Possibly the most difficult stretch of D.C. United's season continues tonight with a road game against the struggling Chicago Fire. It's the second of five games in under two weeks for United, and on paper at least it looks like the least demanding of them. The Fire are short three important starters, and the trip to Chicago - by MLS standards - is not particularly long.
Nonetheless, this could become a very tough game if United lets it happen. The Fire are at the bottom of the table, so every point counts right now. They're also on a three-game losing streak in league play, which should make them desperate to get back on track. That should result in a game that is largely mental for Chicago: If they're given a reason to feel good about how things are going, we'll probably be seeing their best shot. If United can emphasize their superiority - be it by scoring early, or even by simply dominating the game during the opening stages - the Fire's low morale will come into play.
Bad teams tend to get into a losing spiral, and United needs to make sure Chicago gets an extra push on their way down. Otherwise, this could turn into a classic trap game.
D.C. United Projected Starting 11: Given the rotation, this is more of a stab in the dark than it normally is. I am sure we'll see Bill Hamid in goal, and I think the back four will be Jalen Robinson, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp. In the midfield, look for Perry Kitchen and Markus Halsti to be flanked by Miguel Aguilar and Chris Rolfe. Up front, Jairo Arrieta - who should be well-rested - will start alongside Fabian Espindola.
Off the bench, look for Facundo Coria to replace Rolfe after an hour, and I'd also expect Nick DeLeon to get in around that time as well. The last sub may well be someone like Luke Mishu, but in all likelihood it will be Conor Doyle and his position will depend on the scoreboard.
Match previews: Ben's lineup prediction differs in a few spots from mine, while I took a shot at figuring out Chicago's starting 11. Our whole staff thinks United will take 3 points tonight, while our questions for Hot Time In Old Town's Sean Spence found him understandably frustrated with Chicago's 2015. Finally, our preview from earlier emphasizes the importance of getting out in front both for tonight and the games to come.
Going back to HTiOT, their preview talks up Espindola and Rolfe. At the Washington Post, Roman Stubbs finds United approaching this long road trip concerned with how to get points without putting starters at risk for injury. United's game notes point out that the Black-and-Red haven't won in Chicago since 2009 in league play (that 2013 Open Cup semifinal tho), while MLSsoccer's preview informs us that the referee tonight will be Jorge Gonzalez.
What are you drinking: Evan Williams Single Barrel on the rocks (two, specifically). Probably a double.
Prediction: Chicago is bad at full strength, and they are not at full strength. I still expect this to be more of a grinding performance given Sunday's exertions and United's lack of scoring punch away from home. However, the Fire are a good cure for that last thing, and I have Espindola scoring in the minutes before halftime. United will bag another goal from a corner kick because that's just something they do these days, and the demoralized Fire's heads will drop. 2-0 DCU.
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