Scouting report: What's D.C. United bringing to the table in Saturday's rumble at PPL Park?

Breaking down United, next up for the Union (Saturday, 4 p.m.)

 

After a lackluster 2013 MLS campaign, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen made strides to beef up his roster specifically in the attack and middle of the park. It has paid dividends as names like former Real Salt Lake striker Fabian Espindola (four goals, three assists) and MLS veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud (two goals) has United boasting a 3-3-2 (11 points) record.

Good for sixth place in MLS' Eastern Conference.

With a win Saturday at PPL Park (4 p.m., purchase tickets), the Union would sit on the same number of points as its I-95 rival and be one step closer to sitting above the fold of MLS’ Eastern Conference after a rough start to the season.

To do so, this new look Union roster will have to bypass a couple of key players on United.

Graphic: A look at D.C. United's projected lineup and formation this Saturday (4 p.m.)

United offense

What ‘s been effective for this group is that much like his time in Real Salt Lake, Espindola is given the freedom to roam up in Olsen’s 4-4-2 system and if you take a look at his start to the season, you see it’s paid dividends. Additionally, Espindola is an excellent dead ball striker and has the vision that keeps you guessing. Think Osvaldo Alonzo for Seattle but with a quicker first step. Although listed has probable, expect forward Eddie Johnson to return to United’s lineup after sitting out last week in D.C.’s 3-2 loss to the Timbers in Portland. Johnson has a lot to prove as the window closes to make the U.S. roster for June’s upcoming FIFA World Cup. Expect him to try to make this match his playground for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to recognize. Sitting behind those two is a creative midfield corps in long time creator Perry Kitchen. Nick DeLeon picked up an injury and is questionable for this match. If DeLeon can’t go, Olsen could slot in a variation of Lewis Neal or Jared Jeffery into the mix. Kyle Porter is also available. Round out that group with the pace of Arnaud and former Fire standout Chris Rolfe.

United defense

A good group but not one that can’t be broken down, especially with the loss of Sean Franklin, listed as out for this match. Former Union defender Jeff Parke steers this group in the center along with Bobby Boswell. Newcomer Cristian Fernandez has played all but eight minutes this season as left fullback and last week with the exclusion of Franklin, United veteran Chris Korb earned his first start of the season. This group is solid in the air and as a result pushes high into the box on set pieces and corner kicks. However in nine MLS matches, this group has given up 11 goals, with United goalkeeper Bill Hamid sitting with a goals against average of exactly 2.00 per game.

Overall

It is incumbent on the Union defense to keep tabs on both Espindola and Johnson up top who pair well in addition to being extremely tenacious on set pieces as this is a plus of Ben Olsen’s squad. It’s a rivalry so suggesting for the Union to eliminate getting into foul trouble is almost laughable, but if this collective can, then this group can truly limit what would be United’s strongest chance of pulling three points in PPL Park. Espindola isn’t over the ball serving to headstrong defenders and now you force D.C. United to beat you in run of play. If that’s the case it’s a vital momentum shift that could put a much of this match in Philly’s favor.

What do you think about this United squad? Leave a comment below.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com