There’s a simplicity in place for both D.C. United and the Montreal Impact in tonight’s MLS is Back group stage finale. Win this one game, and you’re through to the knockout rounds. After a year full of uncertainty and confusion, a straightforward task is probably welcome for both clubs. While United has more options — there are numerous scenarios where a third straight job ensures one more game — they can expect the absolute best of the Impact, who must win to advance.
Key player: Any and all center backs
We’re gonna cheat here and cite both Frederic Brillant and Steven Birnbaum here, and it’s for a pretty simple reason. Montreal’s attack is a constant threat because there’s a simple clarity to what they want from their forwards: good runs in behind. Romell Quioto and Maxi Urruti bring a good combination of speed and work rate, and they’re always looking for the moments where a defense takes a play off. Spending one moment looking the wrong way, even with the ball 80 yards from goal, can be a disaster against the Impact.
As such, United’s center backs have to be excellent in terms of focus and awareness, but perhaps more importantly, their communication with each other and with everyone else has to be top-notch today. As Toronto FC learned, dominating possession is not enough to silence the Montreal attack; it takes front-to-back organization.
Location: Field 16 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex (Kissimmee, FL)
Kickoff time: 10:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Oniel Fisher, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Russell Canouse, Felipe Martins; Julian Gressel, Edison Flores, Yamil Asad; Ola Kamara
Bench: Chris Seitz, Earl Edwards Jr., Donovan Pines, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Junior Moreno, Mohammed Abu, Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes, Federico Higuain, Ulises Segura, Griffin Yow, Erik Sorga
Ben Olsen said on Sunday that United is nearly fully fit, with Paul Arriola and Emmanuel Boateng the only players that are out for this one. Kamara will face a fitness test, but Olsen said that his guess was that the Norwegian will be good to go.
This is a bit of a guess, as Olsen said United is trying to strike a balance between getting their system right and dealing with the different approach Montreal offers. Could that mean a return to a back three? Or does it just mean some rotation? Hamid, Brillant, Birnbaum, Canouse, and Felipe have all played 180 minutes at this point in Florida, so players like Pines or Abu could be in line for a start.
In the attack, Kamara is probably going to start if he’s available. If not, Segura might have an edge over Sorga right now. We could also still see Higuain getting his minutes up front rather than off the bench.
Projected Montreal starting 11: (532) - Clément Diop; Zachary Brault-Guillard, Joel Waterman, Rod Fanni, Luis Binks, Jukka Raitala; Samuel Piette, Victor Wanyama, Saphir Taïder; Maxi Urruti, Romell Quioto
Thierry Henry has largely preferred a back five or back three since taking over, and while that has included some 541/343 mixed in, today it’s probably going to be 532 or 352. While it’s reasonable to expect some rotation, Montreal has given a few players a rest in their first two games, and they’re also facing a win-or-go-home scenario, so look for what is probably their best eleven here.
That includes Brault-Guillard as the right wingback. Impact fans and media have been left with no answers as to why Henry has chosen to start Piette (a central midfielder) and Shamit Shome (another central midfielder) there in the first two games, but it hasn’t really worked, and Brault-Guillard is by far their best option in that spot. Unless Henry is trying to hammer home a point to a younger player, it seems reasonable to expect a start for 21 year old.
Referee: Alex Chilowicz
Available TV: ESPN 2, TUDN USA
Available streaming: WatchESPN, ESPN3, Twitter (we’ll try to get a link here to make it easy on you), TUDN app, TUDN.com, and if you want to subscribe to a service that will cut your friends at B&RU a little extra cash, FuboTV.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: The latest episode of Filibuster spent quite a bit of time on previewing Montreal from both the perspective of Kevin Laramee (who covers that beat) and from Fisher as a player. We’ve also got quotes from Olsen, Higuain, and Felipe previewing the match, and a breakdown of the results United needs to advance.
What are you drinking?: 10:30pm on yet another unreasonably hot day...feels like gin rickey weather to me.
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