Major League Soccer's twentieth regular season ends today, and for D.C. United that means a road game against Columbus Crew SC. Both teams can clinch the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a win, while United can also finish second with a draw provided Toronto FC doesn't win by 2 or more goals in Montreal (a game that will take place at the same time thanks to MLS's "Decision Day" timing).
DC and Columbus both come into this game on the back of good results: United stomped Chicago 4-0 in their final home game of the regular season, while the Crew went to Canada and clinched their playoff berth with a professional, intelligent 2-0 victory over TFC. However, that latter win came at a cost: Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain both picked up avoidable yellow cards to get themselves suspended for today's match. For United, it's a rare opportunity to take on a team missing the two key components of their attack.
D.C. United Projected Starting 11: On the back of two straight wins and with a first round bye available, I doubt anyone expects Ben Olsen to change his lineup. The same 442 will stay in place, which means Bill Hamid in goal; a back four of Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Opare, and Taylor Kemp; a midfield featuring Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Markus Halsti, and Chris Pontius; and a front line of Chris Rolfe and Fabian Espindola.
Alvaro Saborio has been much more effective for United as a game-changing substitute, and I think the only thing that prevents that pattern from being maintained is a scoreboard fire preventing the game from being played. Look for him to replace Rolfe sometime between the 65th and 70th minute. If United is leading, Conor Doyle will probably step in for Pontius sometime in the final 15 minutes. I'd like Michael Farfan to get some more minutes here too, whether it's for DeLeon on the right (if the result is one United wants to keep) or in the middle for Halsti (if United needs a goal).
Match previews: We previewed today's match this morning, and later looked into what United has to do to win the game. The Columbus version of our site, Massive Report, is feeling good about their recent defending but has concerns about the attack in light of suspensions for Kamara and Higuain.
Referee: Ismail Elfath
What are you drinking?: I'll be enjoying a fine Maryland beer: DuClaw Brewing's Sweet Baby Jesus! chocolate peanut butter porter.
Prediction: I think we're going to see something of a chess match, where the Crew are trying to use their collective quality in possession to pry open United, who in turn threatens with counters down the flank. For most of the game, things will be finely balanced, but in the end the Crew are unable to cope when Alvaro Saborio comes on for the final 20-25 minutes. I think we'll see a deep cross from Taylor Kemp flicked in by the Costa Rican veteran in the final 10 minutes to give United a 1-0 victory and 2nd place in the East.
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