D.C. United is looking to start a stretch run packed with home games with a win against visiting FC Cincinnati. With the playoff race in MLS’s Eastern Conference heating up United has dropped just below the line, entering the night in 8th place, but with six of their final nine games in the District, there’s a golden opportunity to start surging up the table tonight.
The Ohioans, meanwhile, have been struggling badly, winning just once in their last 15 games. That includes five losses in their last six, and they’ve given up at least three goals in each of their last three away games.
In other words, all the pressure is on United tonight.
Key player: Kevin Paredes
Let’s say Cincinnati shows up looking to sit in, hoping United’s willingness to throw numbers forward results in some big counter-attacking chances. If that’s the case, Paredes’ dribbling ability is absolutely critical, as it’s the best way to break a team’s defensive structure when they park the bus.
Or, maybe Jaap Staam — who has talked about how he wants the 352 he’s mixed in recently to almost appear like a 334 — is willing to come to Buzzard Point and play an open game. Well, guess who thrives when given open space? That’s right, it’s Kevin Paredes. No matter the way Cincinnati approaches this one, if Paredes has a big night, United should be on course for a win.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Steven Birnbaum, Donovan Pines; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Kevin Paredes; Paul Arriola, Ola Kamara, Edison Flores
Bench: Jon Kempin, Frédéric Brillant, Joseph Mora, Felipe Martins, Moses Nyeman, Drew Skundrich, Yamil Asad, Griffin Yow, Yordy Reyna
With Tony Alfaro suspended (yellow card accumulation) and a suddenly expanded injury report now including five players listed as questionable, this is a tricky gameday squad to predict. If Najar, who is one of that group, is unable to play, the back three will probably be Birnbaum and Pines to the right and left of Frédéric Brillant, but could also include Mora playing left-center back.
There aren’t a ton of attacking starter questions, with Kamara, Arriola, and Flores available, but the bench is unclear. Reyna (who rolled his ankle in United’s last home match) is up in the air, as is Asad. Nigel Robertha has been questionable for three games, but it’s not known whether the team has activated him from the injured reserve. Doing so probably won’t be too difficult: assuming Jovanny Bolívar is back on loan with Loudoun, there should be an open international roster spot.
That’s just an assumption though, and in fact Hernán Losada could theoretically call Bolívar or Kimarni Smith in to bolster the attacking options. However, after Loudoun’s temporary Covid-19-related shutdown last week, it seems improbable that the Black-and-Red will go that route.
Projected Cincinnati starting 11: (532) - Przemysław Tytoń; Zico Bailey, Nick Hagglund, Geoff Cameron, Gustavo Vallecilla, Rónald Matarrita; Allan Cruz, Yuya Kubo, Haris Medunjanin; Luciano Acosta, Brenner
Jaap Stam has been toggling through formations all year, making this tough, but there are two factors here pointing to 532: wingers Álvaro Barreal and Isaac Atanga are both suspended, and when facing a back three, Stam has more often gone to a back three or five than he has played a four-man backline.
However, if he does want to try a 4231 or 433, Florian Valot could come in on the left wing, while Cruz or Kubo are both capable of filling in on the right. They could even attempt a 343, with Brandon Vázquez joining Acosta and Brenner in the forward line, though that might be more of an adjustment while trailing than a starting eleven.
Maryland native Joe Gyau is listed as questionable, and could return from injury as a right wingback or right winger depending on the formation. If he can’t go, Bailey and MLS veteran Chris Duvall are both potential starters on the right.
Referee: Chris Penso
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?: The latest episode of Filibuster includes a segment on what’s going on with Cincinnati these days. A new round from the Tales from Buzzard Point will be up later this morning.
What are you drinking?: I spend about a week feeling unusually cold when the evening temperatures drop to below 70 every year, so I might be doing a cup of coffee rather than cold brew on my way in. Water in the press box, unless they break out the Keurig.
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