D.C. United takes on the Philadelphia Union in a game that is, while not a must win, a need win for a United team that hasn't won a game in the league in a little while. A win puts the team back on the inside track for the Eastern Conference championship and a spot in next year's Concacaf Champions League, while a loss would put them in a dogfight with Sporting Kansas City yet again. Overall we are fairly confident, but there are a wide range of methods for getting to the desired result.
And, as always, please give us your thoughts on how the game will go in the comments.
United comes into the match needing 3 points to really put some distance between their place at the top of the table and the rest of the East. 3 points against Philadelphia would be perfect in becoming just a point or 2 away from a playoff berth. Espindola does his best rendition of Busta Rhymes' "Woo Hah! Got You All In Check" with a header and Chris Pontius comes on to add a 2nd. NDL puts in a 3rd and Bill is tremendous between the pipes as United does the damn thing at home, 3-1.
The Union come into RFK Stadium on a run of good form, going unbeaten in their last 5, but they haven't beaten a team anywhere near the playoff places since a home win over the Metros in mid-July. (Well, they did beat free-falling Toronto FC on twice in a week to open September, but the fact that I had to label them "free-falling" TFC shows where they are at the moment. I digress.) The Philly defense can be had, and their attack is incredibly hit-or-miss. If United's midfield duo of Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud has another off-night like they had against Chicago last weekend, it could be more "hit" for the Union. But I don't expect professionals like Kitchen and Arnaud to have consecutive bad games, and Bill Hamid will want to start a new shutout streak to break the 3-game span that was snapped last week. Look for United to go ahead late in the first half through Luis Silva and extend the lead late with an Eddie Johnson finish, Fabian Espindola assisting on both goals. 2-0 to the good guys.
Philly's losses in League play since Jim Curtin took over are (I think) at Dallas in July on an own goal and at Houston in August. The defense is much improved, Curtin is making better use of his guys offensively and they've become a much tougher out recently. I think Espindola & Kitchen play safe-ish to avoid accumulation suspensions against SKC next week, though one of them scores in a 1-1 draw.
The Union play a 4231 with a central playmaker in the form of Cristian Maidana. That's not ideal for United, as their last two outings against a player occupying that space on the field saw Peguy Luyindula create at least 6 scoring chances for the Metros and Harrison Shipp dominate the first half for Chicago. Those were road games, however, and in both cases the lineup choice was something of a surprise; Curtin won't be shocking anyone by slotting Maidana into his normal role.
As such, I think United will not give up so many chances created in zone 14, and Philly's other mode of attack these days is the long switch to Andrew Wenger. Sean Franklin is up to the task of physically neutralizing him, though, so I think United will be able to eke out a 2-1 home win. I think it might be dramatic, though, since this is DC-Philly, so I see Sebastien Le Toux scoring the opener before Fabian Espindola equalizes. Game-winner? Chris Pontius in the closing minutes.
The Union need points--but so does D.C. United to stay safe atop the Eastern Conference. I expect a hard-fought midfield battle with Kitchen cleaning up as usual even as Philly makes it difficult. The Union will find chances, but look for Hamid to be big in this one with a few too many heart attack-inducing saves. At the other end of the field, watch for MacMath to make a stellar save and then an equally stellar blunder, and we'll shake our heads at our lack of goals until Espindola eases our suffering. Philly will tie it up, we'll be even for a while, and we'll fear the worst as the visitors gain momentum (Wenger, honestly I like you, but don't you dare)--but Pontius off the bench will give us reason to party when the 90 are done. 2-1, and first place secure. Bonus prediction: Danny Cruz makes an appearance, tries something silly, we all say, "Remember when he played for us?"
I'm predicting a wild game. Something akin to the Columbus Crew match toward the end of the 2012 season, with that glorious Lewis Neal breakaway goal. Maurice Edu and Conor Casey will make our backline suffer. Espindola (off of a cross from Inkoom), Johnson (off of a rebound originally shot by Silva), and The Korb (off of nothing, man) - in that order - score 3 for DCU. Yes, The Korb scores a goal. Sweet Mother of Knights of Columbus. Is that wild? I *told* you this would be a wild game. But you wouldn't listen. Final: DCU 3, PU 2. See you at RFK. Let's shake loose some more concrete.
MLS may not have pro/rel (insert tinfoil jokes here), but that doesn't mean there aren't meaningful games down the stretch. First, this game is just about a must win for the Union if they are to climb above the red line by the end of the season. It's also just about a must win for D.C. United if they want to hold off a Sporting Kansas City side which has been making up ground in the Eastern Conference race. Fortunately, this game is at RFK, and the Black-and-Red are getting key pieces back at just the right time. Look for goals from Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva, while the defense regains some pride after giving up three goals against Chicago. It will take some typically ridiculous saves by Bill Hamid, but call this one a 2-0 win for the good guys.
D.C. United need a win, are at home and have Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva, and Chris Pontius. I think that trio can get the job done against any team in the league, and they will give D.C. United a 2-1 victory over those bridge-watchers from Chester.
That's what we think will happen tomorrow night; what do you think?