Fans were justifiably delighted with D.C. United brushing Orlando aside over the weekend, but tonight against the Columbus Crew, they’ll be looking to start their first winning streak of 2016. More importantly, there’s the playoff positioning angle: United could jump into 5th place with some help, while the Crew more or less cannot afford to lose this game if they want to maintain any illusions of a postseason berth.
There will be scoreboard watching going on at RFK, as two other teams in the battle for the East’s last two playoff spots will be playing in two separate games that kick off at the same time as this one. Up in Toronto, a reeling Orlando will look to somehow right the ship against TFC, who could take a three point lead at the top of the Eastern Conference standings with a win. Meanwhile, Montreal will be hosting a stingy San Jose side that realistically has hit the “must win” section of their season.
The best case scenario for United would be losses for Orlando and Montreal. If the Black-and-Red win while the other games go their way, they’ll jump into 5th place and hold a four point lead on New England in 7th. They’d also leave Columbus needing to make up six points in four games to make the playoffs, a virtually impossible task.
However, the worst case scenario is worth discussing as well. If Montreal and Orlando win - the latter looks highly unlikely, but play along for a sec - while United loses, the Impact will be four points ahead of United in 5th place. Orlando will only trail the Black-and-Red via goal difference, and those two will have New England and Columbus just one win away from leapfrogging them.
Key player: Julian Buescher
Marcelo Sarvas picked up an MCL sprain on Saturday, an injury that will see him miss at least two games. It’s the latest in a string of issues that has robbed United of potential starters in central midfield. Jared Jeffrey has missed four straight games due to a concussion, while Nick DeLeon is needed at right back due to Sean Franklin’s calf strain. Homegrown midfielder Collin Martin - who has missed five months due to a foot injury, and has only been training for a couple of weeks - could be in line to make the matchday 18 for the first time all year, but realistically he can’t be expected to log major minutes after that much time away.
Ben Olsen turned to Julian Buescher against Orlando, a major sign of trust in the German rookie given that the game was a virtual must win. It seems probable that he’ll get the nod again tonight, and he’ll have to play just as well (if not better) against the Crew. Buescher’s range of passing certainly benefits a team that creates so much danger on the wings, and he got the confidence boost of a goal in the 90th minute against the Lions.
That side of Buescher’s game isn’t really in question. Where he’ll have to succeed tonight is in defensive phases. Tackles, interceptions, and recoveries are all things to look for, but so too is his ability to find the right defensive position quickly after turnovers. Columbus has the ability to break out very quickly in transition, and oftentimes the best moment to stop their attacks is to prevent them from finding a winger or forward with an early ball.
That won’t be all on Buescher by any means, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Buescher delivered against Orlando, and he’s going to have to do so again tonight for United to get another vital win.
Location: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
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.