D.C. United are hoping to hand the Columbus Crew their first-ever loss at their new stadium as the sides meet tonight at Lower.com Field. United will also be looking to avenge an early-season loss in which they conceded virtually no notable chances, only to lose 3-1 thanks to two own goals and some free kick wizardry from Lucas Zelarayán. More importantly, a win tonight would see the Black-and-Red above the red line in the East just as they get into the teeth of the most demanding portion of their 2021 schedule.
player concept: Pouncing early, and holding strong late
Since July 3, the Crew have given up six goals in the first 35 minutes of games. For reasons that aren’t particularly clear, they just haven’t started games well, and that dovetails nicely with United’s habit of coming out of the gates flying. No matter the formation or whether they’re toggling between high-pressing or setting up in a mid-block, Hernán Losada’s side creates good early chances virtually every week.
Scoring early is obviously good, but with the Crew it comes with a second step: you have to hold off the comeback at the end. They’re conceding early, but the Crew have only lost once in the last month because they keep turning bad situations into results. They came back from 2-0 down to draw New England, did the same thing (while down a man) in Cincinnati, and earlier this year turned a late 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win over NYCFC.
As such, D.C.’s in for a test of their nerve late in this game, just as much as Columbus will have their ability to start at full speed given a stern exam by United.
Location: Lower.com Field (Columbus, OH)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (3421) - Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Steven Birnbaum, Tony Alfaro; Julian Gressel, Junior Moreno, Felipe Martins, Kevin Paredes; Yordy Reyna, Yamil Asad; Ola Kamara
Bench: Jon Kempin, Frédéric Brillant, Donovan Pines, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Jacob Greene, Drew Skundrich, Griffin Yow, Jovanny Bolívar, Erik Sorga
We don’t know if Pines and Paul Arriola are available for this game. They’re not listed on the injury report, the team didn’t have pre-game media availability before this game, and so we’re left guessing. Our in-house guess has been to treat Arriola as if he’s listed as doubtful, and to give Pines a questionable tag (especially since he wasn’t in uniform for the USMNT’s quarterfinal or semifinal games due to a knock). So, we’re listing Pines as in the squad and Arriola as taking a game to recuperate, but both are variables.
Elsewhere, Moses Nyeman and Joseph Mora are suspended, while five players remain out through injury. We know from yesterday that Greene was on the plane to Columbus, while we suspect that a) Kamara cleared concussion protocols sometime in the last couple of days, and b) that Paredes subbed out in Cincy with a cramp rather than a setback.
If all of our guesses and hypotheses are correct, Hernán Losada has 21 players vying for 20 spots tonight, but we could easily end up seeing two back-up goalkeepers, or possibly just fewer than 20 players in uniform (United only dressed 19 players in Cincinnati). If United prefers to keep Paredes in the front three, it feels like Najar playing left wingback is the fallback plan, with either Brillant or Pines coming into the back three.
Projected Columbus starting 11: (4231) - Eloy Room; Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, Aboubacar Keita, Waylon Francis; Darlington Nagbe, Marlon Hairston; Luis Diaz, Lucas Zelarayán, Pedro Santos; Bradley Wright-Phillips
It seems like Caleb Porter isn’t looking to make major changes of late to deal with some middling form (2W-4D-2L) in recent weeks. Coming off of a 4-1 loss at NYCFC, it seems likely that he could make one adjustment to shore up his defense: adding a natural left back (Francis) and moving Santos, who has been given a shot as an attacking fullback of late, back to a more familiar position further upfield.
The blowout nature of the loss on the weekend let Porter rotate some big names out, but we could still see some options coming in to freshen the group up. Liam Fraser or Isaiah Parente could step in for Hairston (top options Artur and Perry Kitchen are both out injured), while we could see Derrick Etienne Jr. or Miguel Berry for Diaz on the right, and Erik Hurtado could rotate in for Wright-Phillips up top.
Much like United’s USMNT players, it seems unlikely that Gyasi Zardes will be available, but we won’t know until the lineups drop.
Referee: Victor Rivas
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington, TeleXitos
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What are you drinking?: Shocking news: I’m gonna opt for some lime seltzer.
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