D.C. United is in serious need of a win, but with Toronto FC in town tonight, it certainly won’t come easy. United (2W-4D-5L) sits just outside the playoff places, with just one home win in five attempts and one win in their last nine games; their opponents only recently ended a league record-tying 18 games without a loss.
However, despite their differing fortunes at the moment, the recent history between the teams has been remarkably even. At the MLS is Back Tournament, 10-man United came from 2-0 down to get a draw in a contentious match that was postponed by a day. That continued a trend in regular season play, where the Black-and-Red are unbeaten in six against TFC.
player concept: Set piece defending
Don’t give up another set piece goal! Stop doing this! Be ready for where the ball is going, and where the attackers are going, and don’t let them score!
That’s it?: Well no, midfield structure is also important
There are two things to address here: first, a midfield diamond is hard to get right, but United needs to stick with it if they’re going to make it work (and right now, it might have more promise than any other plan they’ve shown this year). Being too difficult to play through cuts a lot of danger down, and there were moments where DCU was not all that difficult to play through last week. The spatial understanding needs to be better.
Second, what do teams do when they can’t play through the middle? They go wide, and TFC is great at manipulating the wings to create overloads. That tests the midfield (which has to have shuttlers stepping wide), but it also tests the fullbacks, and even the forwards. Getting that extra man to the right place before TFC gets numbers up is absolutely critical in terms of frustrating their attacks and exposing them on the counter.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4312) - Bill Hamid; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Julian Gressel, Junior Moreno, Mohammed Abu; Kevin Paredes; Gelmin Rivas, Ola Kamara
Bench: Chris Seitz, Donovan Pines, Oniel Fisher, Moses Nyeman, Yamil Asad, Federico Higuain, Griffin Yow, Ulises Segura, Erik Sorga
We know Paul Arriola, Edison Flores, and Felipe Martins remain out. Russell Canouse is listed as out on the injury report, but the team posted video of him joining in training in a way that indicates that he might be very close to a return.
If he’s able to dress, obviously Ben Olsen would bring him into the gameday squad, but let’s assume he’s a game away. With that in mind, we’re expecting Hamid and Birnbaum both to return to the lineup after missing the last few games. Otherwise, though, the midfield diamond that we saw against the Red Bulls should stay intact, though Asad could come in for Paredes or Abu with one eye on there being two more games in the next eight days. Right back is an open question between Odoi-Atsem and Fisher, but since Olsen went with the former last week, we’re guessing we see the same tonight.
Projected TFC starting 11: (442) - Quentin Westberg; Auro Jr., Omar Gonzalez, Chris Mavinga, Richie Laryea; Pablo Piatti, Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio, Nick DeLeon; Alejandro Pozuelo, Ayo Akinola
With an eye on TFC’s upcoming schedule, United’s recent form making them a team you might opt to rotate against, and Greg Vanney’s rotation habits, we’re predicting that Toronto might rest a couple of key starters. However, Jozy Altidore and Justin Morrow could easily start over Akinola and Laryea (or DeLeon, with Laryea moving into the midfield), respectively, which would be more of a first-choice lineup for the Reds right now. Mavinga is another candidate to possibly rest due to a history of hamstring strains; if he’s out, Laurent Ciman is probably in.
As for how TFC’s formation actually looks, it’s not a 442 in a traditional sense. Lately, Vanney has set his team up in an asymmetrical, vaguely Y-shaped midfield, with one wide midfielder staying out by the touchline and the other pinching inside. If the wide men are Piatti and DeLeon, it’ll be Piatti out wide. Meanwhile, Pozuelo’s role is completely free, but he does prefer to get nearer to Piatti than anyone else on the team.
Referee: PRO has not yet announced a referee for this game.
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?: This week’s Filibuster gets into some of the nuts and bolts of TFC.
What are you drinking?: I’m going to make some coffee to take to the eerily empty stadium in an insulated bottle. Temperatures by halftime are probably going to be in the mid-50s, which is going to be pretty weird after being there in shorts a week ago.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos scoring in the first half!
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