Over five months ago, D.C. United was preparing to go on the road to face FC Cincinnati in an attempt to build on their first win of 2020...and then the floor fell out from under all of us. MLS had to stop play due to the coronavirus pandemic, and amid numerous historic crises, we’ve been hoping for things to get better to the extent that small comforts like pro soccer could come back in a way we recognize.
We’re not really there yet. The pandemic is still raging, and there won’t be a way to place it out of frame during tonight’s game. United and Cincy will face off in an empty Nippert Stadium. They’re going to don masks for the pre-game ceremonies. The Black-and-Red are flying in via charter, which never happens, and they’re doing so this morning; you may be reading this before their plane takes off. Win, lose, or draw, they’re coming back home tonight rather than staying in a hotel. MLS is back, but it’s still not the league we know, and it won’t be for a long time.
The points still count, though, and United should be desperate for a win right now. It’s been over five months since they won a game, and you have to go back to 2019 to find a convincing performance. Strange days or not, it’s time to deliver both.
Location: Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati, OH)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno; Julian Gressel, Edison Flores, Yamil Asad; Ola Kamara
Bench: Earl Edwards Jr., Donovan Pines, Oniel Fisher, Mohammed Abu, Ulises Segura, Federico Higuain, Kevin Paredes, Griffin Yow, Erik Sorga
Let’s spell out what we know: First of all, Felipe Martins (suspension) and Paul Arriola (ACL recovery) are definitely out. That’s the easy part.
Olsen told media on Wednesday that United had picked up some new knocks, to such an extent that United couldn’t play 11v11 in training, but declined to say who the injured players are. That means at least four players were unavailable, and with Arriola the only long-term absentee, there are three injury doubts somewhere on the roster. Olsen mentioned that Kamara is “ready to go,” so he’s not one of them, and a little social media nerdery has influenced our guess at tonight’s lineup.
We also don’t know how many players are allowed to be in uniform. We reached out to United, but as of the time this was written, they’re still looking into it. Looking at the other games during this phase, it appears the maximum is 20 players, so that’s what our above nine-man bench is based around.
Projected Cincinnati starting 11: (433) - Przemyslaw Tyton; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Kendall Waston, Tom Petterson, Andrew Gutman; Caleb Stanko, Haris Medunjanin, Frankie Amaya; Adrien Regattin, Jurgen Locadia, Yuya Kubo
We’re also in the dark with Cincinnati, who played a wide-open 433 to start MLS is Back and got completely demolished by Columbus. Jaap Stam decided that was not an experience he wanted to repeat, and changed up to a 532 and a far more conservative mindset, and got some results. FCC got out of their group, and took eventual tournament winners Portland to penalties in the knockout round.
However, an ultra-defensive approach in a short tournament has far better odds of working than over a full season, and with 10 playoff spots in the East, there’s time for Stam to go back to his initial idea. Crucially, former Premier League striker Locadia is also fit, adding a reason to play 433 again. So, here’s our guess: the 433 comes back, but the extremely attacking midfield the Crew ripped to shreds will instead feature one more ball-winner (Stanko) instead of former Ajax playmaker Siem de Jong.
If Stam figures he needs to stick with the 532, look for Mathieu Deplagne to come in as a third center back, with either Locadia (who may not be more than 60 minutes fit right now) or Regattin to make way. In that case, it’s also fair to expect Maryland native Joe Gyau to come in for Abdul-Salaam as the right wingback.
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?: The latest episode of Filibuster talks about who needs to step up for DCU, and what to expect from Cincinnati tonight. Later today, we’ll have quotes from Olsen and Canouse, plus a post on United’s lineup.
What are you drinking?: That’s a good question. If I think ahead, maybe I’ll make myself a margarita. If not, there’ll probably be a can of LaCroix (pamplemousse to be specific) at halftime.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos returning to play...again!
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