D.C. United is staring down a potentially crushing stretch as they head to the Bronx tonight to take on New York City FC. It’s the second game in a 15-day span for United, and three of the four left in that set of games are on the road. Coming off of their worst performance of a very bad season, the Black-and-Red have to turn it around against an NYCFC side that’s in good form (3W-1D-1L in their last five games, including two straight high-scoring wins).
Making the task more difficult: due to various scheduling issues, NYCFC is playing at Yankee Stadium for the first time in 2020. That’s bad news for United, who have lost while conceding 3+ goals in three of their four appearances on the Pigeons’ unusually small playing surface.
Key players: Donovan Pines and Axel Sjöberg
United isn’t just in a bind because of their bad form, their history in the Bronx, and NYCFC’s good run since returning to regular MLS play. They’re also going to be without both Steven Birnbaum (ankle) and Frederic Brillant (suspension), which means we can be pretty sure of what the center back pairing is tonight.
It’s definitely not ideal to pair Pines and Sjöberg for the first time ever against a team that has scored seven goals in their last two games, but you can make an argument that at least one of them should have been getting their shot over Brillant lately just based on performance. This is a big opportunity for both players to show they deserve to start even when everyone is healthy, and it’s also a situation where United badly needs both players to have a good night. Considering their attacking woes, anything less than a solid 90 minutes of defending will likely doom the Black-and-Red tonight, and they’re not in a position to fall any further behind in the East.
Location: Yankee Stadium (Bronx, NY)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (442) - Bill Hamid; Oniel Fisher, Axel Sjöberg, Donovan Pines, Joseph Mora; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Griffin Yow; Yordy Reyna, Ola Kamara
Bench: Chris Seitz, Earl Edwards Jr., Chris Odoi-Atsem, Kevin Paredes, Yamil Asad, Federico Higuain, Moses Nyeman, Erik Sorga, Gelmin Rivas
As seemingly every week, we have a new, unfortunate injury update. This time it’s Birnbaum, who joins the lengthy list of absentees which also includes Paul Arriola, Edison Flores, Felipe Martins, Ulises Segura, Mohammed Abu (all injured) and the aforementioned suspension for Brillant.
As with about half of the games since returning from MLS is Back, Ben Olsen has exactly 20 players to put in uniform, so barring any major surprises, we know the gameday squad. Look for United to get Canouse in for real this time, and we might see Yow over on the left with Gressel coming into the lineup. The small surface suits Yow’s knack for making things happen in tight spaces, and he only played 45 minutes on the weekend.
One more stray thought: this might be a good time to bring the midfield diamond back, with Paredes or Asad replacing Yow and playing the high point with an emphasis on disrupting the Pigeons in the build-up.
Projected NYCFC starting 11: (4231) - Sean Johnson; Anton Tinnerholm, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, Ronald Matarrita; James Sands, Keaton Parks; Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jesus Medina, Alexander Ring; Valentin Castellanos
All signs point to Medina playing slightly out of position as the no. 10 here, because Maxi Moralez is still out injured, and Alexandru Mitrita is “away on international duty” (which apparently may well be negotiating a departure from MLS to the Saudi Arabian league). That opens a spot on the wing, which could go to Tajouri-Shradi or Gary Mackay-Steven.
Elsewhere, NYCFC is a bit short-handed, with Castellanos the only accomplished forward available due to Heber’s ongoing absence due to injury. We may see Ronny Deila opt to rotate — it’s midweek, and United is in dead last — but he generally doesn’t like to make changes that often. If anyone comes in, look for Joe Scally and/or Gudmundur Thorarinsson coming in as fresh legs at the fullback spots.
Referee: PRO had not announced a referee assignment before publication.
Available TV: WJLA 24/7 News (D.C. region only)
Available streaming: If you live inside this blackout zone that United provided for us, you can stream the game on the team site. For everyone else, ESPN+ or FuboTV (subscribe via those links, & your friends at B&RU get some cash!).
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: After we wailed and gnashed our teeth about the Atlanta game, the latest Filibuster (featuring Christian Polanco of The Cooligans as our guest) got into what’s going on with the Pigeons.
What are you drinking?: The way games have been going lately, it’s time to go to the liquor. Knob Creek single barrel select with one big ol’ sphere of ice. It’s overproof, so it’s the strongest option I have.
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