D.C. United & Columbus Crew Vie For Top Spot In MLS Eastern Conference

They say that April showers bring May flowers, and D.C United are hoping they can escape the storm in the final week of the month and end a stretch that has put a damper on their bright start to the 2019 season. 

The good news? The Black-and-Red have a chance to quickly rebound from Sunday's loss to New York City FC with a midweek matchup, but they have it all to do at MAPFRE Stadium where they haven’t won in regular-season play since 2007. Wednesday’s game against the Columbus Crew is set to kick off at 7:30 PM ET and will be broadcast right here on FloFC for DMV viewers.

The 2-0 defeat to NYCFC on Sunday made it three consecutive matches at Audi Field without a win or a goal for the Black-and-Red. The result handed the visitors their first three points of the season, further tightening an already-congested Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Crew sit just one point behind D.C., and are level with Toronto FC and the Philadelphia Union at 13. Columbus kicked United out of the 2018 playoffs by way of a penalty shootout in the teams’ last meeting, so there’s a bit of revenge at stake in this one.

Leonardo Jara returned from a shoulder injury on Sunday, so D.C.'s issues at right back are resolved for the time being. Depth concerns at left back remain, however, as Joseph Mora remains out with a jaw injury. Chris McCann is listed as questionable for the game, the same status he had for the game against the Pigeons.

Ben Olsen elected to switch Paul Arriola over to the left back position last time out, but the sooner he can return to a more advanced position the better. Akeem Ward has made the trip to Columbus and could step into that role should Olsen call his number. Midfielder Russell Canouse is out with a knee sprain, so Chris Durkin will likely get the start alongside Junior Moreno.

The most important task at hand for the manager will be figuring out how to get Luciano Acosta back to top form and the offense firing again after being shut out three times in their last four outings. Olsen will be boosted by the fact that D.C.’s fortunes on the road have taken quite the turn in 2019. They’ve collected seven points from nine possible, while scoring five goals in their last two away from Audi Field. It seems there has been a shift in mindset from previous years, echoed by Arriola’s statement following the loss to New York.

"It’s nice to not have that same mentality from last year, like 'Oh man here we go again on the road,'" Arriola said in the locker room. "That’s not the mentality we have. We’re confident in playing away."

While they currently occupy a playoff position, Caleb Porter’s men have had their own struggles to begin the campaign, particularly in the final third. They’ve managed just eight goals in eight games played, which puts their average below last year’s meager return of 1.2 goals per match.

Gyasi Zardes is coming off 19 goals in 2018, his best season to date, and currently leads the side with three to his name. His partners up top have largely failed to shoulder the load offensively, though, as three of the other five goals scored have come from defenders Gaston Sauro and Josh Williams.

A Porter-coached team is always going to be disciplined, possession-oriented, and tough to break down, but the Portland Timbers may have just left behind the blueprint to escape Ohio with a win over the weekend. 

Wednesday’s match in Columbus is the first of three in 10 days for D.C. They stay on the road to face Minnesota United in their glimmering new stadium on Sunday before returning to the District for round two with the Crew next weekend.

Predicted D.C. United XI (4-2-3-1): Bill Hamid; Akeem Ward, Steve Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant Leonardo Jara; Junior Moreno, Chris Durkin; Lucas Rodriguez, Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola; Wayne Rooney

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