The Black & Gold had a thrilling come-from-behind victory last Saturday at the Chicago Fire, in which they scored three times after the 60th minute, including an 83rd minute winner from club record signing Cucho Hernandez. On the other hand, United was beaten 7-0 by the Philadelphia Union on Friday.
However, there is some hype surrounding this D.C. team as Wayne Rooney has recently been announced as the new manager. Rooney will not be on the sidelines for United on Wednesday, but a new manager’s presence alone should inspire D.C.’s players to higher performance.
Here’s what you can expect from this game.
D.C. United at a Glance:
Record: 5-2-10, 17 points
League Form: L-W-L-L-L
Leading Scorer: Taxiarchis Fountas (9)
Assist Leader: Julian Gressel (4)
Player to Watch: Taxiarchis Fountas
Fountas has hit the ground running in his first year in the league with nine goals in just 11 matches. The 26-year-old Greek attacking midfielder joined United after time spent in the Greek, German and Austrian leagues.
While he has the ability to play all over the attacking line, Fountas excels when playing centrally. This gives Fountas the freedom to drift into open space before receiving the ball and creating dangerous attacks. Fountas also possess an impressive finishing ability, so when he receives the ball with time and space in the attacking third, he can be deadly.
The Crew backline and midfielders will need to be well aware of Fountas on Wednesday to be in a position to earn three points on the road.
How D.C. United plays:
This is once again an interesting question heading into this matchup. The last time these two sides faced off, D.C. had just parted ways with head coach Hernan Losada. This time around, United has just announced a new coach, who won’t be on the sidelines.
D.C. has typically been a high-pressure, direct attacking team in recent years. However, Rooney hasn’t necessarily shown those tendencies during his previous managerial appointment. Thus, there’s no sure answer to how United will play on Wednesday night.
An educated guess is that D.C. won’t look to change everything just yet. Reeling after a 7-0 defeat, United will likely look to stick to what the team knows on for this game. This means the same high-pressing and direct play that fans come to expect from D.C. in recent years.
Look for United to initiate a high press when the ball goes to the Columbus outside backs. In addition, look for long, direct balls in an attempt to stretch the Crew backline when D.C. is attacking.
How the Crew can win:
The Black & Gold enter this match unbeaten in their last six games and with the best away form in recent memory. Columbus will be looking to continue to build positive momentum heading into the first Hell is Real Derby of the year against FC Cincinnati on Sunday.
With that being said, it’s important that the Crew doesn’t look ahead too much and remains focused on getting three points from this matchup.
In order to do this, the Black & Gold need to not put themselves in the position like the one against Chicago. Derrick Etienne Jr. and Hernandez’s heroics masked what was a pretty poor first 60 minutes of the match from Columbus. The main problem the Crew faced was playing through the Fire’s pressure up the field. The Black & Gold will need to be much better in this area on Wednesday, as D.C. will also apply pressure high up the field.
If Columbus is able to handle this pressure and progress the ball up the field quickly, like the last 30 minutes in Chicago, the Crew will have plenty of looks at goal.
In addition, the Black & Gold will need to do a good job of winning the second balls in the midfield. As discussed, United often looks to play direct aerial balls into the front line. After the original aerial challenges, Columbus must do a good job of winning the second balls to regain possession and keep D.C. from picking up the ball in the attacking third. Players like Fountas and Julian Gressel can be especially dangerous when their team wins these second balls with time to dribble and attack a disorganized backline.
Lastly, the Crew needs to remain focused on the task at hand. Yes, these are professional players who have been trained for years and years to take things one match at a time. However, it is human nature to look past the team that has won one of its last eight matches and just lost 7-0 on Saturday. Especially when playing a team’s biggest rival in four short days.
Anything can happen in MLS and every point matters, the Black & Gold need to remain focused on getting three this Wednesday.