Two of Major League Soccer’s original clubs will battle for the second time in as many weeks, this time in our nation’s capital on Saturday. In their last tilt, D.C. United toppled Columbus Crew SC 1-0 thanks to a wonderful free kick finish from United superstar, Wayne Rooney. Columbus enters the match on a four-game losing streak, where the team has only scored one goal. D.C. is currently in a three-way tie with the Philadelphia Union and the Montreal Impact for first place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. United have had mixed results over the last month, collecting seven out of 15 points in their last five matches. They will look to collect all three points at home against their longtime conference rival.
What can Crew fans expect in this match-up? Nothing drastically different from what we witnessed a mere two weeks ago. Let’s take a dive into both squads, heading into the clash at Audi Field.
D.C. United at a Glance
Scoring leader: Wayne Rooney (5)
Assist leader: Wayne Rooney (3)
How D.C. United Play
D.C. has modified their tactics in recent times, from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-4-3 setup. The outside midfielders play a hybrid wingback role, as Paul Arriola and Leonardo Jara bomb up and down the sidelines. When the opposing team has possession, the duo joins the backline, forming a five-man block of defenders.
As we witnessed in the last match again the Crew on April 24, the Black and Red are emphatic about dropping everyone behind the ball when the opposition has possession in their offensive third of the pitch.
Offensively, D.C. is a multi-faceted attack, with opportunities building from the wings and centrally. From a pure fan standpoint, the combination plays between Rooney, Lucian Acosta, winger Lucas Rodriguez and midfielder Junior Moreno is a treat to watch. As mentioned previously, Arriola and Jara have the green light to tear up and down the sidelines, creating width and crossing opportunities for United. The Black & Gold must be patient defensively, as to not dive in erratically to thwart their attack. Doing so will lead to set pieces due to fouls and odd-man scoring chances.
More Than Just Rooney
While global star, Wayne Rooney, rightfully garners most of the headlines, D.C. United is much deeper than the former Manchester United star. D.C.’s defense is as stout and stingy as any team as you will find in Major League Soccer. With goalkeeper Bill Hamid in goal, opposing clubs find it extremely difficult to find the back of the net.
In front of Hamid, an array of young and veteran defenders make life troublesome for opposition attackers. U.S. international Steve Birnbaum has quietly been one of the most consistent defenders in the league since becoming a starter in 2014. European veteran Frederic Brillant brings experience and leadership to United’s defense, now in his ninth season as a professional. Up and coming rookie Donovan Pines has started three games this season, nearly scoring his first professional goal last week versus Minnesota.
Creative playmaker Luciano Acosta is charged with linking the midfield and backline to the attackers. Where Rooney may be the engine that kick starts United’s attack, Acosta is the premium gas that fuels the team. The Argentine central midfielder was actually being pursued by French powerhouse Paris St. Germain this past January. PSG initially offered $7 million, then raised their fee to $8 million, but D.C. was seeking upwards of $10 million. A compromise was unable to be reached and discussions abruptly halted in the 11th hour without a deal being struck. He is the prototypical No. 10, possessing the ability to create for others and strike on his own.
Yes, D.C. is certainly more than just a one-man Rooney band, but the former England international leads United in both goals and assists and is in early contention for League MVP honors. It only takes one opportunity for Rooney to make an impact. The Crew was privy to that fact just two weeks ago. His set-piece strikes and passes are phenomenally deadly. Columbus has to be mindful of this anytime United is near the 18-yard box.
How the Crew Can Win
The Crew’s lack of goalscoring production is well known at this point. The Black & Gold can win if they finally manage to finish the chances they have created. It is truly that simple for Columbus. The Crew has been banging on the door of the goal for weeks, creating wave upon wave of scoring opportunities. If/when they finally kick down that door and tally goals, the confidence will rise, as will the marks in the win column.
Unlocking United’s defense will take patience on the ball, swift passing through the center of the field, and being a bit more selfish with the ball inside the 18-yard box. Columbus must refrain from extending a play with an extra touch or an additional pass, and instead pepper Hamid and company with shots. The “perfect shot” doesn’t actually exist, so the Crew will need to shoot with conviction early and often.
Until the Black & Gold can consistently manufacture goals in the run of play, they are going to have to be defensively impenetrable. Zack Steffen and his backline are going to have to play flawlessly. Keeping the ball out of their own net hasn’t been difficult for Columbus. Outside of a fluke goal in Houston and a beauty of a freekick against D.C., the Black & Gold rarely concede goals.
The Crew can be victorious if they finally finish the myriad of scoring chances they create. Such a feat is simple, though not easy.