After three straight games at home, D.C. United is back on the road this evening, taking on a Chicago Fire side that has struggled thus far under new boss Veljko Paunovic. That's not too much of a surprise, given that the Fire will likely kick tonight's game off with at least 6 starters who weren't on the team at all as of five months ago. If there were ever a road game for United to be without leading scorer Fabian Espindola (hamstring strain) and midfield linchpin Marcelo Sarvas (suspension), it's probably this one.
Key Player: Sean Franklin
It's tempting to pick Jared Jeffrey, who will have to produce another good showing in Marcelo's place now that Nick DeLeon is reportedly going to be out, but I'm going with Franklin instead. Why? United's on the road, short three starters - well, three that we know of at this at the time of writing - and they likely need to focus on defense as a result. That means shutting down Kennedy Igboananike, who has been one of Chicago's few bright spots this season.
Veljko Paunovic has gotten two things right with Igboananike: He's moved the Nigerian away from being a right winger/forward to playing inverted on the left flank, and he's instilled him with some confidence that just wasn't there under Frank Yallop or Brian Bliss. As such, Igboananike has 3 of Chicago's 6 goals in 2016. Franklin is going to have to use his experience and his positioning to force Igboananike to stay wide as often as possible while preventing the speedy attacker from getting around him to cut the ball back from the endline.
If Igboananike is kept from getting into scoring positions, the Fire attack - which will be missing David Accam and John Goossens on top of already being very thin at the best of times - will be significantly less dangerous. That will give a short-handed United a great chance to snag a win on the road. If he struggles with Igboananike's diagonal runs and his somewhat awkward style of play, it might be a tough road trip.
Location: Toyota Park (Bridgeview, IL)
Kick-off time: 5:00pm Eastern
Available TV: WJLA ABC 7 and regional affiliates (check the link for the over-the-air alternate channel in your area)
Available streaming: MLS Live for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Our gamethread will be posted an hour before kickoff. Never mind that, treat this as tonight's gamethread.