Historically speaking, this should be a game D.C. United fans approach cautiously. The Houston Dynamo have largely had control of this fixture over the years, and in games at RFK there's usually some kind of ferocious storm involved. DCU killer Will Bruin still exists, too.
However, based on recent form it seems fair to say that United is the firm favorite to take three points tonight. Owen Coyle's side has had to rely on Tyler Deric's outstanding form and some very opportunistic play in front of goal to pick up points. More or less out of necessity, the Dynamo are trying to make sure games are scrappy and rather unattractive.
Sound familiar? The difference is that Ben Olsen has made one or two more attack-minded personnel choices. Part of that is simply having more options on a deeper roster, but the rest might just be that United's back four doesn't require the level of protection that Houston's does.
Key player: Chris Pontius
With Luis Silva inching closer and closer to full fitness and Fabian Espindola back from suspension next week, attacking minutes are about to become much harder to come by. I thought Pontius played quite well against the Red Bulls, and he'll need to carry on at that level to keep himself in contention for a starting role in May.
In the shorter term, however, a good showing from Pontius will also be important for United tonight. Houston is going to congest the center of the field, and will have a major advantage when it comes to winning balls in the air. Pontius is going to have to provide some excellent off-the-ball movement to keep Houston from getting organized. He and everyone else in a United shirt will have to make their chances count, too, because Houston is coming to town with the intent of limiting the opportunities first and foremost.
Key question: Will United be able to break down Houston's defend-in-numbers strategy?
Last week, United took a big step forward by showing the ability to bypass NYRB's high pressure. That requires playing at a certain tempo, and it also requires the creative players consistently getting into positions where they can demand the ball. After a few weeks of inconsistent and halting attempts at creating offense, it was a welcome sight.
That has to be maintained this week, but not because Houston will push high looking for turnovers. The Dynamo are playing conservative soccer and are committed to defending as a team. If United reverts to being overly methodical going forward - or can't connect passes reliably enough - Houston will be comfortable sitting deep and waiting to play Giles Barnes in behind.
Match date/time: Saturday 4/18, 7:00pm EST
Venue: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
TV: CSN Washington (English), MLS Direct Kick (English)
Online: MLS Live (English; blacked out in the DC area)