With their top-heavy formation, Sporting Kansas City takes an aggressive posture every time they line up. Here are some of the key's to watch for as United looks to solve Peter Vermes' 4-3-3 on Saturday night.
Offensively, Kansas City's 4-3-3 relies upon the effectiveness of a physical target forward. Fortunately for Sporting they have - in C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury - two promising, young players that fit that description.
For United to succeed on Saturday, whichever one receives the bulk of Kansas City's direct service forward, needs to do so under serious duress. Beyond the back four's responsibilities, Perry Kitchen's defensive effort in clogging passing lanes to the target-men will be crucial.
"They've got some real athletes up top and they come fast and furious at you," Ben Olsen acknowledged after Thursday's training session. "In particular early, we've got to deal with that and weather that storm."
The other end of the equation is where the services are coming from. United's forwards and outside midfielders must pressure Sporting's long-ball distributors. Keep an eye on Bobby Convey specifically, as the ex-United player is just the type to cause danger given time and space to deliver.
The one obvious soft-spot in the underbelly of the in vogue 4-3-3 can be found on the flanks. Because of their shape, a gap often develops between Kansas City's outside backs and the high-holding wingers. Finding Chris Pontius, Andy Najar, Danny Cruz and Nick DeLeon in this gap - with quick and quality service - will help put Sporting's defense on their back foot.
Because Kansas City likes to counter-attack, United should have its share of possession on Saturday. Just how much D.C. dominates this possession-time battle will likely dictate whether or not they win. Dwayne De Rosario and Branko Boskovic are the keys here as they become the central distribution points when United have the ball.
"They like to press in the midfield so we are just going to limit their counters and keep the ball," Daniel Woolard said on Thursday. "The more we have the ball the better off we'll be."
Saturday's match is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at RFK Stadium. Buy Tickets