After two crazy games at RFK Stadium D.C. United is back on the road tonight, facing a Montreal Impact team that has been a very inhospitable host in Quebec. The Impact sit sixth in the Eastern Conference and are on a three-game unbeaten streak, most recently playing to a 1-1 tie with the Red Bulls Wednesday night. They've made bigger news of late off the field, however: Aging superstar Didier Drogba drew an ecstatic crowd to the airport upon his arrival, while Montreal native and club captain Patrice Bernier is staying away from the club for a few days after a social media-fueled uproar over playing time. It is, as ever, dramatic when it comes to l'Impact.
Speaking of dramatic, United's last two games have been had on circulatory systems throughout the DMV. However, going on the road and expecting another astounding comeback seems like a recipe for disaster. These two clubs may skew towards being like a circus of late, but United will be much better off if this game is professional, business-like, and played with the brain rather than the heart.
Key player: Fabian Espindola
The unquestioned leader for Montreal's defense is Laurent Ciman, and he will be watching this one from the stands. That means a smart player like Espindola should have plenty of opportunities to create chances for himself and others throughout this game. We've seen Espindola torch the Impact before - who can forget his three rage-fueled assists in last year's 4-2 United win in Quebec? - but this time he needs to succeed without provocation.
The numbers point to a big outing for Espindola. Despite only playing 808 minutes in league play, he's tied for the team lead in assists and well ahead of everyone on the roster in terms of key passes per 90 and successful dribbles per 90. When a player like that faces a Montreal defense made up of young players and losing their only real leader, the expectations have to raise. Espindola needs to dominate this game.
Key question: OK guys, seriously: Can we get out of the first 30 minutes without conceding?
9 times in the last 12 games, United has conceded a goal within the first 30 minutes (there's also a 34th minute goal against in that same span). Other than that 34th minute "outlier," every single goal came while United did not have a goal. Soccer is a low-scoring sport; giving up early goals and playing from behind is one of the more efficient ways to lose games.
Today needs to be the first in a long stretch of games where United stops needing comebacks. It's not at all sustainable. Davy Arnaud said he'd rather get back to winning 1-0 and 2-0, and he's right. Sure, it's not as thrilling as last week's 6-4 madness, or even the 3-2 comeback that came before it. However, against actual playoff teams - and Montreal is above the red line right now despite having games in hand on everyone - "thrilling" quickly becomes "naive" or "unprepared." United needs to be ready and able from the opening whistle tonight, or the feel-good factor from these comeback wins will rapidly turn into concern over a defense that has lost its way.
Match date/time: Saturday 8/8, 8:00pm Eastern
Venue: Stade Saputo (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
TV: CSN Washington (English), MLS Direct Kick (English, blacked out in the DMV)
Online: MLS Live (English, blacked out in the DMV)
Check back in two hours for our gamethread.