Welcome to the 2015 edition of our staff and reader predictions! We kick of United's campaign with their trip down to Costa Rica in the Concacaf Champions League. Our staff is rather bullish, with only one of us predicting that D.C. United will lose. Leave your predictions for how this game will go in the comments!
As I write this, it's from the hotel pool in Costa Rica: It's going to be incredibly hot and sticky down in Alajuela, Costa Rica. Expect the team to start off slow due to getting acclimated with the heat. LDA is going to want to get out running, so United will have to keep its defensive shape. Then, the goals will start coming. I'm calling it a 2-1 victory with the away goals coming from Pontius and Espindola. This victory will be major, particularly for bringing 2 aways goals in our suitcases back to DC for the return leg.
It's going to be incredibly hot and sticky down in Alajuela, Costa Rica. Expect the team to start off slow due to getting acclimated with the heat. LDA is going to want to get out running, so United will have to keep its defensive shape. Then, the goals will start coming. I'm calling it a 2-1 victory with the away goals coming from Pontius and Espindola. This victory will be major, particularly for bringing 2 aways goals in our suitcases back to DC for the return leg.
Adam M Taylor
LDA have two very different sets of data points coming into this first leg: On the one hand, they were incredibly stingy and conservative last fall in the group stages, but on the other hand, they've played an aggressive-to-a-fault style in league play more recently. It's tough to tell which they'll prefer, especially with so many players missing to injury, suspension and expulsion. I think they come out looking to score goals, and that means United will have some chances to bag a road goal or two. The Black-and-Red will have to be locked in on both sides of the ball, and I think - even after last week's preseason-ending disappointment against Dallas - they'll be able to do so. Bobby Boswell & Co. won't keep the clean sheet, but they'll hold their hosts to a single goal, and Jairo Arrieta (assisted by Nick DeLeon) will continue the peculiar tradition of United players scoring in Central America on their debut, and los Capitalinos will bring home a 1-1 draw.
After a disappointing loss to Dallas to close out the preseason, there's not a lot of room for less-than-great form in this one--the end goal is more than just an armadillo trophy (as great as that was). LDA will be looking to go ahead from the start, and I won't be surprised if they do. After that, a fabulous goal from Espindola--and it will be fabulous--will even things up. I'm expecting some real work for Bill Hamid in keeping out a second goal from the home side, but in the end it'll be a 1-1 draw, leaving DCU to finish the work at RFK.
DC United have the unenviable task of playing on Fox Sports 2 this week. If weather predictions for this match are anything to go by, it sounds like Alajuela will be the Muspelheim to Washington DC's Jotunheim. Aside from picking something outrageous like a DC loss down in Costa Rica, the obvious result here is United heading back to RFK Stadium with victory. My prediction for the day is a 2-0 victory for DC United with Fabian Espindola and Nick DeLeon scoring the goals.
On the negative side, United's last performance was bad in terms of mentality and focus, which is a recipe for disaster in CCL play. Plus, MLS teams on the road in CCL knockout rounds? A pretty dire history, even if Montreal managed to end up frustrated about a scoring draw last night. However, there are some positives to consider here too. United was great last year at following up poor showings with good ones, so I expect a rebound from the Dallas loss. Alajuelense is at their lowest point of the season and doesn't appear to have the players available to correct their flaws. If United can get through the predictable early-game onslaught from LDA, they should be able to trigger the same sort of chaotic, desperate attacks that set Los Erizos up for failure against Saprissa this past weekend. United's recipe in this game should be similar to the 3-0 win at Sporting KC last season: Pick the moments to counter, and make them count. If that doesn't work, plan B is all about set pieces. United has a huge size advantage, and Alajuelense doesn't mark well.
If United had 2-3 games under their belt for this one, I'd be predicting a win. As is, I'm going with the 1-1 draw prediction that seems popular today. Chris Rolfe scores the opener, but United wastes chances to make it 2-0 and Alajuelense eventually scrapes out a goal. Still a good result.
My thoughts are not colored so much by the game against FC Dallas, with United easily able to put that behind them, but from the performance of the Montreal Impact. Their success in procuring a draw in Mexico against Pachuca has me cosmically worried about D.C. United's chances, for not real reason. Two MLS teams made the seminfinals of the Concacaf Champions League just two short years ago, so maybe there is hope in that. Give me a 2-1 win for Alajuelense, but the crucial road goal sets up United to have a chance coming back to RFK.