It’s been a tough season for D.C. United, and tonight’s game may be the toughest. It’s not just that the Portland Timbers are the defending champs, or that they’ve never lost to United at RFK, or that Diego Valeri is an MVP candidate. It’s the oppressive heat that’s hit the DMV, the six-game winless streak, the troubling inability to turn home games into wins...it’s all of it. With Ben Olsen suspended, United will have to dig deep for inspiration and find a way to win a game that promises to be difficult in a lot of ways.
D.C. United projected starting 11: No major surprises here. Bill Hamid will start in goal, and the back four will be comprised of Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, and Taylor Kemp. Marcelo Sarvas, back from suspension, will return as the Black-and-Red’s midfield anchor. Luciano Acosta and Nick DeLeon should pair up just ahead of him, with Lloyd Sam and Patrick Nyarko on the right and left wings (whether this ends up being a 4141 or 433). Patrick Mullins seems like a lock to start up front.
Off the bench, it seems safe to predict that Kennedy Igboananike will come in either for a winger or for Mullins. Lamar Neagle has a similarly strong chance of subbing in for Sam or Nyarko sometime around the 60th-65th minute mark. As is typical, United’s third sub will be dictated by the scoreboard. It could be Rob Vincent for any number of players if United is trying to close up shop (or Jared Jeffrey, if he’s cleared to play). Julian Buescher could come in for Acosta, or even for DeLeon if United needs to stretch the field out and open up a tight game. Alvaro Saborio is of course a candidate to replace Mullins, or to join him up front if United has to again throw the kitchen sink at a visiting side late on. Travis Worra, Kofi Opare, and Jalen Robinson are solid bets to fill out the rest of the bench, meaning that one of Vincent, Jeffrey, or Buescher will be left out.
Match previews: Our general preview is all about Acosta’s importance today. On top of that, we couldn’t decide if United would tie or win today, had a chat with United’s "new" central midfielder Vincent, and broke down how Portland will line up tonight.
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez
What are you drinking?: Given today’s hellish forecast, I drank 2 extra glasses of water last night, drank more water this morning (then iced coffee), am drinking water now, and might pick up a sports drink on my way in. You can bring two sealed bottles of water into RFK tonight, and should probably do so:
UPDATE: Fans will also be allowed TWO, SEALED bottles of water (16oz or less) per person into stadium today. #DCvPOR pic.twitter.com/8oSYh3IuiZ— D.C. United (@dcunited) August 13, 2016
So the answer is "mostly water." Please survive this game, friends.
Prediction: I know it’s tempting to feel pessimistic, but Portland arrives with some real problems. Cross-country trips are tough any time of year in MLS, but they’re doing it in this heat, and without their two starting defensive midfielders. I don’t know that this will be a turning point sort of game for United, but I do think they’ll scratch out a 2-1 win. Lucho gets 2 assists, and the Black-and-Red get their first win since June.