After using two weeks to collect themselves and get back on course, D.C. United will return to the field tonight to face the Colorado Rapids. United has, for the first time since April, fallen out of the Eastern Conference lead but can jump back in front of the hated New York Red Bulls with a win tonight. Colorado, meanwhile, is looking unlikely to make a push for a playoff spot, as they trail sixth-placed Portland by eight points. The Rapids aren't in mathematical must-win territory just yet, but they realistically have to win this home game if they have any designs on a postseason in 2015.
D.C. United Projected Starting 11: With several players returning to fitness, we may be seeing something close to the best eleven soccer players United has all starting (though "best eleven" does not necessarily equal best lineup). Bill Hamid will start in goal behind a back four of Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp. In the midfield, look for Nick DeLeon on the right, Chris Rolfe on the left, and a central duo of Perry Kitchen and Markus Halsti. Fabian Espindola will be a sight for sore eyes up front as he returns from injury to partner Alvaro Saborio.
Off the bench, look for Michael Farfan to replace someone in the midfield. If things are going well, this could be Rolfe around the 70th minute; if United needs a goal, look for Farfan to replace Halsti instead. It wouldn't surprise me to see Miguel Aguilar get in as well, as the Rapids like to keep the game confined to a narrow portion of the field. The last sub? Probably Conor Doyle if United is protecting a lead, or Jairo Arrieta if the Black-and-Red are trying to fight their way to a point late.
Match previews: Our general preview also links to everything else we wrote in the build-up to this game. That's handy, right? I think it's handy.
What are you drinking?: I filled my growler up yesterday at Gordon Biersch with their Belgian IPA, which is really somewhere between IPA and Belgian strong ale. Agreeably boozy, yet also enough of a citrus punch to say that this probably leans more towards IPA between the two styles.
Prediction: I expect United to make some progress towards being a good team again, but I don't think we're going to see a complete 90 minute performance just yet. I see DC having the better of the first half and getting rewarded with a goal from Espindola. As the game wears on, though, the Rapids will inch their way back into it and eventually equalize via a scramble, deflection, or some other sort of garbage goal. United will have to weather a late storm, but Hamid will stand tall and the game will end 1-1.
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