After spending most of this season flitting around the fringes of the MLS playoff places, D.C. United finally broke through last Saturday when their 3-0 road win over Chivas USA propelled them into the fourth and final MLS playoff spot. The Black-and-Red have at least two games in hand on all their competitors in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but they'll have a tough job on their hands against Seattle Saturday night. The Sounders have all but secured a playoff spot in the Western Conference and will have the backing of their intimidating home crowd
D.C. United at Seattle Sounders FC
When: 9:00 p.m., Saturday, September 17.
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
TV: Comcast SportsNet.
Team News and Tactics
D.C. United: Chris Pontius' unfortunate injury means that United will be without their best all-around player for the season's run-in. Marc Burch saw out the Chivas game in Pontius' left midfield spot after the latter was stretchered off, and I wouldn't be surprised he gets a start on tonight. If Ben Olsen goes with a midfield of Burch, Santino Quaranta (with Austin da Luz coming off the bench if necessary), Clyde Simms (or Stephen King), and Andy Najar, it will likely mean that Josh Wolff will start on the bench while the newly prolific tandem of Dwayne De Rosario and Charlie Davies (refreshed physically and mentally by all indications) at the forward spots.
Seattle Sounders FC: Sigi Schmid will have to juggle his starting lineup, as Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (straight red card) and Servando Carrasco (caution accumulation) will have to serve a mandatory one-game suspension tonight. Jeff Parke would seem to be the obvious replacement for Hurtado at the back, as he was held out of Seattle's 2-1 CONCACAF Champions League win over Costa Rican club CS Herediano on Wednesday. Patrick Ianni, Zach Scott, and Leonardo Gonzalez are also likely to be available off the bench as defensive cover.
Carrasco's absence is less of an issue as Osvaldo Alonso (adductor strain) and Brad Evans (hamstring strain) look to be good to play. Erik Friberg (hip flexor strain) will apparently be a game-time decision, but if he can't go, I'd expect Lamar Neagle to come in as his replacement.
Key to the Match
How Much Will Pontius Be Missed?: D.C. United have had a full week to get used to the loss of Pontius, and surely Najar and Quaranta will have realized that it will be down to them to fill United's need for slick, attacking wing play. Whether they can actually do it might be the difference between making and missing the MLS playoffs.