While D.C. United fans in the DMV add on another layer to combat what is hopefully the coldest week of winter, the Black-and-Red (as well as a good number of smart fans) have hit the road for better conditions. Their travels have taken them to Texas, where they'll spend a few days in Austin before heading to Dallas. The state capital plays host to the ATX Pro Challenge, a four-team tourney of sorts featuring United, FC Dallas, the Columbus Crew, and the Austin Aztex, who are back in the USL after having been moved and then reborn in the PDL.
While the other two MLS foes will duke it out in the early match, United will be facing the home side. The Aztex are coached by former MLS striker Paul Dalglish. As with any MLS vs. lower-division match, this one's going to mean a lot to the Aztex despite just being a preseason game. United is going to have to continue with the improvement we saw against Malmo as compared to the draw with Jonkopings Sodra, or we may suffer the same fate as the Union and Metros (who have both lost to the Jacksonville Armada, a brand new NASL club).
Austin features some familiar names for anyone that has paid close attention to recent MLS SuperDrafts. Even if that doesn't apply to you, you may remember guys like Travis Golden (drafted by United last year, but cut in training camp) and Lance Rozeboom, who made the team in 2012 but suffered a severe knee injury before being let go. Rozeboom has already factored in United's last official game against a USL side, as he started for the Rochester Rhinos in their 1-0 win in last year's US Open Cup. You can be sure that those two will be particularly fired up.
Key player: Perry Kitchen
United's midfield linchpin missed the first leg of camp due to USMNT duty. On the plus side, he got his first cap. On the negative side, a strong circumstantial case can be made that the USMNT is a soft-tissue destroyer. Kitchen has appeared to be more or less impervious to injury, but after the World Cup's spate of American hamstring strains, I am nervous about overuse injuries. It will be great to see Kitchen tonight, but if I'm being honest the most likely high point of his performance in my book will be when he is substituted off the field without having pulled up with a pulled muscle. United may have an incredibly deep midfield right now, but we cannot truly replace PK23.
Key question: What can we expect in what is probably going to be our first look at new signing Michael Farfan?
On one hand, Farfan is a quality player who should contend for major minutes with United. He's inventive, skillful, and has the work rate and bite that Ben Olsen wants in his players. It's more than a little surprising that the top eleven teams in the allocation order passed on him (including his old club up in Philly). This isn't a major coup for United, but it is a minor one.
On the other hand, Farfan got caught in the chaos at Cruz Azul and went months without high-end competition before signing with MLS. He's going to be at least a little behind training-wise - though he was practicing with Seattle ahead of his being allocated to United - and will need time to catch up in United's system. It might be a little while before we see him exerting true pressure on United's wide midfielders (or even in the middle, where he has plenty of experience as a #10 and as a #8 in various Union schemes past thanks to Hackworth doing Hackworth things).
I remain hopeful that Farfan will make a quick impact, but that may just mean doing well enough off the bench through March. We'll see how much time he needs to be at his best.
Match date/time: Friday 2/13, 8:00pm local, 9:00pm EST
Venue: Mike A. Myers Stadium (Austin, TX)
TV: TWC SportsChannel will carry the game in Texas. There's no TV coverage in the DMV or anywhere else though.
Look out for our gamethread, which will go up an hour before tonight's game kicks off.