A few weeks ago, D.C. United seemed poised to get their season going on either side of the Copa America break. Following an unexpected 1-0 win at KC after some crazy travel difficulties, the Black-and-Red were going to enter the break after a home game against a struggling Seattle team, and then come out of the break with a home Open Cup game against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and arguably the easiest road game (on paper) they'd get all year against the Houston Dynamo.
That has not gone according to plan. The Sounders held United's early push off before grabbing two late goals at RFK, and then United returned to the field only to suffer through 120 scoreless minutes against the Strikers. The match went to penalties, which is technically a tie but actually feels like an even more frustrating defeat. And now they play a Houston team that, on the back of two straight road draws and a resounding 4-0 Open Cup win, is feeling confident for the first time in months.
Still, there are some real issues with the Dynamo. They've had to opt for a far more defensive stance to protect a back four that needs all the help it can get, and even their Cup win was mostly reliant on set piece goals rather than clever attacking play. Of course, United isn't in a position to feel overconfident about anything at this point, as they are dealing with a mounting injury crisis and have scored just one goal in their last four and a half competitive games.
D.C. United Projected 11: Ben Olsen has some tough choices to make, as a variety of issues have left him with just 19 players to choose from. That group includes three goalkeepers and seven field players who went 120 minutes on Wednesday night. Someone from that last group is very likely to start in the midfield due to a simple lack of other options. All of this assumes that Marcelo Sarvas was indeed just resting a toe injury earlier this week.
It seems safe to expect Bill Hamid in goal behind a back four of Sean Franklin, Kofi Opare, Bobby Boswell, and Taylor Kemp. In the midfield, look for Lamar Neagle and Nick DeLeon to start on the wings, while Marcelo will be partnered by Jared Jeffrey in central midfield. Jeffrey went 120 minutes on Wednesday and appeared heartbroken after missing United's last penalty, but Olsen seems more likely to go back to him as opposed to leaning on Julian Buescher or Rob Vincent (two more players who played the full two hours Wednesday). Up front, Luciano Acosta - who only played 34 minutes at the Soccerplex - will float around underneath Fabian Espindola (who didn't play at all).
Off the bench, I suspect Vincent will come in for Jeffrey around the 55th minute, as pushing someone to play 210 minutes across three days with a flight thrown in is just begging for an overuse injury. Buescher is also likely to get a few minutes, likely coming in for Acosta. Finally, I suspect Olsen will send Kamara in for the last 10-15 minutes up front. The rest of the bench will be comprised of Travis Worra, Jalen Robinson, Luke Mishu, and Andrea Mancini.
Match previews: Our preview, which focuses on Acosta's importance tonight, includes TV and streaming info. We also checked in with Dynamo Theory for some thoughts on Houston, and took a look at their likely starting lineup.
Referee: Allen Chapman
What are you drinking?: I'm thinking gin & tonic. The choice is between Tanqueray (which I have a lot of) and Bluecoat (which I might run out of soon).
Prediction: I don't think United is going to lose. I also don't expect an edifying spectacle that pleases the soccer gods. United's approach to road games is to commit to shutouts, while the Dynamo have become a very conservative outfit under Wade Barrett. I have a weird gut feeling there's a red card in this game, but I don't have the same instinct about goals. Prepare yourself for a scrappy 0-0 draw.
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