Yesterday evening, D.C. United fans got some good news in the form of solid evidence that Chris Pontius and Markus Halsti were fit enough to travel for tonight's game against the Montreal Impact. Soon thereafter, an updated MLS injury report was posted that contained even more good news: Pontius and Halsti were joined by Sean Franklin and Collin Martin as "probable," while Bill Hamid and Michael Farfan were upgraded to "questionable." The only player listed as "doubtful" or "out" is Eddie Johnson, who has for all intents and purposes retired. It's as healthy as United has been all season.
What does that mean for tonight's starting eleven? Probably not much:
In goal, I suspect we'll see Andrew Dykstra start one more game over Hamid. My guess is that Hamid would have to pass all the pre-game fitness tests with flying colors for Ben Olsen to even think about starting him. The safe play here, long-term, is to give him five more days to heal his knee and hand. On a similar note, I think Franklin is on the bench backing up Chris Korb for at least one more game. Franklin has only been training without limitations for a few days after missing two months, and achilles tendonitis generally requires a lot of rest. He's probably not 90 minutes fit, which for a defender means he's not starting.
In central defense, Bobby Boswell will maintain his spot and will likely be partnered by Steve Birnbaum. However, after two straight weeks featuring Birnbaum making an error on a goal in the first 90 seconds of a game, I can't help but wonder if Olsen moves for a one- or two-game stint for Kofi Opare instead. Birnbaum is the better player, but he might need some kind of jolt to get into a groove of being focused for 90 minutes. It's not what I expect to happen, but I do think it's an option that got discussed somewhere in the bowels of RFK Stadium this week. Left back, meanwhile, is more certain: Taylor Kemp will continue to start, and hopefully he'll continue making himself a factor on both ends of the field.
The midfield isn't going to see any changes. Nick DeLeon has had his two best games of 2015 in United's past two outings, while Chris Rolfe just scored twice and created plenty of danger against Real Salt Lake. In the middle, Halsti's return to fitness is a bit of a surprise - earlier this week he was said to not be training at 100% - but in any case Olsen appears set on Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud for the foreseeable future. Halsti will probably have to adjust his game a bit to make a bid for Arnaud's role in the coming weeks.
Up front, Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio have settled back into an immediate groove as a duo, so there's no reason to tinker with that pairing at all. United has benefited quite a bit from Saborio occupying the center backs due to the domino effect that causes. Opposing central defenders have to be closer to each other to avoid Sabo getting the 1v1 physical battle he wants, but that means either a) bigger channels between the center backs and fullbacks or b) the fullbacks play more narrow, leaving more space on the wings. As long as this duo keeps putting teams between a rock and a hard place defensively, we should expect United's potency to continue (though perhaps not at a 4.5 goals per game rate).
As for the seven-man bench, I expect Hamid to back Dykstra up. Opare and Franklin will be the defensive options, while I think we'll see Halsti get himself into the matchday squad as well. Miguel Aguilar and Jairo Arrieta will also be in the 18, leaving us with one open spot between Pontius and Conor Doyle. It would be harsh on Doyle to miss out after showing some improvement on the offensive side of the ball while working his tail off defensively, but if Pontius is fit to play any part you have to include him among the substitutes.