D.C. United is off to their best start under head coach Ben Olsen, and tomorrow, they host Real Salt Lake at Audi Field, hoping to grab seven points from their first three games. The Black-and-Red, with a win over Atlanta United, and a scoreless draw with New York City FC, are the only team in MLS who have not conceded a goal in 2019. A win against RSL would give United their second in March, after going the past three years without winning a single game in the first month of the season, in 12 attempts.
RSL come into the game on the same amount of points, having drawn 1-1 with the Houston Dynamo, before beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 last week, thanks to a controversial penalty won by Corey Baird. D.C. is winless in their last three games against their Western Conference opponents, with the last victory coming in the wild 6-4 win at RFK Stadium on Aug. 1, 2015.
Here's what we are looking forward to in the matchup tomorrow evening:
1. Can DCU's Defense Keep Their Scoreless Streak?
As noted above, D.C. United are the only team in MLS to have not conceded a goal in MLS play this year. It's the first time in team history that the Black-and-Red have had two shutouts to start the season. But going back even further, United have only conceded one goal in their past six regular-season games, with three shutouts in a row. David Villa scored a consolation goal for NYC last October in a 3-1 win for United, but that was sandwiched by shutouts against FC Dallas, Toronto FC, the Chicago Fire and Atlanta and NYC this year. One goal in 540 minutes has equaled four wins and two draws.
Of course, there was also the playoff defeat against the Columbus Crew in there, but the point still stands—United figured it out defensively last year, and that has translated to 2019. Even with the introduction of Leonardo Jara at right back, United have picked up right where they left off. Everyone is chipping in, which makes all the difference for D.C. Salt Lake haven't been outstanding in their attack this year, but possess abilities to put up numbers at times.
Another shutout will give United just that much more of a boost in the first month of the season.
2. How Will RSL's Front Four Line Up?
Head coach Mike Petke has used the same starting 11 for the first two games of the season, just as his counterpart Ben Olsen has. The only change that Petke made last week against the Whitecaps, was shuffling the roles of Baird, Albert Rusnak and Damir Kreilach.
Last year, Kreilach was used in all sorts of roles by Petke, as the Croatian finished the regular season with 12 goals and eight assists, and scored that ridiculous goal against Los Angeles FC in the playoffs. In the first game this year, Kreilach started up top against the Dynamo, in more of a false-nine role. Rusnak played underneath him, while Baird went out wide on the left, where he spent some of his time during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018.
Against Vancouver, Baird went up top, Kreilach played behind him and Rusnak went out wide on the left, in a role that isn't quite as familiar to the Slovakian. The results haven't been stellar this year, but Rusnak has scored both the team's goals, and RSL will be much pleased with their four-point start from two games. Either one of these is likely on Saturday against DCU, with the only certainty in attack being Jefferson Savarino on the right.
3. The Fortress At Audi Field
D.C. United's form at Audi Field has been nothing short of astonishing since the stadium at Buzzard Point opened on July 14, 2018. In 16 games, United has won 13, lost two and drawn just once. Without that success last year, United wouldn't have clawed their way back into the playoffs.
But in the opening week win against Atlanta, the atmosphere at Audi Field was once again at its best, even in the driving rain for 90 minutes. If the Black-and-Red can get another 11 or 12 wins at home this year, they will put themselves in a good spot to make the playoffs once again.
It should also be noted that five Western Conference teams have made the trip to D.C. so far, and five Western Conference teams have left without even a point. The Whitecaps, Colorado Rapids, Portland Timbers, Minnesota United and FC Dallas have all had joyless trips to the nation's capital. In those five games, United have outscored their opponents 12-4, with the highlight being the 4-1 triumph over Portland, days after the late drama against Orlando City.