Like any other team in MLS, D.C. United’s journey through 2020 has been nothing if not strange. Today, however, a win over the Montreal Impact may allow them to write the most bizarre chapter of this story yet: a playoff spot for a team that spent nearly two months at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
If this feels like deja vu...well, it is. United and Montreal faced off at MLS is Back with a spot in the knockout round on the line, and the Black-and-Red came up short. In 2018, these clubs met near the end of the season, and United’s 5-0 home win was a huge factor in the Impact missing out on the playoffs. It’s becoming a tradition of sorts.
The scenarios that see the Black-and-Red getting one more game this year involve games scattered elsewhere, but the top prerequisite for all of them is that United must beat the Impact to have any chance of extending this utterly unique season.
Key player: Edison Flores
United’s record signing has had multiple interruptions to his debut MLS season, but he’s just now rounding into form at the perfect moment. We’ve had three or four games in a row where Flores has looked more dangerous, and United has been better off as a result. Coming off of a two-assist performance against New England, and after being highly influential on both sides of the ball in United’s home win over Columbus, “Orejas” may have gotten the measure of MLS in the nick of time.
Montreal tends to sit a bit deeper than United’s recent opponents, and have more than their share of tough, physical players that will look to disrupt Flores by denying him space and bundling him to the ground whenever possible. That’s life in this league as an attacking player, and Flores will need to stay mobile throughout. It could be to find spots where he can set someone else up for a big chance, or to finish one off himself, or even to drag the defense away from where the attack is actually going.
Must-win means must-score, and that likely means that United need another strong performance from Flores if they’re going to do their part and get a victory today.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 3:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Oniel Fisher, Frederic Brillant, Donovan Pines, Joseph Mora; Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno; Julian Gressel, Edison Flores, Yamil Asad; Gelmin Rivas
Bench: Chris Seitz, Axel Sjöberg, Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes, Paul Arriola, Griffin Yow, Yordy Reyna, Erik Sorga, Ola Kamara
United’s list of players who are definitely out is down to four, which constitutes the healthiest they’ve been since MLS is Back. However, there are two potential starters listed as questionable that could change all that. We tried to ask about that on Friday, but Chad Ashton wasn’t interested in giving out any hints.
Our guess: Mora returns and starts, but Chris Odoi-Atsem does not. If Mora can’t go, Canouse will probably play right back, which would start a domino effect. Fisher would be over on the left, Asad would play the no. 8 role, Flores would shift out onto the left wing, and we’d probably see more of a 442 than 4231 with Reyna the favorite to start alongside Rivas (or possibly Kamara, but we’re thinking the hotter goalscorer gets the nod) up front.
Beyond that, look for Ashton to try to make sure there’s a sub available to get Arriola into the game no matter the scoreline.
Projected Montreal starting 11: (4312) - Clément Diop; Zachary Brault-Guillard, Rudy Camacho, Luis Binks, Jukka Raitala; Samuel Piette, Victor Wanyama, Emmanuel Maciel; Bojan Krkic; Rommel Quioto, Maxi Urruti
This represents a guess, because Thierry Henry has tinkered with his formation on a game-to-game basis all season long. Lately he’s gone back and forth between this midfield diamond and a 352, but we may have enough of a pattern of the World Cup winner choosing the diamond when facing a 4231 (which is closer to what United does than the 433 that has seen them prefer a 352).
But, if Henry wants to go 352, he’ll probably bring Jorge Corrales in as his left wingback, with Urruti giving way and Bojan playing as a forward. Given Urruti’s history against the first club that tried to bring him to MLS, that might actually be preferable. That said, the real danger is Quioto, who has 7 goals and 5 assists on the year.
Finally, if Montreal is trailing, look for Henry to shift into a 433. They’ve got a lot of options to add to their front line in that situation, with players like Orji Okwonwko, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, and Ballou Tabla all potential game-changers.
Referee: Rubiel Vazquez
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 curious about the playoff math facing United today, we have you sorted! The latest episode of Filibuster also gets into this game, plus the other match-ups that D.C.’s hopes hinge on.
What are you drinking?: It’s actually going to be the warmest gameday at Audi Field in like six or seven weeks, so I’m going to leave the insulated bottle and hot tea at home. Since I’ve been in the mood to celebrate over the last 24 hours, maybe I’ll make the rare choice to treat myself to some Mountain Dew Code Red, the finest of sodas.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos actually pulling this thing off!
Black and Red United has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Black and Red United and Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our guiding principles.