D.C. United has an exemplary record in first-ever games against MLS expansion sides (8W-2D-1L, with 30 goals scored) but that will be put to a severe test tonight against Orlando City SC. The Lions are not the collection of MLS spare parts that most MLS expansion teams have been over the years, and they play positive, possession-oriented soccer.
For United, the focus needs to be on putting forward their first respectable road performance in 2015. For the home team, the goal will be to turn their tendency to dominate possession at the Citrus Bowl into chances. Up until this point, Orlando's home games have seen them score just once in 180 minutes, and it required a massive deflection. One of these two trends is likely to end tonight.
Key Player: Taylor Kemp
Kemp is going to be vital tonight in three different ways. First, Orlando tends to attack more from the right than anywhere else, so he's going to have a busy night defensively. Second, United needs to get him into the attack to provide the extra width required to break down a team playing three central midfielders. Otherwise, attacking moves are going to have to go through some big crowds. Finally, Kemp needs to be strong positionally alongside Kofi Opare, who is slated to make his first MLS start for United. Opare will get plenty of guidance from Bobby Boswell and Bill Hamid, and Kemp needs to help him out by staying connected and making sound positional choices throughout.
Key question: Is United ready to produce a solid, intelligent road performance?
It's obviously a small sample size, but the Black-and-Red have not traveled well thus far in 2015. The trek down to Costa Rica saw Alajuelense immediately push United into the track meet that La Liga wanted, and the end result virtually killed DC's CCL hopes in one game. At Red Bull Arena a couple of weeks ago, NYRB also managed to force United into a style that suited the home side very early.
Against Orlando, that can't happen if United is going to bring home a point or three. The Lions, like the Metros, want to horde possession and will try to make good use of their 3v2 advantage in central midfield. United's good road record last season was built around avoiding mistakes - like, for example, the giant central defensive gaps that have ended in first half goals being conceded in both away games - and on neutralizing the opposing central midfield. United is going to need a comprehensive team effort and a high-intensity start to this match so that Orlando isn't dictating how and where the game is played. Otherwise, we're going to see a lot of Kaka on the ball, and that's not good.
Match date/time: Friday 4/3, 7:00pm EST
Venue: Citrus Bowl (Orlando, FL)
TV: UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Online: Univision Deportes En Vivo (Spanish; app requires authentication)