Late tonight, D.C. United will take on the top-of-the-table Vancouver Whitecaps in scenic British Columbia. It's the return of #DCUAfterDark, and it's also going to be a challenging match. These two teams play very different styles of soccer, and both have shown a knack for getting results even when their performance isn't top-notch.
It's also a game United fans have been waiting a while for, as we will almost certainly see the 2015 MLS debut of Fabian Espindola. Between his return from suspension and Luis Silva's continued progress towards being able to start games, the Black-and-Red's inconsistent attack may take its first step towards 2014's potency tonight.
Key player: Andrew Dykstra
We can confirm that Bill Hamid didn't travel as he continues to recover from a thigh contusion:
As such, the potentially high-powered Whitecaps attack will be shooting at Dykstra instead. Last week Dykstra showed that his previous appearance - that nightmarish 5-2 loss at Alajuelense - was not representative of his capabilities by making some solid saves against the Houston Dynamo.
Tonight Dykstra will likely face a more difficult test. The Whitecaps have more weapons than the Dynamo, and the cross-continent trip will likely factor into a match that will see United doing plenty of defending. Even if United takes control of proceedings - see below for more on that subject - Dykstra will still have to come up big against Octavio Rivero (MLS's leading scorer right now) more than once if the Black-and-Red are going to bring some points home.
Key question: Which team is going to get to play the style they want?
If Vancouver gets to play their style of game, we're going to see a stretched, end-to-end affair. The Whitecaps have more speed and better long-range passing than United, and they're far more used to playing on BC Place's turf. It's hard to see United staying competitive if this game becomes a track meet.
However, if United can get the tempo they'd prefer and can keep the number of attacks in transition low, things start to look up for the visitors. Vancouver can be an impatient side when things aren't going their way, and that tendency to rush or force things - on both sides of the ball - can be a weakness. If this game is choppy or methodical, United will mitigate the Whitecaps in terms of speed and may be able to pounce on Vancouver's mistakes.
Match date/time: Saturday 4/25, 7:30pm local, 10:30pm EST
Venue: BC Place (Vancouver, BC, Canada)
TV: CSN Washington (English), MLS Direct Kick (English), TSN 1 (English, Canada only)
Online: MLS Live (English, blacked out in DC metro area)