There's one last order of business for D.C. United before the 2015 preseason officially ends. The Black-and-Red are still in Texas, and they'll once again face FC Dallas, but this time it'll be a couple hundred miles to the north at Toyota Stadium. The Hoops will feel an urge to get one over on United after losing last week due to a combination of good goalkeeping and a golazo. On the other hand, United may be forgiven for already having one eye on next Thursday's CONCACAF Champions League match in Costa Rica versus LD Alajuelense.
This should be an interesting match for both sides. Last week's game had more bite to it than a typical preseason friendly, and we're also looking at a closing window for trialists on both sides to prove what they can do against MLS opposition before the season starts. This game is also taking a step towards normal league play for both sides. The game is in an MLS stadium, between MLS teams, on what is (sometimes, anyway) a night where MLS teams play games, and at a normal kickoff hour too. FCD has certainly cleaned up for the company coming over:
You chose the "Bullseye" field design and here it is in all it's glory. See you tonight! pic.twitter.com/E4BtJH9fIy— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) February 20, 2015
Key player: Fabian Espindola
United's new #10 has looked inventive and feisty just as he usually does in the preseason, but the final product hasn't quite been there. It's no coincidence that DCU preseason goals have either been top-shelf quality or required a bad giveaway from the opponent. Alajuelense may not be in their best form right now, but they're in season and are notoriously tough to score on in CCL play at home. Espindola is also desperate to lift CONCACAF's top club trophy after coming so close with RSL a few years back. With a six-game suspension looming and United's top forwards iffy (Luis Silva) or out long-term (Eddie Johnson), we need to see Espindola fine-tune things so he's at his very best against Alajuelense.
Key question: How close are Steve Birnbaum and Luis Silva to full fitness?
Speaking of injured players, these two huge pieces of United's puzzle haven't played a second this preseason. Well, for Silva that's entirely true; Birnbaum at least has 90 minutes against Chile under his belt. The good news is that United has added depth to the roster this year, so there are strong alternatives available if they end up unable to start one or both CCL games. At his very best, Chris Pontius could one day be a better partner for Espindola than Silva is, though obviously there's a special understanding between United's co-leading scorers last year.
Replacing Birnbaum is less straight-forward - Markus Halsti appears to be the preferred option at this point, with Davy Arnaud stepping into a very familiar starting role alongside Perry Kitchen - but I don't think too many fans out there will be nervous about that. Halsti may not have Birnbaum's speed or leaping ability, but he's got loads of experience that Birnbaum does not.
Still, United put together this year's roster with the expectation that Halsti would be in the midfield and Silva would be up front trying to improve on his breakout 2014 season. If he and Birnbaum can't play any minutes tonight, it makes them doubtful for the away leg in Costa Rica and in all likelihood casts at least some doubt that they'll be able to start either leg. It would be asking too much to expect either player to get in an hour or so tonight, so let's hope for 20-30 minutes just to confirm that they're at least in contention for the CCL gameday squad.
Match date/time: Friday 2/20, 7:30pm local, 8:30pm EST
Venue: Toyota Stadium (Frisco, TX)
TV: None. Preseason!
Look out for our gamethread, which will go up an hour before tonight's game kicks off.