D.C. United broke out of a long winless run and an even longer home scoreless streak on Wednesday, but it won’t mean all that much if they can’t keep the good times going today against the Philadelphia Union. It’s a huge match for both teams: United could be within a point of a playoff spot by the end of the night with a win and favorable results in Atlanta and Columbus. The Union, meanwhile, are at the bottom of the East, so there’s no such thing as a game they can afford to let slip past them.
Key player: Steve Birnbaum
2017 hasn’t gone that well for Birnbaum, who has seen his mark score several goals in the last month or so. Atlanta’s goal wasn’t entirely his fault on Wednesday, but he has to share some of the blame for his moment of hesitation as a pass from Ian Harkes went between him and Opare.
We have years of evidence that CJ Sapong plays his very best against United, and on tired legs, the Black-and-Red probably can’t afford to let this game turn into a shootout. As such, they need their best defender to start playing like it. Birnbaum will be marking Sapong on set pieces - a major issue for United’s captain lately - and he’ll be seeing plenty of him in open play as well. If he wins that battle tonight, the Union attack is not likely to create much else. If he struggles, United is going to have to hope for what is still the lowest-scoring attack in MLS to bail them out.
Location: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, PA)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Taylor Kemp/Chris Korb; Jared Jeffrey, Ian Harkes/Marcelo Sarvas; Lloyd Sam, Luciano Acosta/Julian Buescher, Patrick Nyarko; Lamar Neagle/Jose Ortiz
Bench: Travis Worra, Jalen Robinson, Korb/Kemp, Sebastien Le Toux, Deshorn Brown, and two more from Marcelo, Harkes, Buescher, Acosta, Ortiz, and Neagle
I know folks want to see Brown get a start, but when Ben Olsen says a player needs to build their fitness up, generally that player doesn’t start games. He’ll probably get another 30-35 minutes up front off the bench, especially as United may need to move Neagle/Ortiz to the flanks as Nyarko went the full 90 on Wednesday.
The midweek win factors in throughout this group. Odoi-Atsem plugging in with fresh legs makes sense, while the #8 and #10 roles could see rotation (especially with Acosta’s nagging ankle issues). A return for the rested Sam means a spot on the bench for Le Toux against his former club.
Projected Union starting 11: (4231) - Andre Blake; Raymon Gaddis, Jack Elliott/Joshua Yaro, Oguchi Onyewu, Fabinho; Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya/Warren Creavalle; Chris Pontius, Ilsinho, Fafa Picault; CJ Sapong
Bedoya is questionable due to a hamstring strain, and with US under 20 Derrick Jones suspended after being sent off against the Red Bulls, he may well return to the starting eleven. Creavalle will get the nod in the engine room otherwise. The Union finally have Yaro back fit, and based on talent alone they probably want to get the #2 overall pick in the 2016 draft on the field.
Referee: Sorin Stoica
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 are you drinking?: I haven’t the slightest. Maybe a beer if I make it out to pick some up?
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