Control over the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic Cup, and in all likelihood a shot at the Supporters Shield are all on the line tonight for D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls. As a result, this may be the biggest regular season game this 20 year old rivalry has ever produced. NYRB comes into the game in better form, but then they also lost Wednesday to arguably the worst team in MLS. United, meanwhile, has been listless for a while when it comes to league play yet consistently wins when having to call in their reserves mid-week. MLS is a weird league.
In any case, United will retake the lead in the chase for the Shield with a win, will retain the Atlantic Cup if that win is by 2 or more goals, and will extend their Eastern Conference lead to 6 points (and 8 ahead of the Red Bulls). A loss, however, will draw NYRB within 2 points of United despite their having 3 games in hand. Realistically, a loss today would significantly reduce United's chances of winning the East for a 2nd straight year.
D.C. United Projected Starting 11: With yesterday's injury report update, I expect United to put their strongest team on the field. That means Bill Hamid is back in goal behind a back four of Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp; In the midfield, I know we're going to see Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen. I am suspecting that we see Markus Halsti starting over Davy Arnaud alongside Kitchen, and I think Chris Rolfe will be on the left due to the return of Fabian Espindola up top. Alvaro Saborio will serve as the target man alongside Espindola.
I think we'll see Michael Farfan off the bench, but who does he replace? It depends on the scoreboard; if United is leading, he might come in for Espindola to move United into a 4411. If it's tied, I'd think he comes in for DeLeon. If United is behind, look for him to replace Halsti. I also think Chris Pontius gets a run out, though I think it comes after Farfan enters. The last sub? Look for Arnaud if United is protecting a lead late, or while Miguel Aguilar seems like a good choice if a late equalizer is needed.
Match previews: We had a slightly different lineup in mind from before the injury report update, while we expect the Red Bulls to skip player rotation despite a midweek game. Our predictions ended up being a mixed bag, while our preview underlines the importance of Kitchen on both sides of the ball.
What are you drinking: For years I've been seeing Köstrizer schwarzbier at a local liquor store with a note from the staff praising it. I finally decided to give it a try, and it's pretty damn good.
Prediction: I have United winning this one 1-0 on a late goal from Bobby Boswell via a Fabian Espindola corner kick. The captain is due for a big goal, and United is due for a win in New Jersey. This one might not be 2012 playoffs dramatic, but I do think it's going to be more remarkable than United's last trip to Red Bull Arena.
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