The MLS playoffs may be too easy to qualify for, but as D.C. United will find out tonight, they get harsh right away. Tonight, against the Montreal Impact, a loss means the end of the Black-and-Red’s 2016 season. That’s the bad news: there’s no margin for error. United has been one of MLS’s hottest teams over the last six weeks, but a failure to perform tonight will mean that the weaker 2014 and 2015 teams actually got closer to MLS Cup.
As for the good news? Since installing a first round that only has one game per pairing in 2011 (originally called the play-in round, now known as the knockout round), the team that gets to host has advanced twelve of fourteen times. Eleven of those instances were outright wins, with Portland’s success in that epic penalty kick tiebreaker last year the exception. No road team has pulled off a win in this situation since 2012. Playing this one at RFK Stadium - where they’ve won four straight and piled up a +12 goal difference in the process - is a huge advantage.
However, before you go getting too confident, it’s worth noting that in the last fourteen games, United has been held to less than two goals just twice. Both times, they were facing the Montreal Impact. And in a game like this, with Ignacio Piatti lining up on the other side, a failure to put multiple goals on the board might put a definitive end to this enjoyable run for the Black-and-Red.
Key player: Lloyd Sam
A major part of United’s surge, Sam is known for his ability to carve out big chances for his teammates while also working to create his own looks at goal. That will be very important today, as he has a match-up against Ambroise Oyongo that he should probably be winning. Additionally, against a team that struggles with defending in the air, Sam’s crossing ability will help make Patrick Mullins a major threat.
On the defensive side, Sam will arguably be more important. Forcing Oyongo to stay home will help, but there will be times that Sam has to follow the Cameroonian to prevent service into the box. On top of that, he’ll need to be sure to help either Nick DeLeon or Sean Franklin at right back. Piatti is not a player you defend with just one man.
Location: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Available TV: UniMas (Spanish) and Univision Deportes (Spanish). I don’t recommend their English-language feed, but here’s how to use it if that’s your preference.
Available streaming: Univision Deportes app, and MLS Live for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Our gamethread will be posted one hour before kickoff.