Following a week in which all the focus has been off the field for D.C. United, they’ll be back on it tonight against Real Salt Lake. Both clubs have struggled this season, with RSL switching coaches and being six points out of a playoff spot despite having played more games than anyone in MLS (24). However, after a wild transfer window, for many observers this game will be about United’s multi-million dollar signing Paul Arriola and his fellow new acquisitions.
United, for their part, emphasized that they do not believe their season is over in competitive terms. The task - recover a 13 point deficit in 11 games - looks to be virtually impossible, but that has not caused the Black-and-Red to abandon hope of the most unlikely of playoff berths. If they’re going to mount the greatest late-season recovery in MLS history, it has to start with a win today.
Key player: Paul Arriola
Could it be anyone else? The #1 draw for this match league-wide is the USMNT winger’s debut, and United fans - who have largely accepted that there’s no playoff race to get excited about in the next few weeks - want to see their new star player prove he was worth the investment.
What would that look like, exactly? Arriola creates chances on a regular basis, and his hard-working, direct style fits in well with how United wants to play. Look for him to attack opposing fullbacks at speed, but he’ll also be trying to combine with Lucho Acosta to try and create a threat as a passer as well as on the dribble.
Location: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Chris Korb; Marcelo Sarvas, Jared Jeffrey; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Nick DeLeon; Deshorn Brown
Bench: Travis Worra, Jalen Robinson, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Russell Canouse, Sebastien Le Toux, Bruno Miranda, Patrick Mullins
A hip injury has pushed Taylor Kemp out for this game, where he’ll join Patrick Nyarko (concussion), Lloyd Sam (suspension), and new signing Zoltan Stieber (visa). That means a starting spot for Korb on the left, while Miranda and Canouse (whose various paperwork concerns have cleared) could be in line for a debut off the bench.
The big story, though, is club record signing Arriola stepping straight into the starting lineup. With Sam, Nyarko, and Stieber all unavailable, there is little choice but to plug him right in after two days of training.
Projected Real Salt Lake starting 11: (4231) - Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Marcelo Silva, Justen Glad, Chris Wingert; Kyle Beckerman, Sunny Obayan; Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata; Luis Silva
Mike Petke has followed a distinct pattern lately, turning to Brooks Lennon as his first sub whether he changes formation (a 433 with Savarino joining Rusnak as dual attacking midfielders) or not. Yura Movsisyan comes on next for Luis Silva - who, unlike his time with United, is leading the line all by himself these days - and Sebastian Saucedo has been the final roll of the dice.
If there’s any uncertainty here, it’s whether the veteran Wingert or the young homegrown player Danilo Acosta will start at left back. Wingert has gotten the last two starts, but Petke has had no hesitance in putting Acosta in since the moment he took charge at RSL.
Referee: Drew Fischer
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?: We’ve been pretty busy with the overwhelming amount of transfer news this week. We’ll have a story on Canouse and some predictions coming for you later this morning. Tide yourself over with Steven Streff’s great pair of stories on Arriola and Stieber.
What are you drinking?: No real idea. Will it be raining? Will I have time to acquire a drink? Who can know the future in this bold new world where United dominates a transfer window?
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos brave new world!