D.C. United faces a real test of their mettle tonight as they host Nashville SC. Despite flying under the radar, Nashville has just three losses all year, and enter the match having conceded just 26 times all season (the second-lowest figure in MLS in 2021). United, meanwhile, will be attempting to avenge a 5-2 loss earlier this season in Tennessee while coping without Paul Arriola, Edison Flores, and Yordy Reyna, all three of whom are unavailable due to injury.
In other words, maintaining the Black-and-Red’s excellent record on Buzzard Point — and possibly climbing up into the East’s top four — will take a comprehensive performance.
Key player: The wide forwards, whomever they may be
United’s attacking choices are going to be a bit of a mystery tonight, with Arriola, Flores, and Reyna having been battling for two spots for the last few weeks. They’re all out, but some recuperating players may jump into the mix in their place. Nigel Robertha, who has been built up slowly after coming back from a groin strain, could get his first start in nearly three months. Drew Skundrich is off the injury report after a hamstring strain last month, and Hernán Losada has liked what he’s seen from him in a pressing role. Yamil Asad and Griffin Yow could also be in the mix, while Adrien Perez and Ramón Ábila both have a chance to play as well after their injury issues improved during the international break.
What does all that mean? Ola Kamara will have some differing skill sets around him tonight, but the truly important factor is that the attack maintains the “organized chaos” look that Losada has preached all year. Robertha, for example, may play right forward differently than Arriola, but the movements of the group still need to be calculated on the fly both to create openings and to prevent Nashville — who will sit deep and look to counter — opportunities to break out.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Donovan Pines, Steven Birnbaum, Tony Alfaro; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Kevin Paredes; Nigel Robertha, Ola Kamara, Yamil Asad
Bench: Jon Kempin, Frédéric Brillant, Andy Najar, Joseph Mora, Felipe Martins, Moses Nyeman, Drew Skundrich, Griffin Yow, Ramón Ábila
As seems to be the case for this entire year, whenever United approaches a totally clean bill of health, new knocks arrive. Arriola and Flores both picked up injuries on international duty, and both are listed as out tonight (along with Reyna and Brendan Hines-Ike). Even with good news like Skundrich’s return or both Ábila and Adrien Perez having improved from “out” to “questionable,” United’s attack will be a bit short-handed tonight.
Still, we’re expecting Hernán Losada to deploy the normal 343 we’ve seen at home, though it could be Skundrich starting over either Robertha or Asad. We’re guessing that Najar (who played 90 for Honduras on Wednesday) will be held out so he can be available for New England in a few days. It’s also not clear whether Ábila is ready to be in uniform yet or not; if it’s a no, then Perez or Chris Odoi-Atsem will dress instead.
Projected Nashville starting 11: (532) - Joe Willis; Eric Miller, Jack Maher, Walker Zimmerman, Dave Romney, Taylor Washington; Randall Leal, Dax McCarty, Tah Brian Anunga; Hany Mukhtar, CJ Sapong
With Daniel Lovitz out due to injury and normal starters Alistair Johnston and Aníbal Godoy both coming off of 90-minute games with their national teams, Gary Smith will probably have to rotate a bit. Lovitz’s spot as the left wingback will likely go to Washington, while Godoy’s seems sure to go to Anunga.
It’s the right wingback spot that Johnston plays that is the real question, with Miller the conservative option. We could also see Smith try a utility player there in Matt LaGrassa, or a more attacking choice in Alex Muyl. Muyl could also start over Leal in what is a hybrid midfield/third forward role, depending on how Leal (who was with Costa Rica during the international window) was feeling upon his return to Nashville.
Referee: Ismail Elfath
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington + (please note the +, it’s not the normal NBCSW), TeleXitos
Feel free to check our our DCU how to watch guide to figure out what your best option is.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: The latest episode of Filibuster is all about previewing this game.
What are you drinking?: Because I can’t be in two places at once, and because Audi Field isn’t a place you can just stay all night, I’m covering this game and tonight’s #NWSLAfterDark Spirit game from home. So, the normal selection of citrus seltzers.
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