Never mind MLS's poor-schedule-skewed standings, folks: Today's game between D.C. United and Toronto FC is as much a #1 vs #2 in the East as last Sunday's match against New England was. Despite being handed a tough schedule of their own - TFC has played just 5 MLS home games thus far in 2015 due to some renovations and expansion at BMO Field - the Reds have kept themselves above the red line thanks to some unexpectedly good road form, and having guys like Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley around keeps them in just about every game.
Still, there are consequences to using 3 designated player slots as TFC has done. When the games come thick and fast, the rotation options aren't of the same quality as those found on United's deeper roster. There's no Luis Silva or Kofi Opare being kept out of the team in Toronto. Playing games without Michael Farfan and Chris Pontius or their equivalents elsewhere been a fact of life for the Black-and-Red all season, while the Reds will be looking at players who have had fewer minutes, less experience, and less quality to give on the field. It's either that, or play tired players who started midweek, which is a proven way to lose games and pick up injuries.
That said, United will have to be very, very good today to collect 3 points against a team that can beat you even when outplayed due to their star players living up to their reputations.
D.C. United Projected Starting 11: After resting so many players mid-week, expect Ben Olsen to field the best team he has available. That means Bill Hamid will be in goal behind a back four of Chris Korb, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp. In the midfield, Nick DeLeon will be on the right, Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud will pair up centrally, and I suspect Conor Doyle will get the nod on the left with Chris Pontius still unavailable. Up front, Chris Rolfe will partner Fabian Espindola.
Off the bench, I suspect we'll see Silva come in for Doyle - with Rolfe going to the left - after an hour or so no matter what the scoreline is. Miguel Aguilar will be a potential game-changer coming in to play on one flank or the other given TFC's formation. If things are going well for United, you can bank on Markus Halsti coming in for a forward to pack the midfield in the late stages, while Jairo Arrieta or Facundo Coria will get in if United needs a goal.
Match previews: We've got a few things you might want to read: Ben is calling for Silva to get a start up front in his lineup prediction, while I took a crack at TFC's lineup this morning and previewed the game a couple of hours ago.
Over at Waking the Red, you should check out their examination of United while Steve Goff's piece for the Washington Post focuses on how the standings can be a bit of an illusion when the schedule has been so weird.
What are you drinking: Probably cracking open a Yuengling Lager this time around.
Prediction: Both of these teams will be improved after the Tired vs. Short-handed game at RFK. I think United's use of the ball will be more intelligent and I don't at all expect them to fade out of the game like they did for the final 30 minutes of the first half earlier this month. Expecting a better performance, however, does not ignore this team's troubles away from home when it comes to scoring goals. I think Giovinco strikes again because that's just what he's doing these days, but United pulls themselves level after halftime via Espindola. United then hangs on in customary fashion, relying on a couple of big time Hamid saves en route to a 1-1 draw.
This is your place for pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.