It would be understandable that D.C. United's CONCACAF Champions League obligations take precedence over today's preseason finale against the Montreal Impact. One game presents a huge challenge, on the road and at altitude against a Mexican team whose payroll is significantly higher than United's. The other is designed to built fitness and work out the kinks while giving trialists a chance to prove they belong and second-choice players the opportunity to prove they belong on the flight to Queretaro.
Those latter two groups are actually what make this an interesting game, though. The Black-and-Red currently have 27 players on their roster, leaving one spot open right now. While the starting lineup in the CCL seems close to determined - only Chris Rolfe's health is really a question mark - the spots on the bench are less certain. Removing the injured or cup-tied players from the list, and we may have 8 players vying for 3 spots on United's bench on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, players like Benjamin Kirsten, Paul Torres, Constantine Kolokotronis, and Andrea Mancini are all still in camp trying to prove they deserve a contract offer.
Key player: Collin Martin
Crucially, Martin has appeared healthy and energetic throughout the preseason, and a (very slight) formation shift has given him an avenue to more minutes. In the 442, there simply wasn't a good place to play him; in a 4411, the role underneath the main striker fits his skill set pretty well. Luciano Acosta will take up the lion's share of the minutes there, but Martin will compete with Julian Buescher to be Ben Olsen's preferred Plan B.
To make sure that role goes his way, Martin needs to be consistently involving himself in United's attacking play. He has the quality to be a key distributor, but there have been times where he isn't demanding the ball often enough or moving off the ball with enough urgency. If that role is going to exist, the player occupying it has to want touches every time his team comes forward. That needs to be Martin's mentality if he's in the middle today.
Now, if he's on the wing - which is still not a great use of his talents - there's still a chance to prove he can do that job well enough to get into consideration when the games get serious. Lamar Neagle is ineligible to play in the CCL, and with Rolfe and Nick DeLeon both likely to see time in two different positions, there's a chance that United needs someone other than Miguel Aguilar to play minutes as a wide man on Tuesday. That's another step young pros have to take: When the opportunity to get on the field presents itself, you have to make use of it even if it's not your natural role.
Location: Al Lang Stadium (St. Petersburg, FL)
Kick-off time 4:00 PM Eastern
Available TV: None
What are you drinking? Honduran Cocasam coffee, ground and brewed by hand by me. It's time for artisanal snobbery!
As always, this is your place for all pre-game, in-game, and post-game chatter.