Earlier this month, D.C. United saw a club-record home unbeaten streak ended by Toronto FC, who relied on an organized, clogged central midfield and the spectacular play of Sebastian Giovinco to win 2-1 at RFK Stadium. Today, United gets a chance to return the favor by visiting BMO Field, but the job won't be easy. Not only is United enduring another of an endless string of weeks with an extra game in them, but they'll also face a TFC side featuring Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to go along with Giovinco.
That sounds tough, but the Reds haven't been stellar at home. They recently lost to NYCFC in part due to an inability to match their physicality, and they've also fallen to Houston on the shores of Lake Ontario. This may be the second-best team in the East, but United is way out in front of that deeply flawed group of teams for a reason. After resting so many starters mid-week, it's clear that DCU is coming to Toronto looking to take three points.
Key player: Nick DeLeon
Against TFC's diamond midfield, United needs to get strong offensive contributions from wide positions. Coming through the middle doesn't really work against a midfield that packs four players into central spots, for one. Secondly, DeLeon should be able to get at Ashtone Morgan, who despite taking a step forward this season is still a vulnerable fullback on the left.
Defensively, DeLeon will also be important. The central midfield will need some extra help from the flanks, and DeLeon has reliably been United's best player at that particular skill. If United is going to go on the road and strangle TFC's possession game - which means less of the ball for Giovinco and Bradley - a strong outing from DeLeon is going to be huge.
Key question: Can United do a better job against Giovinco now that he has help?
At RFK, Giovinco's wizardry with the ball gave Toronto their goals, and gave up an abnormal number of shots from inside the 18 yard box. Now that Bradley and Altidore are available the job of shutting down the Italian MVP frontrunner will be more demanding. United was tired that day, but that excuse won't be there after they rested nearly every regular Wednesday (and beat Chicago anyway).
It's also worth noting that TFC is United's biggest threat in the East based on the declining form of New England and the inconsistency of everyone else that's any good. This is a big game despite the big gap the Black-and-Red have opened up in the East. If Toronto were to win the five games they have in hand - no, seriously, it's five games because MLS scheduling this year is beyond farcical - they'd be three points ahead of DC in the standings. That might seem like a high standard to meet, but then TFC has 12 of their final 20 games at home.
We may be concerned that we lost to TFC without their best guys, but then United lost that game without their best players having an adequate, reasonable amount of rest. That isn't the case tonight, and United needs to make sure they get to see MLS's Supporter Shield leaders at their best.
Match date/time: Saturday 6/27, 5:00pm Eastern
Venue: BMO Field (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
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.