Another night, another game for D.C. United, who will play their second of five in a span of less than two weeks tonight against the Chicago Fire. Times are tough in the Windy City, as the Fire have the fewest points in MLS and have given up at least two goals in six of their last seven outings (including a 3-1 loss at RFK three weeks ago). Making matters worse, they'll be without two DP starters - David Accam and Shaun Maloney - as well as their best defensive midfielder (Matt Polster).
United, meanwhile, could field any number of lineups. They will be forced to rotate at least one starter from Sunday - the suspended Davy Arnaud - out, but beyond that it will likely come down to some combination of how much gas is in a given player's tank and how many different players could feasibly play a specific position. United has plenty of wide midfielders, for example, but with Sean Franklin injured we may see minutes for someone like Jalen Robinson. It's difficult to predict, but at least United can go past 12 or 13 MLS-caliber players these days.
Key player: Jairo Arrieta
With a squad rotation required to prevent hamstrings from exploding or worse, look for the irascible Costa Rican to get a start up front tonight. Arrieta's last outing against Pittsburgh was not very good if we're being honest, but one off game shouldn't prevent United from leaning on him tonight.
Arrieta scored twice against the Fire last time around, but that's not really why we're talking about him in this spot. It's Arrieta's ability to get away from his marker that I'm interested in, and with Chicago often losing track of runners this should be an opportunity for him to pull even with Chris Rolfe atop United's goalscoring list. In games like this one, where the legs are going to get heavy towards the end, it'd be awfully nice if Arrieta is sharp in the early going. Getting a lead in this game will help the Black-and-Red tonight, and by not having to chase the game as we saw on Sunday they might have more legs for Saturday...and Tuesday...and Friday.
Key question: Is this the "punt" within this brutal string of games?
Over the past two seasons, we've gotten a chance to observe Ben Olsen's habits when it comes to a clogged schedule. Usually when there are simply too many games, Olsen takes a long view and sends out an entirely second-choice team in order to lower the chances of a costly long-term injury due to overuse. With all due respect to Chicago, the other three games left in this compressed period of games are:
- at Toronto FC, who will have Michael Bradley to go with their other stars and are likely the biggest challenge United faces to win the East again
- at Philadelphia in a knockout competition that guarantees CCL entry if you just avoid defeat in four more games
- at Seattle, probably the most talented team in MLS and the most likely challenger for a Supporters Shield trophy
If there's a game that United can roll the dice on, it's tonight. Granted, it seems likely that Olsen will also choose a USOC team similar to the one that beat the Riverhounds, but it would only qualify as a mild shock if tonight's starters are a Cup team with one or two regulars added in. And you know what? That second team is good enough to get a result in Illinois tonight. That team contains guys like Kofi Opare, Luis Silva, Markus Halsti, Facundo Coria, and Miguel Aguilar, all players who have an argument that they should see more action. If tonight is indeed the game where United rests some legs, these second choice players need to embrace a chance to push up the depth chart. Some of them - Coria and Aguilar in particular - did that in Pittsburgh, and doing it again so quickly would say a lot.
Match date/time: Wednesday 6/24, 8:30pm Eastern
Venue: Toyota Park (Bridgeview, IL)
TV: CSN Washington (English), MLS Direct Kick (English, blacked out in the DC area and Chicago)
Online: MLS Live (English, blacked out in the DC area and Chicago)
Check back in two hours for our gamethread.