The toughness and grit shown by D.C. United may have been overshadowed by the result in last weekend’s 1-0 loss at Houston. But it is a building block ahead of a visit to Real Salt Lake that will feature key differences in style, personnel and climate.
“Take away the last play, and there is a good 90-plus minutes of defending,” Goalkeeping Coach Preston Burpo said. “Hamid comes up with a big save, and Bruin misses a header early, but we put in a pretty good effort outside of those. If we can still go and put in the type of work we did in Houston, defending wise, we will give ourselves a chance to get a result out of Salt Lake.”
In Houston, United dealt with 50/50 battles, big, strong forwards and physicality. Real Salt Lake is a different team.
“Salt Lake likes to play the ball on the ground, the field is a little bit bigger, and that’s how they have success,” Burpo said. “They have [Olmes] Garcia who’s had success the past couple of weeks, and [Joao] Plata who is successful up top.”
Salt Lake’s key playmakers reside in the midfield. With D.C. United stalwart Perry Kitchen out due to yellow card accumulation, others will have to step up against a tough challenge in Kyle Beckerman, who is expected to play after sitting out the MLS All-Star game with an injury, and Javier Morales, who leads RSL with seven assists.
“They like playing balls through Morales,” he said. “He gets it, looks forward to guys on the outside like [Ned] Grabavoy, possibly [Luke] Mulholland, and they’re all good soccer players. And then they have Beckerman, who is a big presence.”
Two new outsides backs will be in the mix for RSL, as Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran are out due to suspension, and D.C. United’s attackers will look to take advantage of their inexperience. Fabián Espíndola, who has been exploiting defenders all season, might also be back on the field.
“How we will utilize him—to be determined,” Burpo said of Espíndola. “He’s excited to go for sure. It’s going to be great to have him back. Now we have another piece available to us.”
Despite last weekend’s loss, the Black-and-Red remain in second place in the East and continue to apply pressure on Sporting Kansas City at the top.
“It says a lot about our team in the last six weeks since [Espíndola] has been out,” said Burpo. “We’ve had a lot of success. Here’s a guy you can consider an MVP candidate, and there we are winning some games. So, to add him and have him in going on the road for another tough game will be a boost to the team.”
D.C. United faces RSL on Saturday, August 9 at 10 pm ET on Comcast SportsNet and on 106.7 The Fan and El Zol 107.9.