D.C. United will look to close a tumultuous week with a win tonight, as they host the New England Revolution in their first game since firing Hernán Losada. United on some fronts are reeling after the change, with at least two supporters groups planning to not attend the match in protest. However, between their ferocious first half showing in last week’s home loss to Austin and being able to heavily rotate and still go through with relative ease in the Open Cup, the situation isn’t completely dire for new interim head coach Chad Ashton.
That said, the pressure is on the Black-and-Red to prove that ditching Losada was the right move, and they’ll have to do that without their top scorer, as Ola Kamara is out due to a suspension. They’ll also have to make it happen against a Revs side that may get Matt Turner and Gustavo Bou (both listed as questionable) back from injury.
Key player: Nigel Robertha
With Kamara (6 goals in 7 appearances) unavailable and Michael Estrada coming off of a cup match that saw him waste two extremely easy chances before being hauled off at halftime, United may be in a pinch in terms of confidence in front of goal. That’s where Robertha, who scored United’s second in their 3-0 win over Flower City Union on Tuesday, comes in.
Robertha has had some rocky moments this season, but what he’s never lacked for is self-belief, whether that’s as a finisher or adding a much-needed willingness to attack defenders on the dribble. Whether Ashton wants to start Robertha as an out-and-out number nine or play him as a wide forward, look for the Dutch-born attacker to be the outlet that allows United to stretch the game vertically. It will be important for the Black-and-Red to get him isolated against New England’s slower center back as well, whether that’s Omar González or Henry Kessler, as there’s a mismatch to be exploited on that front.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Jon Kempin; Donovan Pines, Steven Birnbaum, Brendan Hines-Ike; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Chris Durkin, Brad Smith; Nigel Robertha, Michael Estrada, Jackson Hopkins
Bench: Luis Zamudio, Tony Alfaro, Gaoussou Samaké, Sofiane Djeffal, Drew Skundrich, Ted Ku-DiPietro, Griffin Yow, Edison Flores, Taxiarchis Fountas
We start with two pieces of news: the availability report now includes six players (Ola Kamara is suspended, the rest are injured), but Djeffal and Brad Smith are both completely off the list, which is a boost. Steven Goff at the Washington Post is reporting that United will not have as-yet-unannounced new goalkeeper Rafael Romo available yet, so Loudoun’s Zamudio will be up with the first team on a temporary contract.
The first half against Austin being so good points to Chad Ashton trying to replicate what worked there. One major ingredient (Andy Najar) is unavailable, but Smith’s return ameliorates that somewhat. Estrada probably gets the nod to step in for Kamara despite two missed sitters at Flower City mid-week, but would it be a shock to see Fountas start, with Robertha lining up as the center forward? Taxi probably can’t go for more than an hour at this point, but if Estrada’s confidence isn’t right, giving the DP the start makes sense.
Projected New England starting 11: (4312) - Brad Knighton; Brandon Bye, Omar González, Andrew Farrell, DeJuan Jones; Sebastian Lletget, Matt Polster, Tommy McNamara; Carles Gil; Adam Buksa, Justin Rennicks
Bruce Arena’s team wasn’t busy with a mid-week Open Cup game due to the Revolution being one of the eight teams to receive a bye in the Third Round, so he’ll have no rotation worries to consider. That said, poor form — the Revs broke a four-game losing streak with last week’s narrow win over Charlotte, and are on a 1.00 points-per-game pace this season — means multiple roles are up for grabs.
González may have displaced Kessler as a new starting center back, while the role of the third central midfielder alongside Lletget and Polster appears completely up for grabs, with Arena trying ex-DCU winger Emmanuel Boateng there last week. McNamara or Arnór Traustason are the more likely starters, but the Revs are clearly looking for someone to take that role over. Boateng may also factor in up top, where New England have cycled through many different pairings with Bou being unavailable.
Referee: Marcos DeOliveira
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?: We’ve been kind of focused on the coaching change lately, with a new Filibuster focusing entirely on it, and written pieces on the topic here at B&RU from Ben and over at the Washington City Paper from me.
What are you drinking?: There’s pomegranate-blueberry seltzer in the press box these days, so as long as it keeps appearing, I’m gonna keep drinking it.
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