While most of the rest of MLS limbers up for their first real game of 2016, D.C. United and the LA Galaxy will play tonight having already endured their first mid-week/weekend game combination of the year. The teams with MLS's biggest trophy cases - ours is still bigger, but 2nd is also pretty good, LA - both went out of the CONCACAF Champions League with disappointing results. United, needing to avoid conceding for any realistic chance of advancement, were finished within 4 minutes of kickoff against Queretaro and later missed a penalty kick on their way to a 1-1 draw. LA, meanwhile, were clobbered 4-0 in the second leg by Santos Laguna.
For the Black-and-Red, getting the season started with a win is going to require reversing some rather unpleasant history. United has not beaten the Galaxy on the road since July 23, 2005, which given the strong teams that United has had since - two Supporters Shield winners and a 2014 squad that missed the Shield by 3 points - underlines the difficulty of going to LA and winning. Furthermore, the Galaxy are probably desperate to regain some confidence after the drubbing they suffered in Mexico.
In other words, United is starting 2016 off with one of their toughest fixtures of the season.
Key player: Marcelo Sarvas
A lot of what United does both offensively and defensively is going to fall on the former Galaxy stalwart, so he's going to have to be in top form tonight. Given that Sarvas is who United's back four is looking to find when the Black-and-Red are trying to move out of the back, it will fall on the Brazilian veteran to conduct United's vital attempts at possession on the expansive StubHub Center playing surface.
It's not just about stringing passes together, though. If Sarvas functions as a deep-lying playmaker against the Galaxy, the primary job of shutting him down will fall on Steven Gerrard. Gerrard was once a classic English box-to-box midfielder, but these days he's mostly a stationary player unless LA gets into the attacking third or if they give him the ball. He is not defending much, and if United can keep Nigel De Jong occupied while using Sarvas as a regista of sorts, Sarvas should have time and space to pick out runners and create some real danger for United in transition.
Defensively, Sarvas will be even more important. He and Nick DeLeon need to shut Gerrard down, and they'll also have to do plenty of work to help stop LA's strikers. Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos love to drop underneath the opposing back four, and while they sometimes get in each other's way they're still very dangerous in those spots. It will take a team-wide defensive effort to make sure that there's no room between the lines, but Sarvas (along with Bobby Boswell) is going to need to lead that effort.
Location: StubHub Center (Carson, CA)
Kick-off time: 10:00pm Eastern
Available TV: UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish). Note: MLSsoccer.com explains how you can watch in English via the SAP button. I do not recommend doing that, but I'm not the boss of you.
Available streaming: Univision Deportes app (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Our gamethread will be posted 1 hour before kickoff.