Over nine months after the preseason began, D.C. United finds itself where they wanted to be all along. The MLS playoffs start tonight with a home game against the Montreal Impact, and the fact that United is coming in as a favorite is an improvement over the past two years. It’s been a long path to this point, with United changing their approach to the game along the way.
The Black-and-Red finished the regular season as a high-scoring, aggressive team. However, in MLS it’s always been about what you do in the playoffs. One bad performance tonight will undo a lot of the good will United’s move to a more positive approach has garnered. More importantly, against a counter-punching Montreal side, United faces an opponent capable of knocking anyone off on their day. If DCU offers up anything less than their best, we might be looking back on 2016 as being a lot like 2014 and 2015.
D.C. United projected starting XI: Let’s talk about what we know. Bill Hamid in goal, Steve Birnbaum and Bobby Boswell at center back, Taylor Kemp on the left, Luciano Acosta as the attacking midfielder with Rob Vincent somewhere nearby, Lloyd Sam and Patrick Nyarko on the wings, and Patrick Mullins up front.
The questions Ben Olsen has to settle are at right back and whether or not to bring Marcelo Sarvas back into the team. Given the length of time both players were out, it stands to reason that both could require a sub, and that’s not something you can just throw away in a one-off playoff match. So, I think we’ll see Vincent as the #6 and Jared Jeffrey alongside Acosta. Sean Franklin will be on the bench, with Nick DeLeon starting once again in his (latest) new position.
Speaking of the bench, we’ll probably see Lamar Neagle come in on one wing or the other for the last 20 minutes. Marcelo could be a candidate to come in at the hour mark, but it will depend on how the game is going. The ultimate luxury would be to be far enough in front that Acosta can rest for the weekend while Marcelo builds up his fitness, but that’s probably asking for too much. The last sub will of course come down to the scoreline, but it seems like Julian Buescher earned himself some minutes in Orlando. If United needs a goal, however, you can bet that we’ll see Alvaro Saborio up top. The other players on the bench will be Travis Worra and Kofi Opare.
Match previews: Where do we begin? We polled you fine folks on your confidence level heading into this game, made our own (very confident) predictions, looked back on United’s meetings with the Impact this year, took a guess at United’s lineup, checked in with the team after Monday’s training session, talked up the importance of Sam in our preview, went over the likely Impact lineup, and then talked tactics.
Referee: Jair Marrufo
What are you drinking?: I should have time for a pre-game beer, because I started my day very early to allow for it. Responsibility leads to irresponsibility.
Prediction: I’ve been confident about this game since it was lined up. United should get out in front on goals from Sam and Mullins before halftime, and while Ignacio Piatti will pull one back for Montreal, United should finish things off with a late goal on the counter from (who else?) Lamar Neagle. 3-1 Black-and-Red.
As always, this is your place for pre-game, in-game, and post-game emotions.