Coming off of the kind of win that could potentially jump-start their season, D.C. United hosts New York City FC tonight at Audi Field. Both teams struggled badly with the early portion of their seasons, but NYCFC arrives on a three-game winning streak and have started to figure how to play under Ronny Deila. For United to build on their last-gasp win over the Red Bulls, they’re going to have to step their level of play up against a side that won on both of their visits to the District last year.
Key player: Ola Kamara
It’s not to say that Kamara hasn’t contributed, but right now United’s most dangerous goalscoring threat on paper hasn’t found his form yet. He broke through with his first goal of the season 12 days ago, but he hasn’t been able to find the net since then to build on it. However, the chances have been there, with Kamara consistently getting at least one really good chance to run in alone on goal in the last two games.
The job for Kamara is simple: keep providing the movement off the ball that opens up those big chances, and now convert them. United has struggled to get into the lead all year long (they’ve only held a lead three times in 2020, totaling 39 minutes), and they haven’t scored in the first half since the preseason. Today would be a great day for that trend to end, and Kamara’s just the guy to do it.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (3412) - Bill Hamid; Donovan Pines, Frederic Brillant, Joseph Mora; Julian Gressel, Junior Moreno, Mohammed Abu, Kevin Paredes; Yamil Asad; Ulises Segura, Ola Kamara
Bench: Chris Seitz, Earl Edwards Jr., Axel Sjöberg, Oniel Fisher, Moses Nyeman, Federico Higuain, Griffin Yow, Erik Sorga, Gelmin Rivas
Ben Olsen told media on Friday that “two of the three” of Hamid, Rivas, and Steven Birnbaum would be available today. With Hamid back in training since the day before the win at Red Bull Arena, and Rivas getting his paperwork squared away, it seems like they’re likely to be in while Birnbaum remains out. If Birnbaum returns, one of Paredes or Mora would be the left wingback, and the other would sit out.
Olsen has to make a tricky choice here: keep the same 11 players that defeated the Red Bulls in the team, or rotate to give a group that is surely tired some fresh legs. Gressel, Moreno, Paredes, and Segura have all played over 300 minutes in just over two weeks, so there’s a chance we see Fisher rotate in as a wingback, or perhaps Sorga or Higuain partner Kamara up front.
On top of that, Olsen could take this group and shift to a 4231, which might make sense if NYCFC comes out in the 433 or 4141 they tend to prefer. Gressel or Fisher would be the right back in that scenario, and it might open up room for Higuain to get a start in his best position (which also gives someone a rest).
Projected NYCFC starting 11: (433) - Sean Johnson; Anton Tinnerholm, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, Ronald Matarrita; Keaton Parks, James Sands, Alexander Ring; Jesus Medina, Heber, Alexandru Mitrita
Deila doesn’t appear to be the biggest adherent to the idea of rotation. Nine players have started all four of NYCFC’s games through this sprint through late August/early September, and eight players from that group have played over 330 minutes in that time. Interestingly though, that consistent lineup has not meant a consistent formation, with Deila playing 4231, 4141, 433, and 532 in that same time frame.
On a three-game winning streak, there’s not much reason to assume today’s the day everyone gets a rest. The question is how Deila sets his team up. The key is Sands, who can play both defensive midfield or center back. If Deila believes Olsen wants to play with two forwards, he’ll probably drop Sands between Chanot and Callens, but if he thinks United is going back to 4231, he’ll keep Sands in the midfield and most likely choose a 433 or 4141.
Interestingly, this has made it hard for Maxi Moralez (one of the best players in MLS last year) to get minutes. Jesus Medina has often kept him out of the team since Deila took over, and since Medina didn’t start mid-week, he’ll be fresh tonight.
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?: We were short-handed, but still managed to talk over this game in the latest episode of Filibuster.
What are you drinking?: Most likely, a long-awaited return to press box bottled water.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos making up for the winless streak with a long winning run!
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