For the first time ever, D.C. United will take on New York City FC tonight in the Bronx. The expansion club has struggled throughout the season despite (or is that because of?) plenty of spending on big international stars. They're currently four points out of the playoffs despite also having played two more games than 6th place Montreal. Jason Kreis has cycled through many formation and is currently trying to sort out how to use all of his big names at once without fielding a team incompatible with MLS's style of play.
United, meanwhile, is in the weird position of being both on a three-game winning streak and trying to get themselves back on track. It's an odd situation, but that's what happens when you fall behind 2-0 in consecutive games, win both, and then follow it up by winning a game in which you attempt just one shot. United is winning, but they're not doing it in a sustainable fashion. With a four-games-in-eleven-days stretch coming up, it's time to get back to winning in a reasonable way rather than setting some sort of obscure record every week.
Key player: Perry Kitchen
In my opinion at least, Kitchen is coming off of his worst game that I can recall. Montreal had noticed how important he is to United's attempts to build out of the back, and deployed Ignacio Piatti - normally a crafty, entertaining playmaker - in a role designed mostly to pressure him whenever United's defenders tried to pass him the ball. The 25-to-1 shot disparity and massive possession gap that characterized that game owe more than a little to the Impact's success with that tactical decision.
Here's the thing, though: Frank Klopas is not the first MLS coach to figure this out about United and attempt to harass Kitchen. In just about every other game, Kitchen has passed the test (as his 85.6% passing accuracy over the course of the season bears out).
NYCFC will likely try the same gambit, and Kitchen has to do better against it this time. On the smaller playing surface at Yankee Stadium, United is already going to have a hard enough time stringing possession together. Kitchen's contributions in that regard are going to be critical, because United can't afford another game with a paltry 30% share of the ball. The way you beat a team with Andrea Pirlo and (possibly) Frank Lampard is to make them play without the ball.
Key question: Can we have some balance please?
I don't need to tell you that United's last 3 games have been bizarre. A 3-2 win after being down 2-0 inside of the first 5 minutes is highly unusual. Coming back from 2-0 down again to win is unprecedented in MLS, while the 6-4 scoreline is a first for United in 20 years of existence. To follow those hallucinatory games up with the offense-vs-defense drill that was last weekend's trip to Quebec is, to say the least, an overcorrection.
United needs to find a proper balance between attacking and defending, and they need to do it quickly. If United is stuck defending deep for long spells tonight, they're going to be in trouble. NYCFC has more than enough attacking talent to make as many chances as Montreal did, and unlike the Impact they have David Villa to finish them off. United has shown that they can be an attacking terror, but it appears they only awaken that side of things when losing.
Tonight , the Black-and-Red need to attack consistently without being exposed, and they need to defend without having to spend big chunks of the game with all eleven players stuck within 40 yards of Bill Hamid's goal. This team is capable of big things if they can get it right at both ends of the field. Don't let the current winning streak fool you; the roller coaster approach to soccer is not one that usually ends well.
Match date/time: Thursday 8/13, 7:00pm Eastern
Venue: Yankee Stadium (New York, NY)
TV: YES Network (English, NY region only), MLS Direct Kick (English,
blacked out in the DMV) NOTE: Per DCU, the blackout has been lifted:
Our gamethread will be up an hour before kickoff.