With Saturday’s first-ever trip to Montreal to face the Impact, D.C. United have a prime opportunity to bury their closest opposition for the final playoff slot and claim consecutive wins for the first time since May.
While the Columbus Crew (9-8-6) actually are a bigger threat to United (12-8-4) than the Impact (11-13-3) because of games in hand, Montreal still can sneak back within a point of fifth place with a win over D.C. this weekend.
Riding a three-game winning streak, the Impact should provide a tough test for a United team that broke out of a mild scoring slump in a 4-2 win over the Chicago Fire midweek.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” United captain Dwayne De Rosario said. “Our road record hasn’t been that good, but we’re looking to change that. Hopefully we can bring that same mentality that we had against Chicago to Montreal.”
This is the third meeting between United and the expansion Impact. In April, Maicon Santos came off the bench to get United a 1-1 tie at RFK Stadium. And in late June, goals from Chris Pontius, Robbie Russell and Hamdi Salihi gave D.C. a 3-0 win in the nation’s capital.
Montreal striker Marco Di Vaio has scored in two of his past three matches, finally finding some rhythm after a long drought to start his MLS career. But this team’s attack is run by withdrawn forward Felipe Martins (four goals, nine assists) and midfield general Patrice Bernier (seven goals, seven assists).
Defensively, though, the Impact are a mess, with 44 goals allowed in 27 games. On Saturday, they will be without suspended center backs Nelson Rivas and Hassoun Camara. Italian veteran Alessandro Nesta should start, however, after recovering from a knee sprain.
Here is the lineup I see United coach Ben Olsen using Saturday:
Hamid; Najar, McDonald, Dudar, Korb; DeLeon, Kitchen, Boskovic, Pontius; De Rosario, Pajoy
I’m guessing Olsen will more or less stick to the lineup that succeeded against Chicago, with the exception of Emiliano Dudar and Branko Boskovic returning from suspension. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Olsen wanted another look at Marcelo Saragosa next to Perry Kitchen centrally, especially since the D.C. coach likes bringing Boskovic off the bench.
Of course, with games against the New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake looming next week, Olsen could also mix up his lineup, perhaps resting some players and adding the likes of Mike Chabala, Lewis Neal, Long Tan and/or Salihi.