We’re in the second half of the 2016 season, and D.C. United sits on the wrong side of the red line. Yes, they’re just one point and one standings place out of a playoff spot, but it’s still not pleasant news. However, things could be worse: United could be where their opponent tonight, the Columbus Crew, is. Columbus has just 3 wins in 18 games, and sit at the very bottom of the MLS standings (both in total points and in points-per-game). They’ve had their star attackers get into such a squabble that one was traded away, while also seeing all of the weak points in their style of play exposed in nearly every game they’ve played.
So obviously we have two teams that badly need to get themselves a win. Like United, the Crew’s home record - three wins in nine attempts - is a big part of the problem. However, Columbus has also managed to lose just one of those games at Mapfre Stadium, so the problem (at least when they’re in Ohio) is more finding a way to turn fairly even games into a win than it is being outright bad. For the Black-and-Red to grab their second road win of the season, they’re going to have to turn in more than just spurts of good play; the Crew may be bad, but it’ll require a strong 90 minutes to beat them in their house.
Key player: Luciano Acosta
Columbus struggles when they’re put under real pressure at the back, and all season Acosta has been a player who can spark United into spells of high-pressing their opponent. Normally that falls on forwards, but Acosta’s deceptive speed and his willingness to put in tackles has seen him win the ball back outright numerous times, and even when it doesn’t pan out to that extent the pressure often forces a backwards pass.
Against a team that relies heavily on Wil Trapp’s passing ability, Acosta’s aggressive play in central midfield could help disrupt the Crew’s attempts to build possession. That’s the foundation on which their system is built, so harassing the key cog has obvious merit. It won’t just be about Acosta - Nick DeLeon’s physical strength might be very handy against Trapp, who has a history of being out-muscled - but Lucho’s play will probably indicate how things are going for United.
On the other hand, let’s say United goes in purely to sit deep and look for mistakes. We’ve seen that happen more than a few times. Here’s the thing: Columbus just struggled badly to break down TFC, who played a 532 and sat extremely deep until finally conceding a rather fluky goal to right back Harrison Afful. If that’s the approach, Acosta’s dribbling in traffic and his eye for the killer ball could end up being critical components for counter-attacks. Either way, you should keep your eyes on La Joya...well, assuming we don’t see three defensive midfielders again.
Location: Mapfre Stadium (Columbus, OH)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm 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 one hour before kickoff.