D.C. United kicks off the 2022 MLS season with a seemingly straightforward assignment against expansion side Charlotte FC. The newcomers have convinced few observers, and the quote of the preseason throughout the league was manager Miguel Ángel Ramírez saying “right now, we’re screwed.” They scored just once in three games in their final preseason tournament, losing to USL Championship opposition in the process. It hasn’t been great.
As such, United — who were one of MLS’s better home teams in 2021 — should be heavily favored. However, with two new acquisitions projected to start and a couple of pieces missing, it remains to be seen whether the Black-and-Red can put teams away, or if they’ll let Charlotte stay in the game long enough to start to dream of a point or three in their competitive debut.
Key player: Edison Flores
United has taken some heat this offseason for letting more big-name talent depart than they added. The result is that the Black-and-Red need “Orejas” to come through now, after two injury-disrupted seasons in the District have amounted to a disappointment for all involved. It feels like it’s now or never for Flores, especially as he will be United’s only Designated Player for, at the very least, the next few weeks (and possibly until July).
This is a season-long issue, but it’s also specific for this game. Charlotte has not had an ideal preparation, and despite Miguel Ángel Ramírez’s reputation as an attacking coach, it sounds like they’re going to be more conservative in the early part of this season. Ramírez has talked about tailoring his lineups for the opponent, and coming off of a preseason tournament in which they lost to a USL Championship club (Charleston) and a bad MLS team (Miami) while scoring just once, via a penalty kick...yeah, they’re probably parking the bus today.
United will need a comprehensive approach to pick the lock, but no one on that front will be more vital than Flores.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 6:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Brendan Hines-Ike, Steven Birnbaum; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Moses Nyeman, Brad Smith; Adrien Perez, Michael Estrada, Edison Flores
Bench: Jon Kempin, Hayden Sargis, Donovan Pines, Tony Alfaro, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Gaoussou Samaké, Drew Skundrich, Griffin Yow, Azaad Liadi
First, the good news: the projected starting eleven is good to go. It’s not 100% clear that Perez is 90 minutes fit after being held out of the preseason finale, but he’s not on the injury report and team social media posts included him flying in for a diving header to score at training, so that’s a good sign.
Despite a short injured list, United’s squad today is short on attackers to enough of a degree that the club has per Steven Goff signed Loudoun’s Azaad Liadi to a four-day contract, a mechanism that only gets used when a team is in a real pinch.
How’d that happen? Nigel Robertha and Jeremy Garay are officially outdue to injury, while Ted Ku-DiPietro is questionable. Ola Kamara missed the entire California leg of camp, and though he has been training with the group this week, we’re considering him a doubt. Rookie Sofiane Djeffal, signed yesterday, hadn’t received his visa yet, and he can’t play without that.
If we assume Kamara and Ku-DiPietro can’t play, and that Djeffal doesn’t get his visa today, Hernán Losada has (with Liadi) exactly 20 players to call on. Hence, a bench that includes three center backs and a utility defender, but only two natural attackers.
Projected Charlotte starting 11: (541) - Kristijan Kahlina; Jaylin Lindsey, Christian Makoun, Guzmán Corujo, Jan Sobociński, Joseph Mora; McKinze Gaines, Jordy Alcívar, Alan Franco, Titi Ortíz; Yordy Reyna
Ramírez isn’t enthusiastic about their squad as is, and despite being known for a more progressive style of play, he’s made it known that he’s not going to be dogmatic early in the season. Given their struggles and potential absentees — DP striker Karol Świderski may or may not have his visa in time to play, while his back-up Vinicius Mello is out — a 541 seems like where they’re going to end up today.
Former Atlanta defender Anton Walkes is questionable, but probably has the edge to start over either Makoun or Sobociński if he can go. New addition Daniel Ríos was signed only a couple of days ago, but might get major minutes up front. Ex-United men Mora and Reyna figure to start, though Mora has real competition from aging ex-Leicester City defender Christian Fuchs.
Referee: Victor Rivas
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus, 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?: A lot! There’s a full episode of Filibuster previewing Charlotte, plus our season preview on the Black-and-Red, and an in-depth interview with United GM Lucy Rushton on the team’s offseason.
What are you drinking?: It looks like it’s going to be about 40 degrees at kickoff, and getting colder from there. I’ve got my 2019 NWSL Championship insulated bottle ready, and will probably be going with hot Irish Breakfast tea.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos staying warm!
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