After having to run the gauntlet in recent weeks, D.C. United will take on Orlando City tonight with a full week of rest. The Lions have been climbing up the Eastern Conference standings of late, picking up 8 points from their last 4 games and jumping over more highly regarded teams like the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew. They're also desperate to prove they can beat United after running into Bill Hamid's brick wall in the first meeting and then being smothered at RFK in the second.
For United, it's going to be a difficult test. Orlando hoards possession, and the conditions for tonight's game are more or less what you'd want out of a sauna rather than a stadium. However, if the Black-and-Red are serious Supporters Shield contenders, this is the sort of test they should be passing more often than not. With a lineup that is for once close to full strength, United fans should expect a strong outing.
D.C. United Projected Starting 11: Despite the week off, there are questions about United's potential lineup thanks to injuries. If his bothersome finger injury doesn't preclude it, Bill Hamid will start in goal. Otherwise, Andrew Dykstra will look to provide another solid performance instead. There's also a question at right back, where Sean Franklin is listed as questionable with an ankle sprain. If Franklin is fit, he'll start; otherwise, we'll see Chris Korb there and Taylor Kemp - both of whom are "probable" and trained at full speed this week - on the right and left, respectively. Bobby Boswell will be in central defense, and I think Steve Birnbaum will edge out Kofi Opare alongside him.
Nick DeLeon will start at right midfield, while Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud will man central midfield. Left midfield is a bit less certain, as Chris Pontius is questionable due to the hip issue that kept him out against TFC. If he's able to start, I expect Ben Olsen to call on him from the opening whistle. If not, I suspect we'll see Chris Rolfe in that role. That would break up the potential return of the fruitful pairing of Rolfe with Fabian Espindola. The Argentine will definitely start, and if Rolfe is needed in the midfield we'll see him paired with Jairo Arrieta instead.
Off the bench, it wouldn't surprise me to see Pontius or Arrieta - whoever doesn't start - enter the match around the hour mark. I also suspect we'll see Conor Doyle, whether it's up front or in the midfield. As always, the last sub will depend on the scoreboard. Facundo Coria will probably get in if United is behind, but we could see Olsen bring someone like Jared Jeffrey in if there's a result to protect in the final minutes.
Match previews: We took a look at the potential lineups for both the home side and the visitors, while also thinking all the way back to, er, a couple months ago for Throwback Thursday and unanimously predicting that United will avoid defeat tonight. A couple of hours ago, we highlighted the importance of Kitchen and of putting in a complete 90 minute performance in our preview.
What are you drinking: Public Works Ale's Fair-Shake American Pale Ale. It's a good representative of that style by a Baltimore brewery that contributes to job training programs.
Prediction: I expect this visit to central Florida to be far superior to the last one, but soccer can be capricious. Despite doing a lot more right this time around, I think United will walk off with a 1-1 tie after both #10s score second half goals.
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