It's been a long winter, but D.C. United is finally back on the field tonight to face LD Alajuelense in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. United got here by winning four straight in arguably the weakest group the CCL has ever put together, while Alajuelense managed to advance past reigning champions Cruz Azul in Group 6 despite only winning one game.
La Liga has a major advantage in that they're in mid-season form, but United will like the fact that they've stumbled of late and could be missing as many as four starters between injuries and suspensions. Costa Rican clubs have had a mixed set of results: CS Herediano's 1-1 draw at Olimpia of Honduras gives them a great chance at advancing, while Deportivo Saprissa's disastrous 3-0 home loss to Club America has effectively ended their chances of a semifinal place. United is the last American club left alive after dueling self-proclaimed "soccer capitals" Portland and KC both failed in the group stage, as did the perennial failures known as the New York Red Bulls. However, MLS's other representative - the Montreal Impact - managed to get a 2-2 draw at Mexico's Pachuca, which indicates that this being the first game of the season does not mean it's impossible to get a good result.
Enough talk. Let's do this thing!
Kickoff time: 8:00pm EST
Venue: Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto (Alajuela, Costa Rica). Here's a look from the outside:
TV/Streaming: Fox Sports 2 has the game in English, while Univision Deportes will carry it in Spanish. If you have either of these in HD, I envy you. Your streaming options are FoxSoccer2Go and FoxSportsGo in English, and the Univision Deportes app in Spanish.
D.C. United Projected Starting 11: I have no reason to suspect anything but a very familiar lineup, particularly with Markus Halsti not traveling. That means a 442 featuring Bill Hamid in goal; a back four of Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp; a midfield of Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, and Chris Rolfe; and a forward pairing of Fabian Espindola and Chris Pontius.
As for subs, I'm pretty sure we're going to see Jairo Arrieta come on for Pontius by the 65th minute (and that's if he doesn't get the start in that spot, which is a possibility). Michael Farfan also seems like a decent bet to come in somewhere in the midfield depending on the game situation. If United is forced to go on the offensive, don't be shocked if Miguel Aguilar comes on for DeLeon in the final 10-15 minutes. I could also see Aguilar coming in and Ben Olsen shifting to some kind of 451 if the game has gone well, with DeLeon moving into a central role.
Match previews: We put together a short preview here, analyzed Alajuelense from both a tactical perspective and in terms of who they'll have on the field. Ben predicted a lineup that matches mine at every spot, while Adam reminded us that an away game against a Central American powerhouse is not an impossible task. Over at MLSsoccer, our SBN colleague Alicia Rodriguez previewed the game while Charles Boehm got quotes on the worn-down turf that Alajuelense plays on. For The Washington Post, Steve Goff points out that MLS teams have gotten acceptable results in Costa Rica 50% of the time since 2008.
What are you drinking?: I have a wide range of beer options crowding my fridge, but in the end I feel like I'm going to go with Abita's Turbodog. The others are too high of an ABV for me to write the game recap without slipping into incomprehensible gibberish. Blogging is tough sometimes.
This is your place for pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.