Clinching first place in the Eastern Conference requires just one more point from D.C. United, and it's a deceptively important achievement. While being the top seed in the MLS Cup playoffs has never been a strong predictor of success, first place comes with a CONCACAF Champions League berth (and vitally, the allocation money that comes with that spot) next fall. Furthermore, an outright win tonight would mean that United would host MLS Cup against any Western Conference side bar LA and Seattle.
The Chicago Fire will attempt to spoil all this good news. Their season is essentially over, but like any bad team there is still plenty of incentive for individual players who want to stay on with the Fire, as well as guys who know they're on their way out but want to impress other MLS sides. Chicago has been hard to beat all season, so in a way this is a good test for United in front of what may be the biggest crowd of the season at RFK.
Kickoff Time: 7:00pm Eastern
Venue: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
TV/Streaming: MLS Live and MLS Direct Kick are options to stream this one or watch on your TV, but there is no standard TV broadcast. Send your regards to CSN Washington. United will stream this game at dcunited.com/live. It'll also be on local FM radio through 99.1 WNEW. And yes, thinking of 99.1 as a station other than WHFS is still odd.
Projected D.C. United starting XI: This one seems pretty straightforward. Bill Hamid will be in goal behind Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp. The midfield four will be Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, and Chris Pontius. Up front, Fabian Espindola will be partnered by Eddie Johnson, who will be looking to replace Luis Silva.
Off the bench, look for Lewis Neal (or perhaps Samuel Inkoom?) to replace Pontius after 65-70 minutes. I'd also expect to see David Estrada come in for one of the forwards in the final 15 minutes, and it'd be nice to see Collin Martin get a few minutes (replacing a forward if United is winning or perhaps Arnaud if a goal is needed).
Match previews: Our staff is expecting a win tonight, while Ben predicted the same lineup you see above.. Earlier this week on Filibuster, we talked about this match with Sean Spence from Hot Time In Old Town. Speaking of the Chicago version of ourselves, they've captured the mood in the Windy City by titling their preview "It's Almost Over," and are also running an editorial on ownership's perceived lack of interest.
Away from SB Nation, Pablo Maurer's MLSsoccer.com piece found a very focused DCU locker room, Steve Goff took a look at EJ's return to a starting role for the Washington Post, and the team site talked to Kemp for their video preview.
Prediction: Chicago is not a good team, but they are a pain to actually beat. Nonetheless, United is looking to keep moving on the right path heading into the playoffs, and a team like the Fire is a perfect warm-up given that teams will be coming to RFK trying to escape without conceding more than anything else. It'll be tough to break them down, but eventually I expect a 2-0 win.
What are you drinking? It's a bit chillier today than it has been recently, so I plan on picking up some kind of porter or stout on my way to Lot 8.
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