D.C. United, after stewing over a last-second loss for two weeks, host Austin FC for the first time ever tonight at Audi Field. United has not shown much thus far in 2022, but with Taxiarchis Fountas eligible to make his debut tonight, they’ll view this game as an opportunity to show that their early form to the season is not who they truly are.
It won’t be easy though, as the high-scoring side from ATX (with nearly 250 fans in tow) has only lost once in six matches this season, relying on some defensive upgrades and offseason additions that gave them serious MLS experience they lacked as an expansion club last year.
player concept: Set piece play (at both ends)
United lost its last game by conceding a last-gasp corner kick goal to an Atlanta side that isn’t stocked with major aerial threats. They also lost the game before that on a similar play, with a creative midfielder again getting an easy tap-in after no one could win the ball at the near post.
So obviously that’s a huge theme, but that shouldn’t mean we ignore the attacking end. United has just one set piece goal this season, and it required Kristijan Kahlina punching a cross straight into Ola Kamara two yards from goal. Simply put, United hasn’t been good enough at either end of the field on dead balls, and more often than not they’ve ended up not even truly threatening to score. They also haven’t been good enough at everything else to get away with this flaw. The margins are thin for this group, and that means being a higher-end set piece team within MLS is something of a requirement.
Today, against an Austin team that has had no trouble scoring, this is an area United needs to dominate. They can’t afford to give any set piece goals away to a team with what appears to be a more potent offense, and realistically the Black-and-Red are going to struggle if they’re only getting one goal every six or seven matches from these situations.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Steven Birnbaum, Brendan Hines-Ike; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Chris Durkin, Brad Smith; Ola Kamara, Michael Estrada, Edison Flores
Bench: Jon Kempin, Donovan Pines, Tony Alfaro, Gaoussou Samaké, Drew Skundrich, Ted Ku-DiPietro, Griffin Yow, Taxiarchis Fountas, Nigel Robertha
Here’s the injury report, which includes some new knocks:
United’s newly expanded squad means they have enough players to weather four potential absentees, keep some players with Loudoun on loan, and still have 20 players to choose from. We’re guessing Odoi-Atsem and Djeffal both end up not being available, but it does seem like Fountas will be available for at least a few minutes off the bench, which should add some excitement.
Elsewhere, the only expected changes to the lineup are a move back to 343, which would result in Estrada (or possibly Robertha) replacing Djeffal, and a return to the starting eleven — at least for the time being — for Flores, who was only used as a sub in United’s last match after only returning from international duty just before that loss to Atlanta.
Projected Austin starting 11: (4231) - Brad Stuver; Nick Lima, Julio Cascante, Ruben Gabrielsen, Žan Kolmanič; Alex Ring, Dani Pereira; Ethan Finlay, Sebastián Driussi, Diego Fagundez; Maxi Urruti
Former United forward Josh Wolff’s side has figured out a lot since 2021’s struggles, and they’ve become a more formidable exponent of positional play than in the past. They’ll start in a 4231, but have in nearly every game — and in response to both positive and negative game states — moved into a 433 after halftime.
However, this is a starting projection, so 4231 it is. Winger Cecilio Domínguez is suspended, which very likely means Finlay and Fagundez are the wide men. The rest of the team is pretty clear, though Lima may have some competition at right back from MLS veteran Hector Jiménez. The shift to 433 could see Felipe come in, but more often Wolff has brought in anchor midfielder Jhojan Valencia and adjust elsewhere.
Referee: Tori Penso
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus (yes, Plus, there’s a Caps game on 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 are you drinking?: Probably water, though the Spirit had seltzer in the cooler at their last home game. If there’s still seltzer, I’m going to drink one too many cans. If not, just water will do the job.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos messing with Texas!
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