On Saturday, United hosts reigning MLS Cup Champion Sporting Kansas City, a side currently in second place in the East-just one point and place ahead of the Black-and-Red. Recently, though, Sporting has caught the injury bug in addition to two standouts, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, being away with the U.S. Men's National Team.
"[Aurélien] Collin was out against Toronto, they obviously have Besler out, so they had [Lawrence] Olum playing," Goalkeeping Coach Preston Burpo explained. "They've mixed and matched so far and then unfortunately, [Chance] Myers goes out with an Achilles tear. This next game, they came back and they settled in with a back line of [Seth] Sinovic, Collin, [Kevin] Ellis and [Igot] Juliao. We'd assume they'd go with that again."
With those injuries and absences, Sporting has struggled a bit, earning only two points from its last four matches, but continues to keep its place near the top of the table. They have depth in good defenders, as well as dangerous players able to fill in attacking roles.
"There are other guys that have filled in, Martinez has stepped in, then [Antonio] Dovale who steps in and scored a great goal; he's a very technical player with a good left foot. They had Sal Zizzo and [Jacob] Peterson on the other side. We're not sure who they go with there, but both of them will give us a tough time with the amount of work that they put in."
United has depth too and plenty of players ready and willing to outwork SKC and dig deeper.
"We're a healthy team right now, when we're going through our 18, it's exciting," he stated. "We have so many options. It's tough to get our 18, not just the starting 11. We're happy going into this game right now."
One of the reasons to smile is Eddie Johnson's rescinded red card, a decision that came through Wednesday afternoon.
"We're lucky that the system worked for us as far as the appeal for Eddie, so everyone's happy about that."
One other player to keep an eye on Saturday night is Dom Dwyer, currently sitting on ten goals in 2014. United's veteran back line understand how to handle Dwyer and company, but according to Burpo, it's just a matter of staying plugged in for 90 minutes, something we fell short on in New England.
"He has a knack for goal," Burpo said. "He is a tireless worker; he is good with both feet. He is hungry for the ball around the box. There's been discussion about him today in our team meeting, making sure our defenders realize that any ball being crossed, he is going to be on the move and any ball into his feet, he can turn you and get his shot off."
While our back line focuses on Dwyer, Benny Feilhaber, Zizzo and others, KC's defense will have to deal with an attack that's scored 17 goals thus far, featuring Fabián Espíndola, Chris Rolfe and Johnson.
Heading into Saturday's match, there's a sense of confidence, despite the loss at New England. D.C. United knows its strengths and its ability to compete and win. With veterans on the team like Bobby Boswell, Davy Arnaud and Jeff Parke, the Black-and-Red will be prepared for Sporting.
"All our guys have been prepared for this," Burpo said. "We'll be ready to go Saturday night."
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