In climbing to the top of Major League Soccer, D.C. United has now used 23 different starting lineups in 25 games. It is an amazing storyline from this successful season for the Black and Red and there might another first eleven on the field Thursday when United plays New York City FC at Yankee Stadium.
Fabian Espindola did not play in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Montreal after he suffered a knee injury last week in a training session. He is expected to be sidelined between ten days and two weeks.
Last season Espindola’s will and 11 goals and nine assists helped propel United back into the playoffs after a forgettable 2013 season.
This season Espindola has been limited to just 11 appearances in 25 games with three goals and five assists. Still United has managed to make up for Espindola’s absences, whether through injury or six-game suspension to start the season, and will be charged with finding a way without him to jump start an offense that only produced one shot last week.
Soccer’s return to Yankee Stadium for the first time since the famed New York Cosmos graced the hallowed field in the Bronx has been a smashing success. Despite early struggles New York City FC is averaging 28,961 fans per game. The Cosmos with Pele as the main attraction attracted just over 18,000 fans per game.
Like the Cosmos once had, New York City FC boasts its own star power. Spanish World Cup winner David Villa has been an instant hit with 13 goals from 20 matches and was the MVP at the recent MLS All-Star game. Villa has been joined by Chelsea legend and former England international Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo who won a World Cup with Italy in 2006.
1. Finding offense on the road. In Montreal one shot, Chris Rolfe’s goal, did the trick and United became the first team in MLS history to win a game with only one shot. For the season United with only seven road goals is tied with Colorado for fewest scores away from home in MLS. With Espindola sidelined by injury, head coach Ben Olsen started Alvaro Saborio and Jairo Arrieta together at forward against Montreal. Saborio and Arrieta certainly know how to score, but United played very direct and struggled to get them involved. One option to help keep possession and create more opportunities might be for United to move Chris Rolfe back to attacking midfielder and use either Conor Doyle or a now healthy Chris Pontius on the flank. NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders has faced the 2nd most shots in MLS this season. There is an opportunity here if United is able to apply pressure.
2. Dealing with an angry NYCFC squad. New York was humbled in a 2-0 loss to the Red Bulls in the Hudson River derby, but it was the first game that David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo played together in the NYCFC starting lineup. As a head coach Jason Kreis knows how to figure things out and his team is only four points out of a playoff spot. Finding a way to mute Villa will be essential for United. Villa is 3rd in MLS in goals scored (13) with eight coming at home. He is also third in shots and shots on goal in MLS.
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