Ladies and gentlemen, the quest for continental glory officially begins tonight. D.C. United will host Waterhouse FC at RFK Stadium this evening in the Black-and-Red's opening match of the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League group stage. Waterhouse (or Fire-House, as they're confusingly nicknamed) have already played one match, traveling to Panama City to upset the third team in Group 4, Tauro FC. We should see some kind of mix of starters and reserves from United, while the visitors will be putting everything they've got into getting a result.
Who will come out ahead? Here's what the B&RU staff think will happen.
Adam M Taylor
Even after their surprising win in Panama, this is exactly who you want to be starting your Champions League slate against if you're D.C. United. Expect Waterhouse to defend deep and counter through their pacy forwards. Collin Martin should get the start for United, and if Ben Olsen finds a way to put him in his natural central position, the Chevy Chase native could definitely pick the visitors apart. Eddie Johnson will be the chief beneficiary, scoring a brace as Kofie Opare also turns in a set piece in his debut. David Estrada grabs a late goal to push the margin. 4-0 to the Black-and-Red as the hosts manage not to leave exploitable gaps behind their attacks and Waterhouse accordingly fails to create enough danger to really threaten.
Waterhouse is a scrappy side who's coming in with all the confidence in the world having walking into Tauro's house and beat them already in CCL play. Now, they head to RFK to face United, who has been awesome of late at home. We should see EJ in a side with several changes from Sunday night, and EJ uses this opportunity to put a brace in the bank. NDL adds another one and while Waterhouse also gets one, it's 3-1 United and they open up their CCL account with 3 points.
I admit it, I know nothing about Waterhouse FC other than they are from Jamaica and they scored a ridiculous set-piece goal en route to beating Tauro in their first CCL match (thank you, SportsCenter, for making the shot a Top 10 play so I had something to say here). With that said, a good MLS team should beat a team playing in the Red Stripe Premier League, but it won't be without some drama for United's mostly bench-based squad. Expect a 2-0 win, but the game will be physical. Goals come from EJ and Estrada, while Willis makes the key saves to preserve the clean sheet.
I would hope that a team that fielded say, Collin Martin, Jared Jeffrey, Ike Opare and Eddie Johnson (among others) that DC could start off hot much like they did against Colorado and win. I think that some help from the first choice squad will be required, but facing a Waterhouse team without one of their center backs due to two yellow cards, DC should win in a slightly uneasy 2-1 game.
The Waterhouse goalkeeper will get called for a handball outside the box. This will result in a set piece that puts DC on top 1-0, while Fabi and Rolfe rest for Kansas City. (When you know as little as I do about Waterhouse, it's best to just get super-specific with your predictions.)
United's B team is what we're going to see, and up to this point that group has not played much winning soccer (see also: Open Cup loss to Rochester, failure to turn possession into any chances against Fulham in the fever-dream game). However, they'll be bolstered by Eddie Johnson, and I'd imagine guys like Chris Rolfe and Luis Silva - maybe not Fabian Espindola - will be available off the bench. This should really be a shutout, but I have the nagging suspicion this game will be 1-1 before we send in the cavalry to bail us out. 3-1 United, goals from EJ (twice) and David Estrada.
Bonus note: The last time United faced Jamaican opposition was the same tournament in which all of the following happened: Devon McTavish finished tied atop the goalscoring table for the entire competition, Rod Dyachenko scored a goal against a Mexican powerhouse, and Franco Niell scored a game-winner against a Mexican powerhouse. I am serious about all of these things, they happened in real life.
Cross-continent travel from a team at the beginning of their season playing against a team in the middle of their own? Sounds like what happens to MLS teams during the knockout stages of the CCL. Given that, and the fact that this team will not be the same as the Open Cup team that lost in Rochester (adding Kofi Opare, David Estrada, and Eddie Johnson at least), and I think that United can pull out a win. Estrada and Johnson will both score, and Joe Willis will put up the shutout.
Our panel is feeling pretty confident, even if Ben Olsen puts out a weakened side (as he probably will). What do you think happens tonight at RFK? Let us know in the comments.