D.C. United isn’t supposed to be here, but with a win today against the New England Revolution, they may well enter the final week of the MLS regular season in a playoff spot. Merely three weeks ago, this idea would have been laughable, but a three-game winning streak has vaulted the Black-and-Red back into contention. However, beating the Revolution — a team that they’ve been unable to beat this year in three prior attempts — will require pairing their recent persistence with more consistent play in possession.
Key player: Donovan Pines
United will enter this game short at least three projected starting defenders, and possibly all four depending on Joseph Mora’s status (we’ll get to that in a second). That leaves Pines under quite a bit of pressure to play up to his potential for the full 90 minutes, which is another way of saying he needs to avoid mistakes.
That’s a tough task with that many absences, but with New England applying high pressure and fielding a bunch of very fast and/or physically strong players, the job gets more difficult. We’re also talking about a game on the road, on turf, and with rain in the forecast for the full 90 minutes. It’s a major test for Pines, and for everyone at the back for the Black-and-Red.
Location: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, MA)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (442) - Bill Hamid; Oniel Fisher, Russell Canouse, Donovan Pines, Joseph Mora; Julian Gressel, Junior Moreno, Yamil Asad, Edison Flores; Erik Sorga, Ola Kamara
Bench: Chris Seitz, Earl Edwards Jr., Axel Sjöberg, Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes, Griffin Yow, Yordy Reyna, Gelmin Rivas
It doesn’t sound like any of United’s recent absentees are available, and in fact they have a suspension (Frederic Brillant is not available after some dubious refereeing) and a new injury doubt after a physical win on Wednesday took its toll. Mora is supposedly “day-to-day” after receiving stitches following a clash of heads, and while he’s not on the injury report at all, we have to acknowledge the possibility that he’s not going to be available.
That would leave Chad Ashton with none of his projected starting defenders for a must-win game, and because United doesn’t have a lot of depth at left back, the alternative options are to either bring Fisher over there, move Canouse into a fullback role, and start Sjöberg, or to hand the job to Paredes.
Beyond all that, look for some rotation and a modest change back to the 442, with Sorga and Kamara leading the line. If Ashton wants to stick with the 4231, though, we could see Paredes on the left wing and Flores playing centrally, or Nyeman coming into the center of midfield (allowing Asad to move up).
Projected New England starting 11: (4231) - Matt Turner; Brandon Bye, Andrew Farrell, Henry Kessler, DeJuan Jones; Matt Polster, Kelyn Rowe; Teal Bunbury, Lee Nguyen, Tajon Buchanan; Adam Buksa
This one’s a tough call, for two major reasons. First, Bruce Arena has rotated pretty consistently, and that means we should expect changes from the team that lost 1-0 at Red Bull Arena Wednesday night. We anticipate moves including Bye replacing Alexander Büttner, Polster giving Scott Caldwell a rest, and the return of Bunbury as a starter after being held out mid-week.
The other issue is the health status of New England’s two best players, Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou. Let’s start with Gil, who turns the Revs from a decent team to one that could compete for the Eastern Conference title. He’s made two different 27-minute appearances off the bench this week, his first since ankle surgery, and it stands to reason that he could be in range for a 45-minute outing here. He could start, or he could come off the bench, but United had better have a plan against him either way.
Bou has been dealing with a hamstring strain, but was apparently close to being included on Wednesday night. If he’s available, he’s always a threat, though it seems doubtful that he will immediately come into the starting lineup.
Referee: Dave Gantar
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?: If you’re wondering about the playoff scenarios, we sorted through them with a mix of where United is at and some wishful thinking. It’s also probably wise to have a look at this statistical analysis piece we published earlier in the week on what United has changed about their approach.
What are you drinking?: I’m writing this in the morning, and I think I’ve got plenty of time to pick up some beers. I’m thinking some kind of Oktoberfest, which I’ll drink as often as I can get my hands on them.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos continuing to win games after having not won many games at all for many months!
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