At some point this season, D.C. United and Orlando City will play more important games than tonight’s match at RFK Stadium. One or both of these teams will face a game that must be won to stay alive in the playoff race, or a game where three points would clinch a postseason berth. Nonetheless, today feels a bit like it will be the point of no return for one of these sides, who both sit two points out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
For United, anything less than a win will make it very difficult to qualify for the postseason. A draw or loss today will probably make a road win on the final day of the season - at Orlando, naturally - a must, and it will probably require an upset win over Toronto FC or NYCFC as well. It is theoretically possible for United to get into the playoffs without those things coming true, but it would require more luck than most teams ever get to experience.
Based on how both teams have played this year, it figures to be an intense, thrilling game. United has scored 1.79 goals per game at RFK this year, while Orlando’s 14 road games have seen the Lions score 21 goals and concede 28. The characteristics point to a remarkable game, but for United the most important thing is to emerge with three points in the end.
D.C. United projected Starting XI: I’m confident in predicting ten of the eleven starters. Bill Hamid in goal, Steve Birnbaum and Bobby Boswell at center back, Taylor Kemp on the left, a central midfield trio of Luciano Acosta, Marcelo Sarvas, and Rob Vincent, Lloyd Sam on the right wing, Patrick Nyarko on the other side, and Patrick Mullins up front. Nothing earth-shattering there, right?
It’s that right back spot that we should all be keeping an eye on. With Sean Franklin still injured, Luke Mishu is the most natural fit. However, he’s made some critical errors that have been directly involved with goals scored on United, and Ben Olsen can be forgiven for looking elsewhere. Nick DeLeon came in for Mishu last week with United trailing, but his lack of familiarity with the role showed through a few times. Jalen Robinson has looked more comfortable as a center back, but he’s probably still in consideration considering the strength of Orlando’s potential left-sided attackers.
Off the bench, Lamar Neagle is a sure bet to step in for Sam or Nyarko for the final 20-25 minutes. If DeLeon isn’t at right back, he’ll probably sub in somewhere in the midfield (particularly if the Black-and-Red are in the lead). If DC is pushing for a goal late, Kennedy Igboananike or Alvaro Saborio will be candidates to come in, but don’t be surprised if Julian Buescher gets the nod instead. Travis Worra and either Mishu or Robinson will be the other available substitutes.
Match previews: Earlier this week, we took a look at both the likely United lineup and Orlando’s projected starters, and offered up some (mostly optimistic) predictions. This morning, our general preview outlined the likelihood of a high-scoring game and discussed how Orlando’s approach may be tailor-made for Acosta to thrive.
Referee: Sorin Stoica
What are you drinking?: I don’t know yet. I could bring some Maryland beer (Jailbreak Brewing’s Infinite Amber ale or Calvert Brewing’s Wye Rye) that I already have, but I could also pick up something on my way in. Or I could show up empty-handed and mooch like some kind of jerk.
Prediction: I’m sticking with what I said yesterday. Acosta sets up goals by Mullins and Nyarko as Orlando pays for the high line they’ve been keeping. Kaka will get on the board early in the second half, setting up a very nervy finish, but in the end both teams will miss some chances and United will walk away with a critical 2-1 victory.
Consider this the place for pre-game, in-game and post-game comments.