With everything going on in the world at the moment, it’s particularly challenging to focus on a soccer game, but that’s the task ahead of D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union tonight. Following Wednesday’s player strikes across much of the U.S. sporting landscape in protest of continued police brutality against Black people nationwide, United and Philly have indicated that they plan on playing tonight’s match, which will take place in an eerily empty Subaru Park due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
As if those circumstances aren’t trying and unusual enough, MLS teams are all in the midst of a grueling stretch of games during the depths of the summer. For United’s, it’s a third game in eight days; the Union are on three in nine, and both sides have another game coming up on Wednesday.
Key player: Julian Gressel
We’re rolling the dice with this choice, because Gressel’s work load over the past two games might require rotation. But if he’s starting again, United needs to build on what they’ve gotten out of him as a wingback lately. Gressel has been more heavily involved than he was at MLS is Back, but the connections haven’t quite been there just yet. It’s a step in the right direction, but only one step.
As frustrating as Tuesday’s loss was, United created more than enough chances to win the game. If United — who will be without Edison Flores — is going to break down a defense that is coming off of two straight shutouts, they need their best chance creator to continue making progress, and to start to enhance his link with Ola Kamara up front.
Location: Subaru Park (Chester, PA)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (3412) - Bill Hamid; Donovan Pines, Axel Sjöberg, Steven Birnbaum; Julian Gressel, Felipe Martins, Junior Moreno, Joseph Mora; Yamil Asad; Ulises Segura, Ola Kamara
Bench: Chris Seitz, Frederic Brillant, Oniel Fisher, Mohammed Abu, Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes, Federico Higuain, Griffin Yow, Erik Sorga
Paul Arriola (ACL recovery), Russell Canouse (hamstring), Flores (facial fracture), and Chris Odoi-Atsem (unspecified) are out for this one. Brillant is listed as questionable after appearing to have a foot or ankle problem late on Tuesday’s game, and Ben Olsen referred to Fisher as “rounding the corner” yesterday. If either of those two didn’t travel, United would be showing up with two back-up goalkeepers in uniform; Earl Edwards Jr. is the only fit player not listed on this guess at United’s bench today.
As for the starters, we’re predicting three changes from Tuesday, but it could easily be more. Moreno (180 minutes in eight days) and Gressel (177) are the most likely starters we listed to end up getting a rest, which might open up a spot for Abu or Nyeman to make their first starts with United. It’s also unclear as to whether Sjöberg, who hasn’t had a competitive match since March, would be fit to start, but if Brillant isn’t able to start instead, the shortage of defenders would require getting creative to maintain the back three set-up.
Projected Philadelphia starting 11: (4312) - Andre Blake; Ray Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Mark McKenzie, Kai Wagner; Alejandro Bedoya, Jose Martinez, Jamiro Monteiro; Brenden Aaronson; Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos
Jim Curtin did some rotation earlier this week, and has spread his subs around, but he’s still got 8 normal starters who have at least 164 minutes played over the past 9 days. As such, while we’re listing what appears to be the strongest Union lineup, don’t be surprised if Curtin has to bring in someone not in that group to give players like Gaddis, Bedoya, Martinez, Monteiro, or Przybylko a break.
There’s also the outside chance that Curtin, seeing United using a back three, decides to shift to a 4231 and roll with super sub Ilsinho (who has tormented United in particular since coming to MLS) as a temporary starter. It’s not very likely, but it’s definitely an option they can call on.
Referee: Fotis Bazakos
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 are you drinking?: I think I’m going to take it back to the post-college days and drink a Stoli Vanilla and Coke.
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