Following a frustrating US Open Cup defeat, D.C. United will have to pick themselves up and quickly fix a few problems, as they face a trip out to Texas to play the Houston Dynamo tonight. On one hand, that's good news for United, as the Dynamo have had an awful 2016. They're currently on a 2W-3D-7L run, which sees them sitting in last place in the Western Conference and in 19th place overall. On a points-per-game basis, they are 0.01 points ahead of the Chicago Fire, who are the worst team in MLS on that front. Only three teams have given up more goals than Houston.
However, the Dynamo have undergone a coaching change - Owen Coyle agreed to a mutual termination so he could, somehow, walk into a gig with Blackburn Rovers - and things have picked up. Under former Dynamo player Wade Barrett, they've picked up two straight road draws against playoff teams (1-1 at Vancouver and 1-1 at FC Dallas). The very weak defense is shielded by a more defensive-minded midfield, and the overall team emphasis is on staying solid and not being so easy to score on. Plus, there's United's nightmarish history in Houston: the Black-and-Red are 1W-1D-9L all-time in Space City. That win came in United's last trip to Houston, but that was a confident, playoff-bound DCU. It's safe to say are a little different right now.
Key player: Luciano Acosta
With Barrett's focus on making his team harder to beat, Lucho is going to have to deliver a good performance creatively for United to get their attack going. In their last 435 minutes - that's nine full halves plus Wednesday's 30 minute extra time - the Black-and-Red have one goal to show for their efforts. Making matters worse, that goal came via a huge goalkeeping error from Tim Melia. Sure, Fort Lauderdale cleared two sure goals off the line at the Soccerplex Wednesday, and United wasted a couple of other looks at an unguarded net, but there's no hiding the reality that United is really struggling going forward.
With Patrick Nyarko still probably out - he told Steven Streff that he was "1-2 weeks" away on June 7th - there's no denying that the Black-and-Red lack the ability to stretch teams, and they're struggling to find their way through massed defenses. That's where Lucho's quick feet and aggressive choices come in. With Houston moving towards a 4141 likely featuring one anchor midfielder underneath the guys who were their most defensive midfielders in Coyle's 4231, you can be sure that the Dynamo are looking first and foremost to prevent anyone from exposing their defense.
Acosta's invention and his risk-taking nature make him a strong candidate to deliver the big play United is likely going to need in this one. Whether it's his ability to make people look straight up foolish on the dribble, his eye for the audacious shot, or even his tendency to strip defenders with an all-out high press, United is going to need Lucho to provide some real inspiration tonight. Otherwise, this game could easily become a war of attrition, and road teams on short rest tend to be the teams that make the first mistake in that scenario.
Location: BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston, TX)
Kick-off time: 9:00pm Eastern
Available TV: NewsChannel 8 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.