When D.C. United (10-6-3) visit the Columbus Crew (6-7-4) tonight, the match will mark a key opportunity for points heading into yet another brief hiatus for coach Ben Olsen’s side. Although Olsen, Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius will take part in the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday, and United host Paris Saint-Germain in a friendly next Saturday, United don’t play another league match until the Crew travel to RFK Stadium on Aug. 4.
It’s the end of an abnormal stretch this summer of five league games in nine weeks for United. Tonight’s match (7:30, Comcast SportNet) also presents a chance for United to wash out the sour taste of a 4-0 loss at Houston last weekend.
It was a contest United never had a chance in after goalkeeper Bill Hamid was called for a penalty kick and received a red card in the game’s opening 20 minutes.
“Personally, it’s just in the past,” midfielder Nick DeLeon said. “It was a tough situation going down early and a man down for 70 minutes. The only thing you can do is focus on Columbus and bounce back and get that win before we have that two-week break.”
United have been resilient so far this season. Since starting the year with two losses followed by a draw, D.C. hasn’t gone back-to-back matches without a win.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Olsen said. “We need to respond this week. I’m done with the first half of the season. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s all about the second half.”
A crucial piece of the puzzle for United will be Pontius, whose comeback from injury struggles to earn an All-Star nod is the subject of my story that ran in Friday’s paper.
Columbus is a “blue-collar” squad, as Olsen described it. The team doesn’t have many big-name attacking pieces. And with playmaker Milovan Mirosevic struggling with an adductor strain and forward Emilio Renteria suspended, two of the Crew’s top threats will be sidelined, putting even more pressure on the likes of winger Eddie Gaven and striker Olman Vargas.
Defensively, though, the Crew have allowed just 19 goals in 17 games, largely thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, who has filled in admirably for the injured Will Hesmer (hip surgery). When healthy, Chad Marshall also remains one of the league’s top center backs. The recent loss of makeshift left back Bernardo Anor to a torn ACL, though, is a tough blow.
“It’s a very tough place to go and get a result. Always has been,” Olsen said of Crew Stadium. “Their team is pretty well organized in that their team doesn’t score a ton of goals, but when they do, they typically have success, especially at home.”
Here is the starting lineup I see Olsen rolling out tonight:
Willis; Korb, McDonald, Jakovic, Woolard; Cruz, Kitchen, De Rosario, DeLeon; Pontius, Santos
Several changes from last week come out of necessity. Joe Willis steps between the posts for the suspended Hamid, Chris Korb slots in at right back for Robbie Russell (plantar fasciitis) and De Rosario drops to central midfield with Branko Boskovic (calf strain) out.
While I expect DeLeon to start on the left and push Pontius up top, Olsen could go with Lewis Neal there or keep Pontius out wide and start Hamdi Salihi with Maicon Santos at forward. Emiliano Dudar bumping either Dejan Jakovic or Brandon McDonald at center back remains a possibility as well.