Now that the Concacaf Gold Cup is over, D.C. United are just about back to full strength for the first time since March. Paul Arriola and Junior Moreno were gone for all of June, but both are back from international duty now, with Moreno starting last week in the loss to FC Dallas. United as a team are as healthy as they have been since March but go into the game tomorrow against the New England Revolution without their No. 10, Luciano Acosta.
Acosta, who came on as a sub last Thursday after running a fever before the Dallas game, was sent off after 15 minutes for landing on Dallas defender Paxton Pomykal with his cleats. That earned the Argentine a red card after a video review, Acosta's first card of any color in league play since last August. There's a chance that a second game gets tacked on to Acosta's suspension, as the play was similar to Arriola's red card back in May.
In any case, United will be as close as they have been since the beginning of April to fielding their strongest XI against the Revs tomorrow evening. But with Acosta out, having played in the previous 53 league games for the Black-and-Red, United head coach Ben Olsen will have to adjust his starting lineup once again.
Here are a couple of options that Olsen has:
1. Same Formation, Rodriguez Starts In Acosta's Spot
With Acosta not in the starting lineup against Dallas, this is the option that Olsen went with in Frisco on July 4. Lucas Rodriguez took over Acosta's spot as the playmaker behind Wayne Rooney, flanked on either side by Griffin Yow and Ulises Segura. This was the first time that Titi, who was touted as being an option in this role when he was brought in during the winter, was given a long run at the position.
There were mixed results with this setup, as Rodriguez didn't quite have the same impact that Acosta usually does in the No. 10 role — which is likely why Olsen went to his bench in the 57th minute to bring on Acosta, moving Rodriguez out wide in place of Yow. But with Arriola back in the mix, Olsen might try this look once again to see if the return of Arriola will help boost Rodriguez's performance in the middle of the attacking midfield.
In this setup, any two of Arriola, Segura, Yow, and Zoltan Stieber could start out wide in the midfield.
2. Drop Rooney Into The Midfield, Start Amarikwa
Olsen has used this look late in games this year but has never used it from the start of games. That's because Acosta has been available for every game this year, and without Rooney and Quincy Amarikwa, there aren't many other options up top for the Black-and-Red. But, this could certainly be a look that Olsen goes for from the start on Friday night.
Rooney has experience playing in a deeper role throughout his career and tends to drop deeper in games anyway. Moving Rooney into midfield would give United's star player more time on the ball, and an ability to find runners in and around the Revs' back line.
Up top, the payoff would be more athleticism from Amarikwa, at the expense of his goal scoring record. Quincy has yet to find the mark this season for United in limited playing time. Amarikwa doesn't have the best goal tally throughout his MLS career, but he has been able to score goals throughout his tenure. In addition, Amarikwa would be able to cover more ground up top, which might help United press higher up the field and create turnovers in bad spots for the Revs.
3. Change The Formation Again
When Joseph Mora went out with a broken jaw, Olsen used a three-center back look in several games to try to cover for the left back's absence. It wasn't ideal, given the weapons that United have on the field, but at the same time D.C. picked up a couple of wins on the road, which has helped them maintain a spot near the top of the Eastern Conference, during a stretch in which they have won just one of their past eight league games.
With Donovan Pines back healthy, Olsen could certainly revert to this 3-4-2-1 look to try to squeeze out another result with a key player missing. With Mora healthy as well, that would likely mean that all five of Pines, Mora, Steven Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant, and Leonardo Jara would start. That would allow United to have a solid defensive foundation while also providing an avenue in which Mora and Jara could get forward in attack, while having a bit more cover for their runs defensively.
With Moreno and Russell Canouse manning their stations, that would leave Olsen to pick two of Arriola, Rodriguez, Segura, Stieber, and Yow to start behind Rooney. Arriola returned to the club this week after going 90 minutes in the 1-0 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final on Sunday night. Olsen might want to hold off on starting Arriola so quickly in his return, but with United needing all three points against the Revs, United's manager might be forced to start Arriola anyway.