After last week's 2-2 draw against the Montreal Impact, the Lions will face their first major test of the season, as they play host at the Citrus Bowl to the reigning regular-season Eastern Conference champions, D.C. United.
D.C. United is one of the 10 original charter member clubs of MLS, having participated in the league since its inception in 1996. D.C. has managed to stay fairly competitive throughout its time in MLS, having won four MLS Cups, four Supporters' Shields, the Eastern Conference Regular season title six times and the Eastern Conference playoffs five times. They have also been successful in the U.S. Open cup, with three titles to their name and internationally being one of only two MLS teams to have won the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the precursor to the CONCACAF Champions League.
After having a good MLS regular season, D.C. United didn't fare too well in the playoffs and ended up losing 3-2 on aggregate to the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Despite this playoff loss, United felt that they had a good core roster, and, even though they lost some players this off-season, they didn't make too many acquisitions.
The team lost Lewis Neal (to Orlando City) and off-season pick-up Thomas McNamara (to New York City FC) in the MLS Expansion Draft, and another pickup, Andrew Driver (who came from Houston Dynamo but was not signed by the team). Ultimately, it means that D.C. United only ended up picking up six players this off-season, whilst they lost 10. However, that doesn't mean that this team has been struggling this season.
The Season So Far
With only three games played, D.C. United is looking good, currently sitting second in the Eastern Conference standings and the Black and Red have probably been helped by their early elimination from the CONCACAF Champions League (on the back of a 5-2 drubbing whilst playing Alajuelense away from home).
In their first game of the season, United beat last week's Orlando City foes, the Montreal Impact, 1-0 at home -- on the back of a goal from forward Jairo Arrieta. Arrieta (who was picked by Orlando in the Expansion Draft but was traded for an international roster spot) grabbed the game winner in the 59th minute to get D.C. United's season off on the right foot.
The second game of the season, however, didn't go so well, despite coming after a Week 2 bye. D.C. United traveled up I-95 to take on the New York Red Bulls, but ended up leaving as 2-0 losers. In a quiet game for D.C. (United only managed to get one corner), nobody really stood out for the team overall and they were just well-beaten on the road by a team who were led by last seasons golden boot winner, Bradley Wright-Phillips.
D.C. United returned home for their third game of the season and, despite playing last year's MLS Cup champions, the LA Galaxy, they ran out 1-0 winners, thanks to a Chris Pontius goal (which was nominated for MLS Goal of the Week) in stoppage time.
Despite grabbing the win in front of their home crowd, it wasn't a perfect outcome for D.C. United. After only five minutes, D.C. lost 2014 Rookie of the Year contender, Steve Birnbaum, to what might turn out to be a serious ankle injury (as of writing, the extent of the injury is unknown).
The major takeaway from D.C.'s games so far this season is that the team hasn't traveled too well and so maybe despite their good start to the season, Orlando can go in confident that they can get the three points on Friday.
Player to Watch
My player to watch this week is Canadian Kofi Opare. He came on to replace Birnbaum in last week's game and, since Birnbaum is likely to be out against Orlando, I expect Opare to retain a place in the lineup. The center-half position will be vital for a D.C. team that doesn't travel well, and since Orlando managed to get on the score sheet last week. Opare will be my player to watch for this week.
However, D.C. United does have a good overall roster, and OCSC fans should also be wary of forward Chris Rolfe and midfielder Nick DeLeon. Rolfe is always dangerous up front and DeLeon powers the D.C. United midfield, so if they can get things going it could be a long night for Orlando. But hopefully it will end up being a Good Friday instead.
That's it for this week. The game is set for kick-off on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, and if you can't make it to the Bowl, you can catch the game on national TV with Spanish broadcaster, UniMas.