Remember a month ago, when D.C. United was merely an improving team that hadn’t quite put it all together? They faced Orlando City SC at RFK separated by a tiebreaker, and both clubs were outside of the playoff picture. United’s 4-1 win at RFK sparked a four-game winning streak that is still going right now, while Orlando found themselves eliminated from the MLS playoff race shortly thereafter.
Now, with MLS’s “Decision Day” featuring all twenty teams playing at the same time to close out the regular season, those two sides will meet again in Florida. For most of this year, this game had the air of a playoff decider for both clubs, but United did their work early enough to ensure that a loss today won’t potentially end their season. In fact, with some help from the Revs and Red Bulls, a loss might not even harm their chances of hosting a playoff game. However, United will assure themselves of that game by extending their winning streak to five, which would also be the longest string of runs by an MLS club this season. Maintaining momentum ahead of a mid-week playoff game could mean quite a bit down the road.
D.C. United projected starting XI: There may be a change or two today, but there’s a good reason for that. United’s injury report suddenly got much shorter, possibly allowing Ben Olsen to add some veterans back into the team. However, I suspect that he’ll keep the lineup intact and bring those players in as subs instead. That means Bill Hamid stays in goal, and the back four remains Nick DeLeon, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, and Taylor Kemp. Rob Vincent will be the anchor underneath the midfield quartet of Lloyd Sam, Jared Jeffrey, Luciano Acosta, and Patrick Nyarko. Patrick Mullins will lead the line up top.
Lamar Neagle will probably be the first sub on the wing, and after that the returning veteran factor might be addressed. Sean Franklin is listed as probable on the injury report, and it might help him to get a few minutes in today. If United is leading, we could see him come in at right back, either pushing DeLeon into the midfield somewhere (if United has a lead to protect) or as a straight swap. The last sub will probably be about resting a key player regardless of the score, so look for something like Kennedy Igboananike replacing Mullins or Julian Buescher stepping in for Acosta. The rest of the 18 will be rounded out by Travis Worra, fit-again Kofi Opare, and Alhaji Kamara (though Marcelo Sarvas, listed as questionable after weeks out, could also be on the bench for this one).
Match previews: Aside from this morning’s preview, which discussed Vincent’s importance, we have a look at Orlando’s projected starting eleven, our staff predictions, and got some questions about Orlando answered by The Mane Land.
We also put together a guide to what scores you should be pulling for as the rest of the league kicks off at the same time.
Referee: Juan Guzman
What are you drinking? I was at a wedding reception until late last night, so it’ll probably be a cup of coffee.
Prediction: I’m thinking this one starts out a bit tougher than people expect, with Orlando troubling United early. In fact, I see the Lions taking a lead (via Cyle Larin) into halftime. However, the second half will be a different story. Mullins gets United level, and Neagle comes in to do what he does, snagging a game-winner in transition to give the Black-and-Red a 2-1 win and guaranteeing a home playoff game.
As always, this is your place for pre-game, in-game, and post-game internet shouting.