For a few weeks now, D.C. United has been tied atop MLS's Eastern Conference with a game in hand. Well, tonight's game against Orlando City SC is that extra opportunity to pick up points. A win would not only see United enter the weekend atop the East; it would put the Black-and-Red in first place throughout MLS. You guys like trophies, right?
Still, it won't be easy. Orlando may be among the East's struggling sides, but they're probably closer to being good than anyone in that group (give or take the Chicago Fire). The Lions may be short-handed and badly reliant on Kaka, but a couple young players - Cyle Larin and Darwin Ceren among them - are starting to find their feet a bit more in MLS. If their erratic defense delivers a steady performance, they're a threat to United's 17-game home unbeaten streak.
Key player: Luis Silva
With Fabian Espindola unavailable due to a knee bruise and United starting a long stretch of games on short rest, rotating players into the squad is going to be vital. I'm operating on a hunch here, but I think that will mean Silva's first start of the season tonight.
I think the specific thing that makes this a good match for Silva is his ability to ghost away from his marker. We've seen him come into games and be too clever for the likes of Michael Parkhurst to keep track of, so I like his odds of tricking Aurelien Collin and Seb Hines tonight. Plus, for Orlando, the natural memory in seeing him will be that stoppage time, game-winning free kick last month. Hopefully Silva can add to that total and develop a habit of downing the Floridians every time.
Key question: Can United give Bill Hamid an easy night?
There have been two games this season in which DCU has been comprehensively outplayed: At NYRB, and at Orlando. In the home follow-up against the Metros, United played their best hour before making mistakes to cough up a draw. I'm hoping for a similar turnaround tonight, because no matter how awesome Hamid is you have to assume that making over five blinding saves is not just something that you can bank on. No goalkeeper can produce that kind of showing regularly.
It will help at the other end, too. Orlando is still a bit fragile despite their two-goal comeback against the Revs on the weekend. United will put them off their game by having more of the ball and testing Donovan Ricketts rather than by repeating the performance seen in the last meeting by these two clubs. Orlando is not a bad team, but United should be beating them at RFK every time. Let's hope that the game is played in their end a lot more than it was down at the Citrus Bowl.
Match date/time: Wednesday 5/13, 8:00pm
Venue: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
TV: ESPN2 (English), ESPN Deportes (Spanish)
Online: MLS Live (blacked out in the DMV), Watch ESPN