the playoff spots that guarantee a home game in the postseason.
Against their closest geographic rival, on short rest, and without the suspended Wayne Rooney, United needs to stop their tailspin and course-correct. The inconsistent Union have shown the ability of late to be just as good as anyone in MLS...or just as bad. D.C. needs to make sure today falls in the latter category.
player concept: Team mentality
It’s no secret that United has been starting games very badly for some time now. Over the past 10 games, they’ve conceded the game’s first goal inside the first 20 minutes on 6 separate occasions (3 of which came before the 10th minute). The games where they got through the opening 20 minutes were much better: United went 2-1-1, with the loss only coming via an 89th minute concession.
Furthermore, United hasn’t been effective at flipping games once they start to go the wrong way. When winning at halftime, the Black-and-Red have a perfect 9-0-0 record. When they’re not in the lead at the break, though, United is a dreadful 1-9-9. And all of these stats include giving up a 3rd minute goal the last time these teams met.
More than any single player standing out, what United needs is a collective effort to keep themselves on solid footing in the opening minutes. That may well mean repeating the sort of approach we saw against the Galaxy, where United focused on keeping the game very simple and playing over the top whenever possible. It wasn’t pretty, but United had a shutout when the 21st minute arrived, and they had 3 points at full time.
Location: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, PA)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm 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; Ola Kamara
Bench: Chris Seitz, Donovan Pines, Marquinhos Pedroso, Lucas Rodriguez, Ulises Segura, Gordon Wild, Quincy Amarikwa
Here’s the easy part: these are the 18 players who are not injured or suspended, and did not play with Loudoun last night. Jalen Robinson joins Russell Canouse, Chris Durkin, Oniel Fisher, and Chris Odoi-Atsem on the injury report, Rooney is suspended, and the trio of Earl Edwards Jr., Antonio Bustamante, and Griffin Yow all played in a 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh last night.
That means a probable recall for Acosta in Rooney’s spot, and either Boateng or Segura coming in to give Rodriguez a rest. There’s also at least some chance that Olsen will have to rest Mora (who took a knock at one point in the first half against the Red Bulls), but it feels like he’s going to hope he can play through it rather than give Pedroso a run out.
Given the Union’s size up top, there’s at least a chance that the 541 returns (with Pines starting and one of the attacking midfield trio on the bench), but United is better off playing the formation they’re best in.
Projected Philadelphia starting 11: (4312) - Andre Blake; Ray Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Aurelien Collin, Kai Wagner; Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Warren Creavalle; Jamiro Monteiro; Marco Fabian, Kacper Przybylko
The Union have had all week to prepare for this game, but they’re in a bit of a spot themselves. In their last 6, they have 3 wins (clobbering United, plus two straightforward home wins against bad teams) and 3 losses (including two 4-0 road losses and a 2-0 loss to a 10-man Chicago side last week).
Jim Curtin should continue playing their midfield diamond, but he has some choices to make. Are the Union better like this, or with Monteiro as a shuttler, Fabian as the no. 10, and a second true forward (Andrew Wooten, most likely) starting? The choice is probably down to whether he wants to go with a more technical team or a more physical team.
Referee: Chris Penso
Available TV: None in the DMV.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: We tried to figure out United’s lineup with this short turnaround, and I’ve got a piece on Ola Kamara coming up for you in a couple of hours.
What are you drinking?: Press box bottled water at Audi Field, as I’ll be covering the Spirit’s big game there. Hope those of you driving up for this one have a good trip!
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos starting this road trip right!
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