D.C. United is, strangely for this point in the season, heading west today to face the Portland Timbers. It’s the last cross-country road trip for the Black-and-Red in this tough 2017 season, and indeed the last one any MLS club will go on in the regular season. Next week’s Decision Day comes with one inter-conference pairing, but the teams involved won’t have to leave the Central timezone.
Portland is planning themselves a big party. While there are complicated scenarios that would see them clinch a playoff spot with a loss or tie, the simplest way of looking at it is that a Timbers win guarantees a postseason berth. On top of that, the Portland Thorns, fresh off their NWSL Championship victory last night, will be honored post-game.
United’s job for the night? Spoil everyone’s fun.
Key player: Russell Canouse
Diego Valeri is pretty much locked in as my MVP vote, and that’s a fairly common sentiment around the league right now. The Argentine playmaker is in the running for the Golden Boot, and has had a direct hand in around 54% of Portland’s goals as a team this season. Between his skill with the ball, his intelligence, and his creativity, Valeri is pretty much the ideal when it comes to Designated Players whose #1 job is to make his team better.
Stopping Valeri is going to require all eleven United players to step their level of play up, but no one will have more work to do than Canouse. Valeri’s off-the-ball movement is fiendishly difficult to track, and his ability to find pockets of space between the lines is outstanding. Canouse has been very good since joining United on both sides of the ball, but today is the biggest test of his defensive abilities.
Location: Providence Park (Portland, OR)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Steve Clark; Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Nick DeLeon; Russell Canouse, Ian Harkes; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Zoltan Stieber; Patrick Mullins
Bench: Eric Klenofsky, Jalen Robinson, Chris Korb, Marcelo Sarvas, Lloyd Sam, Bruno Miranda, Deshorn Brown
I hear your grumbling about the number of veterans keeping younger players out of the starting eleven and/or traveling eighteen, but we have enough of a track record to know this is coming. Klenofsky did travel to Portland, so despite Bill Hamid reportedly training all week, I expect Clark to carry on in goal (though Hamid will almost certainly get the finale at RFK).
The only other question mark here in my mind is whether Arriola is mentally ready to return to play after the USMNT’s devastating World Cup qualifying failure (not to mention flying from Orlando to Port of Spain to the District to Portland in the previous eight days). If he’s feeling heavy legs, or still coping what happened with the national team, then it’ll probably be Sam getting the start on the right.
Projected Timbers starting 11: (4231) - Jeff Attinella; Zarek Valentin, Larrys Mabiala, Liam Ridgewell, Roy Miller; David Guzman, Diego Chara; Dairon Asprilla, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco; Darren Mattocks
My guess is that Darlington Nagbe will be kept out of the starting lineup for the same reasons Arriola might not start for United. Nagbe played 163 minutes during the international window, and Caleb Porter has legit depth in Dairon Asprilla (who, for various reasons, has been starting games recently anyway). Asprilla is very different from Nagbe: he plays on the right wing, he stays wide, and he’s a very direct sort of player.
Elsewhere, Fanendo Adi is listed as questionable with a hamstring strain. That’s an upgrade for him, but it’s still probable that Mattocks starts again. I’m curious to see whether Adi even suits up with the playoffs looming. If they don’t want to give him 10-15 minutes to build his fitness, former United U23 striker Jeremy Ebobisse will be a strong bet to sub into this one.
Referee: Mark Geiger, whose history with this particular fixture is well-known
Available TV: NewsChannel 8 and regional affiliates (check the link for the over-the-air alternate channel in your area), including CW Richmond in RVA.
Available streaming: MLS Live for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: After airing our grievances against the USMNT and US Soccer as a whole, we did spend some time on Portland in the last 15 minutes of Filibuster.
What are you drinking?: Today’s forecast is pointing towards the final hot day of 2017 in our region, so I’m thinking a gin and tonic is in order.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos spoiling a party!