After a huge win at home on Wednesday night against Orlando City, the Black & Gold will continue their efforts to make the playoffs with another must-win match against longtime rival DC United on Saturday. DC United is three points above the Black & Gold in the Eastern Conference and is clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Thus, this game is essentially a must-win for each side. With so much on the line, here’s what you can expect from DC and how the Crew can keep their season alive.
DC United at a Glance:
Record: 13-5-17, 44 points
League Form: W-L-L-D-L
Leading Scorer: Ola Kamara (17)
Assist Leader: Julian Gressel (7)
Player to Watch: Ola Kamara
Crew fans are very familiar with Kamara thanks to his stellar contributions for the Black & Gold in 2016 and 2017. Netting 35 times in 65 games for the Black & Gold, Kamara was then traded to the LA Galaxy where he struggled before moving to the Chinese Super League. In August of 2019, Kamara returned to the MLS and has been the focal point of the D.C. United attack ever since. Kamara has thrived this year under first-year coach Hernan Losada with a league-leading 17 goals so far this year. Kamara’s speed and physicality are a perfect fit for the high octane style D.C. United play and has led to him finding himself in great scoring positions all year long. Kamara is particularly adept at exploiting space in attacking transition. The Crew backline will need to be aware of Kamara at all times in order to shut down the D.C. attack on Saturday.
How D.C. United play:
Despite his harsh introduction to the MLS, first-year D.C. United Head Coach Hernan Losada has quickly learned his way around the league and has been able to set his team up well for success with a high energy, entertaining brand of soccer. Defensively, D.C. looks to press their opposition high up the field in an effort to cause discomfort for their opponents in possession and potentially create turnovers that lead to dangerous opportunities.
When D.C. United has the ball, they are one of the more direct attacking sides in the league. D.C. are usually looking to get in behind their opponents' backline as quickly as possible in an effort to create goal scoring opportunities. This direct and energetic style of play usually leads to a wide open, back and forth type of game which perfectly suits the athleticism and pace that D.C. United possess in their ranks. In addition to the pace and athleticism possessed by Ola Kamara, Paul Arriola, Nigel Robertha and Kevin Paredes, D.C. United also benefit from having some excellent ball playing midfielders to provide service in the attacking half. The likes of Julian Gressell, Russell Canouse and Andy Najar are all able to impact the attacking with their passing quality. Their high energy style of play makes them a difficult side to play against and will provide a unique and difficult challenge for the Black & Gold on Saturday.
How the Crew can win:
As mentioned, this is another must-win match for the Crew as a loss or draw will see them eliminated from playoff contention. Aside from the obvious pressure that comes from a must-win situation, D.C. United presents a difficult challenge as their playing style is a direct contrast to the Black & Gold. This means that there will be a few things the Crew must do to win this match.
First and foremost, the Black & Gold need to be prepared to handle the pressure that D.C. United will apply high up the pitch. As mentioned, D.C. United looks to apply intense pressure high up the field as much as possible to create turnovers and keep their opponents from building a rhythm in possession. A huge part of the Crew’s game plan is based on building possession out of their own defensive third, thus, if the Crew are to be successful in this match they need to handle the D.C. pressure and avoid sloppy turnovers that could lead to D.C. United opportunities on goal. In their most recent meeting at Lower.com field, the Crew gifted D.C. not one but two goals by turning the ball over close to their own goal. However, if they handle this pressure well, it could also lead to plenty of space for Columbus to attack as they would have beaten a large portion of D.C. United defenders already. Keep an eye on this point, especially early in the game, as being successful in this area could be the most important thing the Crew does in this match.
D.C. United thrives off of making games as high energy, chaotic, and as back and forth as possible. Caleb Porter’s style with the Black & Gold is almost the exact opposite of D.C. United. Therefore, whichever team controls the flow of this game will put themselves in a great position to take 3 points with them. The easiest way for the Black & Gold to help themselves control the game is through dominating possession. However, this could play into D.C. United’s hands as the Crew being in possession of the ball for long stretches would allow D.C. United to apply pressure and create turnovers, as well as open up space behind the Crew backline as they advanced the ball up the field. To counteract this, as well as make sure the tempo of the game is under control, the Black & Gold may allow D.C. United to have the majority of possession in this game. Yes, you read that correctly. D.C. United often seems uncomfortable and lacking attacking ideas when in possession. In addition to their lack of threat going forward when in possession, it also opens up space behind their backline to be exploited once their opponents win the ball back. In fact, the vast majority of D.C. United’s losses in 2021 have come in a game where D.C. United had the majority of possession. Be on the lookout for the Crew to allow them to have the ball, before punishing them on the counter attack.
Lastly, the Black & Gold need to score first. It seems simple enough but it has been the recipe for success for Columbus so far in 2021. Columbus is 12-1-2 in all competitions when scoring first, which is a very impressive record. The Crew’s playing style and players are not well suited to come from behind in games and as a result, the Crew has struggled often when conceding first. If the Black & Gold are to win this game it will almost surely be a result of scoring first.