D.C. United will face two foes today, as the Chicago Fire and the harshest weather of the entire winter both come to the District today. The Men in Red have undergone a major overhaul this offseason, signing Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri and adjusting to a more pragmatic approach under new head coach Ezra Hendrickson.
The result? The Fire, just like United, have started 2022 with two straight shutouts. That ability to defend collectively and stay connected makes them a more challenging opponent than the Black-and-Red have faced this year, and DCU will have to pry them open amid howling winds and temperatures predicted to plummet into the teens on Buzzard Point tonight.
Key player: Michael Estrada
On one hand, Estrada has scored three times in three games against MLS competition, including a brace in his competitive debut. That’s about all you can ask for out of an on-loan striker, right?
It’s just that the data underneath that points to a player who isn’t getting involved enough for United to thrive. In two regular season games, WhoScored data says Estrada has nearly as many turnovers thanks to poor control (12) as he does pass attempts (15). His two goals came on his only two shots in MLS play, and his creative impact (1 key pass, 1 successful dribble) has been merely adequate. Ola Kamara has done more with less time than Estrada so far, and now Nigel Robertha is off the injury report as well. Adrien Perez’s minutes grew from game one to game two, and Taxi Fountas could still end up arriving early.
This is the long way of saying the pressure is on Estrada to not so much score (though that’d be nice), but to find his way into the game with and without the ball on a more regular basis.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Brendan Hines-Ike, Steven Birnbaum; Julian Gressel, Drew Skundrich, Sofiane Djeffal, Brad Smith; Griffin Yow, Michael Estrada, Edison Flores
Bench: Jon Kempin, Donovan Pines, Tony Alfaro, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Gaoussou Samaké, Russell Canouse, Adrien Perez, Nigel Robertha, Ola Kamara
If Canouse is good to go — he was the lone player listed as questionable this week on the injury report — United will have exactly 20 players available to dress tonight. Moses Nyeman is suspended, while we’re told that Jacob Greene, Kimarni Smith, Hayden Sargis, Jeremy Garay, and Ted Ku-DiPietro are on loan with Loudoun for their opener tonight. Greene and Smith at least are expected to be there for quite a while, while the latter trio might be more of a week-to-week thing.
Canouse’s lack of playing time points to only making the bench if he is cleared to play, which means Djeffal seems like an easy bet to make his first pro start (though bringing Pines in at the back and pushing Najar up could also be a possibility). Outside of that, the only potential change we can think up is possibly seeing Kamara start over Estrada, as we detailed earlier.
Projected Chicago starting 11: (4231) - Gaga Slonina; Boris Sekulić, Wyatt Omsberg, Rafael Czichos, Miguel Navarro; Mauricio Pineda, Gastón Giménez; Stanislav Ivanov, Xherdan Shaqiri, Fabian Herbers; Kacper Przybyłko
There’s little reason to believe Ezra Hendrickson is going to change much in a team that has posted two straight scoreless draws. After years of being a self-destructive team capable of undoing some excellent, fluid spells of soccer with mind-boggling errors or a total lack of attention to detail, the former DCU defender has set his team up to be functional and focused, and while the soccer has not been much fun, no starters are giving Hendrickson a reason to think about swapping them out.
If there’s a player that might crack the lineup, it’s probably midfield destroyer Federico Navarro, who would bring a more combative edge than the more stationary Giménez. Young wingers Brian Gutiérrez (a homegrown) and Jhon Durán (an Under-22 Initiative signing) are very likely the first subs Hendrickson will look to, but since the Fire have used just five subs out of a possible ten thus far this season, they might also be the only subs to step into this game.
Referee: Rubiel Vazquez
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus (yes, Plus, 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 back half of the latest Filibuster is all about this new version of Chicago and what United can expect tonight.
What are you drinking?: The forecast says that we’re looking at wind chills in the low teens on Buzzard Point. Hot green tea is a must. Stay warm out there, friends.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos winning without freezing!
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