D.C. United and LA Galaxy will both take the field without their most prominent attackers. The temperatures will be about 35-40% cooler than they normally are in late March. There's a fancier
transparent money grab for suckers friendly up the road that will take place before sundown and will feature a) the best player in the world and b) arguably this region's most popular national team.
There are plenty of reasons for this to be a forgettable evening of soccer, but for United it's a big day. The Galaxy may be without Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes, and they may have lost Landon Donovan to retirement in the offseason. It doesn't matter: They're still the defending champions, and the team they'll start this game with would still make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. United hasn't convinced in their first four games, and both fans and coaches were displeased with what they saw last week. A good performance tonight would be a strong statement that United is not going to sputter along through the early stages of the season.
Key Player: Chris Rolfe
The narrative last week was that United's attack created nothing, but that isn't really true. While you could hardly call it a convincing show of attacking power, the Black-and-Red had two very good chances (as well as another moderately dangerous one) fall to Rolfe. All three were saved, and on a normal day you'd expect a player like Rolfe to put at least one in the back of the net.
With there being at least a chance that Ben Olsen repeats something he tried in the second half last week - that is, Rolfe playing as a forward and Chris Pontius playing left midfield - Rolfe needs to be more clinical this week. He also needs to be his creative best, because no matter how short-handed LA is up front it seems likely that a win is going to require goals plural. Rolfe needs to be clever between the lines, and if he's the second forward he's going to have to chip in defensively to keep Juninho from taking the game over.
Key Question: Is United ready to prove they haven't regressed in the offseason?
It's sort of an unfair question given the fact that so many forwards and midfielders are unavailable for various reasons, but we have yet to see a truly convincing DCU performance in 2015. LA has flown across the US short-handed. It'll be much colder than the Galaxy are used to. The advantages are stacking up for United, but it will still take a better performance than we've seen thus far to make them count.
What does that mean, specifically? No huge gaps in central defense. No cheap giveaways in central midfield. Sustained spells of attacking play rather than sporadic raids. Not wasting good looks when they do arrive. Being the aggressor at home. That's what we as fans should be asking for today, and that's what Olsen should be demanding to see out of his players today. Missing players or no, this is a game that good teams win.
Match date/time: Saturday 3/28, 7:00pm EST
Venue: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
TV: CSN Washington (English in the DC area), TWC Sportsnet (English in California), MLS Direct Kick (English everywhere else)
Online: MLS Live (English)