It's a big night for the Eastern Conference, where the four teams that could end the night in first have paired off. For D.C. United, that means a difficult home game against Columbus Crew SC. Last year, one bad performance and two strokes of bad luck in stoppage time saw United go winless against the Crew despite finishing ahead of them in the standings. Since then, Columbus has improved; they've acquired Kei Kamara, who is now tied for first on the MLS goalscoring charts, while also bringing in new right back Hernan Grana.
Key player: Perry Kitchen
Kitchen is coming off of a strong April which involved his first ever two-goal performance as well as his second USMNT cap. Individually, he's going to have to have a great night to help contain Federico Higuain in the Crew midfield. Any time your opponent tends to hoard possession, your defensive midfielder has to have an outstanding match. United's formation change in Vancouver was fairly effective last week, but it asks even more of Kitchen than the previous situation in which he had a partner. No matter whether Olsen maintains the 4132 or reverts back to the 442, Kitchen is going to have to serve up the kind of performance that gets him this kind of praise.
Key question: Can United get back to winning form at home?
On one hand, the Black-and-Red have gone unbeaten in 15 straight home games across all competitions, as well as just 1 loss in 24. RFK is one of the hardest venues in MLS to succeed in, and that comes without natural advantages like a turf surface or high altitude.
On the other hand, the performances haven't exactly set hearts alight. The 2-1 win over Alajuelense came within the context of a 6-4 aggregate defeat. Montreal and LA were both beaten 1-0 in games with few chances, while United played down to Houston the last time the lights went on at RFK. The one good performance came against the Red Bulls, who still managed to come from 2-0 down to get a draw due to two defensive mistakes.
If United is going to stay ahead of a team as good as Columbus is, it's going to happen mainly on the back of wins on East Capitol Street. That means starting games closer to top form, creating more chances, and most importantly it means finishing games without mistakes.
Match date/time: Saturday 5/2, 7:00pm EST
Venue: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
TV: CSN Washington (English, DMV only), TWC SportsChannel Ohio (English, Ohio only), MLS Direct Kick (English)
Online: MLS Live (English, blacked out in the DMV)