The last time Orlando City met D.C. United, the Lions busted out of a month-long funk that saw them go winless over six games. This time around, Orlando City is looking to bust out of a summer-long swoon which includes a current eight-game run without a victory.
With hurricane preparations and the arrest of veteran midfield leader Will Johnson, this hasn’t exactly been a week free of distractions for the Lions. Nevertheless, games must be played and so we’ve got a free falling and distracted team on the road, facing a resurgent United squad that has won three straight games without shipping a single goal. This should be interesting.
Here to give us the scoop on D.C. as we prepare for the match 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 catch those over at their place.
It’s been months since our respective teams have met. What’s new with D.C. United and what’s the same from that early meeting?
Ben Bromley: What's new is a brand new midfield: Paul Arriola, Zoltan Stieber, and Russell Canouse all signed for D.C. United and immediately took up the starting roles on the right wing, left wing, and in defensive midfield, respectively, and it is hard to overstate their influence. Canouse, in particular, has been vital to the team, which has lacked a dedicated and talented defensive midfielder all year; just putting one in that spot has made many things click around him. Stieber and Arriola have raised the level of play of the team considerably, and I think that Luciano Acosta is having a lot more fun playing with these new players who are at his talent level.
The things that have stayed the same are the defense, which has been spotty (though improved by Canouse) and the strikers (who have been toothless). Steve Birnbaum has been out injured, and so Kofi Opare and Homegrown center back Jalen Robinson have manned the middle in his absence. Deshorn Brown and Patrick Mullins both have good pedigrees, but they haven't been able to find the back of the net. Could they break out against Orlando? It would be nice to get them back.
How has USMNT midfielder Paul Arriola fit in with the Black and Red and what has been his role with the team so far?
BB: Paul Arriola has immediately stepped in and has been a spark for the whole team. His speed, hustle, and vision has helped raise the game of everyone around him. While he hasn't scored yet, it cannot be denied that he has made the whole team better. As he has more time to get to know his teammates even better, he will continue to raise the level of play of the team.
What’s missing from this year’s United squad that needs to be added for the team to turn around its fortunes as we head into the sweet oblivion of the off-season and into the ever-hopeful season to come?
BB: A striker and a center back are the two primary needs that this team has. As I mentioned above, Steve Birnbaum is out injured, but even when he is healthy they need an organizer next to him. He tried to take that role this year, but it did not work out; a TAM or DP level player in that role would help lock down that defense going into the new stadium. Patrick Mullins and Deshorn Brown both have good resumes, but an upgrade at the striker is even more important. The rest of the core of the team is good, but United has struggled with goal scoring for years. United hasn't had a player score more than 11 goals since 2012 and hasn't had a player score more than 13 goals in a season since 2007. Most years recently, D.C. United's leading scorer has been a midfielder. Even if they don't get a Giovinco, someone who can score like Bradley Wright-Phillips would immediately spark this team.
Injuries/suspensions/projected lineup/score prediction?
BB: Steve Birnbaum and Rob Vincent are still out injured, though Ian Harkes should be back for this game. With that in mind, the lineup should be Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Jalen Robinson, Kofi Opare, Taylor Kemp; Russell Canouse; Paul Arriola, Ian Harkes, Luciano Acosta, Zoltan Stieber; Patrick Mullins.
I can't imagine D.C. United going on a four-game winning streak, so I'll go with a 2-2 draw.
Big thanks to Ben from Black and Red United for taking time to answer our questions and for thinking Orlando City could score multiple goals in one game.