D.C. United enters their MLS Decision Day match against Toronto FC with some rather unwelcome clarity. Anything less than a win over TFC will see United’s promising 2021 season come to an end this afternoon, and even a road victory might not be enough. It has been a year of progress, with a major cultural change underway, but a late-season dip in form has left the Black-and-Red with only slim playoff hopes.
As a reminder, United’s playoff fate hinges on three things happening:
- Win in Toronto
- Nashville beating the Red Bulls in Tennessee
- Orlando avoiding defeat in Montréal
If any one of those three conditions aren’t met, United’s offseason will start around 5:45pm Eastern.
Key player: Ola Kamara
As fatigue and injuries hit United’s attack, Kamara’s pursuit of the Golden Boot has slowed down, and now he needs at least two goals (or, if you’d prefer a wilder scenario, one goal and three assists) to overtake Valentín Castellanos and make Audi Field the home of both top-flight leading scorers in American soccer.
But more importantly, United needs Kamara scoring if they’re going to win. It’s not that he’s played badly, but the chances simply haven’t been there. Kamara has 3 shots in the last 3 games, and has gone scoreless in six. The Black-and-Red have had time to work some things out in training, and had time to recuperate heading into this game. That bodes well for Kamara to get the kind of support he has done his best work with, and if we see him getting plenty of looks, United is on course for the victory they need to keep the season going.
Location: BMO Field (Toronto, Canada)
Kickoff time: 3:30pm Eastern (but actually 3:45pm)
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Steven Birnbaum, Donovan Pines; Julian Gressel, Felipe Martins, Junior Moreno, Joseph Mora; Paul Arriola, Ola Kamara, Yordy Reyna
Bench: Jon Kempin, Brendan Hines-Ike, Tony Alfaro, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Drew Skundrich, Adrien Perez, Griffin Yow, Nigel Robertha, Ramón Ábila
With some time to rest and recuperate, United may be closer to full strength, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be all the way there. Russell Canouse, Edison Flores, and Kevin Paredes are all listed as out for this one, as are the more clear-cut cases with Frédéric Brillant (ankle surgery) and Moses Nyeman (quad).
Felipe is a lock to replace Canouse centrally, but the left side is more of an open question. Alfaro played there last week, with Hernán Losada citing Mora’s “levels” being short of 100%. If that concerned fitness, Mora will be back, but if the question is form, we could see Perez starting there, or possibly even Arriola (with Skundrich stepping into the front three).
Projected TFC starting 11: (4312) - Quentin Westberg; Auro Jr., Michael Bradley, Chris Mavinga, Kemar Lawrence; Nick DeLeon, Noble Okello, Jonathan Osorio; Alejandro Pozuelo; Jozy Altidore, Patrick Mullins
Javier Pérez in in an odd spot: due to the Canadian Championship, TFC’s run of games on short rest was actually one longer than United’s recent gauntlet. That meant a heavily rotated side going to Atlanta last weekend as they prioritized a trophy over a lost season, but that tournament’s final is still not scheduled due to CF Montréal’s playoff hopes.
So, having played at home Wednesday and dealing with heavy legs and a six-player list of absentees, what will he do? We’re going to err on the side of very little rotation (ex-DCU players DeLeon and Mullins for Marky Delgado and Jacob Shaffelburg), but we could see plenty of youngsters. Homegrown players Jakheel Marshall-Rutty, Jayden Nelson, and Jordan Perruzza (who scored TFC’s equalizer in Atlanta) could see substantial time, while attacker Ifunanyachi Achara or striker Dom Dwyer could get in as well.
Okello, who has played a full 90 minutes five times in the last 18 days, could probably use a rest, which could see Julian Dunn start at center back (with Bradley moving up), or Delgado stepping in at the base of what can function as a diamond, or can be a 433 with Pozuelo out on the right.
Referee: Marcos de Oliveira
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington, 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?: We spent a chunk of time talking about this game and the playoff scenarios attached on the latest episode of Filibuster.
What are you drinking?: I’m going to be in the building for the Spirit’s playoff game (MLS and NWSL, why did you do this to me???), so the normal bottled water situation is probably going to be in effect.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos very specific series of events playing out exactly as we need!
Black and Red United has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Black and Red United and Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our guiding principles.