D.C. United heads to the Pacific coast to face the Portland Timbers in a rare Sunday afternoon game. The Black-and-Red and their hosts are both looking to jump back into a spot that guarantees a home playoff game, while also warily looking down the table due to some uncomfortable proximity to the red line. Portland is hoping to emulate United’s 2018, which saw a backlogged schedule full of home games spark some outstanding form in the final games of the regular season.
For their part, D.C. has managed to get some kind of result in 9 of their 15 road games (5W-4D-6L). There’s no real secret involved: when United has been fully focused and plays disciplined, intense soccer away from home, they’ve been able to get results like the 3-0 win in Montreal a couple of weeks ago. Anything less than that level of play tonight isn’t going to cut it.
Key player: Wayne Rooney
With United coming off of a 3-0 road win and Rooney coming off of a suspension, there have been takes floating around out there that Ben Olsen might be better off without Rooney in his starting lineup. The idea is that United is a better pressing team by having faster, more mobile players in their front four, but it ignores something that seems pretty obvious: no one on the team is as good at soccer as Rooney is! And on top of that, United has pressed well with Rooney on the field, because he’s faster mentally than virtually anyone in the league. That speed of thought is crucial when pressing, lest we forget.
So yeah, expect Rooney to be back in the starting lineup. The question that should be hanging over him right now isn’t whether he fits into United’s best 11, but rather his form. His last two appearances have seen a somewhat muted 74 minutes in Vancouver followed by a somewhat harsh (but also, very avoidable) early red card against the Red Bulls. United flat out won’t win if that’s all they get out of the England legend.
Location: Providence Park (Portland, OR)
Kickoff time: 3:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Russell Canouse, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Felipe, Junior Moreno; Paul Arriola, Wayne Rooney, Lucas Rodriguez; Ola Kamara
Bench: Chris Seitz, Donovan Pines, Leonardo Jara, Ulises Segura, Luciano Acosta, Emmanuel Boateng, Quincy Amarikwa
Olsen only really has one tough choice to make, and it concerns who joins Arriola and Rodriguez in the attacking midfield trio. Much has been made of United’s ability to high-press with Arriola as the no. 10, but the Timbers would love for D.C. to opt to draw their line of contention high today. Instead, it’s safe to expect United (outside of some specific pressing triggers) to play out of a low block, which makes it very likely that Rooney will return from suspension and play as an attacking midfielder, with Arriola on the right.
Given how well he did in at Montreal in United’s last game, look for Canouse to continue starting at right back over Jara. Tonight will be a more difficult challenge, but the early returns from this experiment have been positive.
Projected Timbers starting 11: (4231) - Steve Clark; Jorge Moreira, Bill Tuiloma, Claude Dielna, Jorge Villafaña; Cristhian Paredes, Diego Chara; Jeremy Ebobisse, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco; Brian Fernandez
Giovanni Savarese is without both of his starting center backs (Larrys Mabiala and Julio Cascante) due to injury, and the drop off from them to Tuiloma and Dielna is fairly steep. Both of those two are left-footed, with Tuiloma having to somewhat awkwardly play right-center back right now.
Ahead of them, the issue of who partners Chara has been something of an issue all season. Paredes has gotten a slim majority of those starts, but it would not be earth-shattering if Andres Flores or DCU academy product Eryk Williamson — coming off of his second career start last weekend — got the start instead.
Further forward, Savarese will have to sort out which wing Blanco ends up on, as he’s shuffled the Argentine back and forth all season. There’s also at least some chance that Marvin Loria starts over Ebobisse, which would signal a move for Blanco over to the right.
Referee: Drew Fischer
Available TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes
Available streaming: WatchESPN
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com (but be careful, as they have the wrong US channels listed for this game).
What do we have to say about it?: On Filibuster, we chatted with William Conwell from Stumptown Footy about what to expect out of the Timbers tonight. We also took a more in-depth look at Olsen’s probable lineup.
What are you drinking?: If I have time for a beer run before this game kicks off, I will drink that beer! Otherwise, I might not have anything more interesting than Polar grapefruit seltzer.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos stringing together consistent performances!