The last time Orlando City (8-11-14, 38 points) played D.C. United (11-9-13, 46 points), the Lions needed the win to get a leg up in the playoff race. Instead, United got the leg up and hasn’t lost since, winning four consecutive to clinch a playoff spot and put themselves in a good position for the postseason. The fortunes of the two sides have been so different since that Sept. 24 match-up that it’s hard to believe these teams were neck-and-neck for the sixth place in the East less than a month ago.
While United were climbing to fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the Lions were drawing at Toronto and losing at home to Montreal to fall out of the postseason race, before finally snapping their skid with a road win last week at Philadelphia.
So here we are, a month later, playing a game that means much more for D.C.’s efforts to stay above Montreal than it does for Orlando City. Not that this game means nothing to the Lions, though. This is Orlando’s final game in Camping World Stadium on Throwback Day, adding a bit of emotional weight to the contest from the home side. Jason Kreis will want to see his team step up and play the way it did last Sunday as he makes final evaluations about who will remain with the club for 2017.
Here again to give us the scoop on D.C. as we prepare for today’s season finale is Ben Bromley, a managing editor from SB Nation’s United blog, Black and Red United. I also answered Ben’s questions and you can check that out over at his place.
D.C. has been flying high of late and went from below the red line all the way up into fourth in the Eastern Conference. Is this just a product of the new acquisitions or has Ben Olsen done something to get this team playing its best at the right time of the year?
Ben Bromley: It is a little bit of both. The first thing that Ben Olsen has done is get the right personnel for what he wants to do. In are Luciano Acosta, Lloyd Sam, Patrick Nyarko, and Patrick Mullins; out are Fabian Espindola and Markus Halsti. But to take full advantage of these new players, Olsen, about halfway through the season, changed his formation from the 4-4-2 he had used for 2.5 years to a 4-1-4-1 with Patrick Mullins leading the line and Luciano Acosta pulling the strings.
Also, ever since Marcelo Sarvas got injured, two unheralded midfielders have really stepped up into key roles: Jared Jeffrey has emerged this season as one of Olsen's go-to box-to-box midfielders, and Rob Vincent has gone from a goal-scoring winger at the USL level to the defensive midfielder in Ben Olsen's system. Instead of the dour, defensive style he's played over the past few seasons, Olsen finally has the players he needs to play a more forward and proactive system, and the results have finally born out.
There’s a solid lineup in D.C. with quality in every position group, but if you’re picking one, who is United’s MVP this season and why?
BB: At this point, I would give my D.C. United MVP award to Patrick Nyarko. He was one of the only players playing well during the early part of the season, and when he missed time with a concussion coincided with United's worst run of form this entire year. Now, he, Sam, Mullins, and Acosta have formed a dynamic attack, the likes of which United has not seen in years. But Nyarko has been the constant and Nyarko has been the provider, so he gets my vote for MVP.
D.C. enters on a four-game winning streak and is unbeaten in six. Meanwhile, Orlando City won its last game at Philadelphia, so both teams are obviously equally hot right now*. After several close matches, United was able to rip Orlando apart in the last meeting. What are you expecting from Sunday’s match with United needing points to ensure they stay ahead of Montreal?
*OK, maybe not equally hot per se.
BB: I expect D.C. United to run out their full first-choice lineup and try and keep the hot streak alive. They need a win on the road to guarantee a home playoff game. Road wins have been hard to come by for United, so if they can take advantage of their current form to get one, that would be crucial. But other than that, I expect Ben Olsen to be generous with his substitutions, and try and get key players rest when able, either through the fact that United is ahead or behind in this game.
Are there any suspensions/injuries we should know about? Can you hit us with your projected starting lineup and final score prediction?
BB: Sean Franklin and Marcelo Sarvas are the two regular starters who are out injured, though Sarvas should be back soon. The lineup will be Bill Hamid; Nick DeLeon, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, Taylor Kemp; Rob Vincent; Patrick Nyarko, Luciano Acosta, Jared Jeffrey, Lloyd Sam; Patrick Mullins. As for the result, I think that United can keep the streak going and end the year with five wins in a row: give me a 2-1 victory for the Black-and-Red.
Major thanks to Ben for once again providing his insight into Orlando City’s opponents for tonight, but I’m not giving him anything. His team has to earn that win on the field if it wants our three points.