CCL Preview and Prediction: Alajuelense vs DC United

Competition: CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal First-Leg

Venue: Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto – Thursday, February 26th – 20:00 ET (01:00 Friday, 27th GMT)

Match Odds: Alajuelense 21/20 – Draw 9/4 – DC United 11/5

DC United are in Costa Rica to take on Alajuelense in the CONCACAF Champions League on Thursday night in the first-leg of their quarterfinal clash.

DC will have watched the Montreal Impact (the only other remaining MLS side in the competition) earn a valuable draw in Mexico against Pachuca on Tuesday night and will be hoping for a similar result at what will be a hostile environment in Alajuela.

The Black and Red were highly impressive in the group stages as they won all four games, conceding just one, and go into the tie as the number one seed in the Champions League. That means the 2014 Eastern Conference winners have been rewarded with a home tie for the second-leg.

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Alajuelense may be the lowest seeded side left in the tournament but they will fancy their chances and they have the advantage of having already played ten games in their domestic league this season.

They sit second in the Costa Rican Primera table after ten games but come into the game in poor form, having not won a game in three. They have lost two on the bounce in front of their own fans, including a 2-0 defeat to league leaders Saprissa on Sunday.

DC United may not have started the 2015 MLS season but have a 2-2-2 record through preseason and will hope that they do not show any signs of rustiness in Thursday’s key game.

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Remaining in the tie ahead of the return leg is crucial and DC are boosted by the fact that Alajuelense starting goalkeeper, Patrick Pemberton and defender Kevin Sancho are both suspended for the tie.

Fabian Espindola may be suspended for the start of the MLS regular season but he can play in the CONCACAF Champions League and will look to be the star man as DC United start their 2015 competitive schedule with a tricky fixture in Costa Rica before next Wednesday’s return leg.

Alajuelense’s form in the CCL: D/W/D/D

DC United’s form in the CCL: W/W/W/W

Key Stat: Keeping it tight – Alajuelense scored just one goal in all four of their group stage games but remained unbeaten.

Key Player: Fabian Espindola – Knowing that he’ll be watching on from the sidelines for the start of the regular season, Espindola will want to make an impact here. He has already scored two goals in this year’s CCL.

Score Prediction: Alajuelense 1-1 DC United – This is likely to be a tight, close-fought game as both sides will want to remain in the fixture for the return leg. Alajuelense know the ownness is on them to attack but DC should be in good shape to earn an important draw.

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2014 MLS Season Review: DC United

Eastern Conference final position: 1st

Eastern Conference playoffs: Semi-Final

Best Moment

3-0 win against the reigning MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park in August, in which they were 3-0 up at halftime.

Worst Moment

Easily the recent 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in their Eastern Conference semi-final first-leg. DC failed to score and left themselves with just a little too much to do against their rivals.

Player of the Year

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Bill Hamid – it was tough to decide between him and Fabian Espindola. However, the DC keeper has more than earned this title. Superb all season and he looks set for a bright future with DC and the USMNT.

Biggest Win

DC United 4-1 FC Dallas (April 26 2014)

Biggest Defeat

LA Galaxy 4-1 DC United (August 28 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

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DC United‘s remarkable improvement from the 2013 season saw them cruise into the playoffs and that deserves great credit. They will expect to be challenging at the top of the Eastern Conference once again next season but need to play much the same style. They must follow up a solid season defensively and will look to add a few more goals to their tally. Eddie Johnson must start firing (if he remains in DC) if they are to challenge for the MLS Cup.

Playoff Preview and Prediction: D.C United vs New York Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls take a 2-0 lead to RFK Memorial Stadium on Saturday night in the second-leg of their Eastern Conference semi-final, and D.C United has it all to do to overturn the deficit.

Firstly, the home side have to make more scoring chances, as they looked like a defensive team in a training session during the second-half of the first-leg last week.

And more importantly they have to tighten up defensively. For both goals on Sunday night they were opened up by the formidable Red Bulls attack, as Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips were given too much time and space on many occasions.

Having enjoyed 53% of the possession, we were hoping there would be more life in United; with Fabian Espindola and Eddie Johnson nullified by the Red Bulls defense.

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D.C being at home in this game may sway the momentum and we may get a classic. However, it’s hard to see D.C shutting out the Red Bulls, and if that’s the case they will need at least four goals to progress. Though with a keeper of Bill Hamid’s quality, D.C always has a chance of keeping a clean sheet, and they did in this fixture twice in the regular season.

D.C’s home record: Played 17 – Won 11 – Drawn 4 – Lost 2

This one could go down to the wire, as both sides have been sublime as of late. But one of them has to exit the competition.

Their long-time rivalry means it could be an aggressive match and that will suit New York more than the hosts, as the Red Bulls know that they need to just remain tight and organised to keep the clock ticking.

New York’s away record: Played 17 – Won 3 – Drawn 7 – Lost 7

The Red Bulls are taking an impressive 1,000 fans to D.C for the away-leg and that support will be key, as we should see a fantastic atmosphere for the game.

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New York lost 1-0 and then 2-0 at D.C earlier in the regular season and the same result as the latter here would force the game to extra-time and potentially penalties, in what should be a drama-filled night regardless.

Key Stat: The first-leg saw D.C fail to score for the first time in an MLS Playoffs match since 2007.

Key Player: Fabian Espindola – The Red Bulls look favorites, but if D.C are going to progress, expect the former-Red Bull to be key.

D.C’s last five: D/W/W/D/L

New York’s last five: W/W/L/W/W

Prediction: D.C United 2 – 1 New York Red Bulls. Should be a tight contest, but New York to seal their place in the Eastern Conference final come the end of the game.

Playoff Preview and Prediction: New York Red Bulls vs DC United

DC United will start their playoff campaign on Sunday night when they travel to Red Bull Arena to take on the New York Red Bulls in the first-leg of their Eastern Conference semi-final.

The Red Bulls came through a tough game on Thursday as they came from behind late on to knockout reigning champions Sporting Kansas City 2-1.

DC come into the game fresh, so should have a fitness advantage over the Red Bulls. However, New York has sparked up a run of form, and looks tough to beat, whoever they face.

Eastern Conference top seed DC will have to keep the deadly Bradley Wright-Phillips quiet if they are to succeed and even if he isn’t productive, Thierry Henry knows how to find the net too.

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Wright-Phillips has hit his best at the perfect time of the season for New York, netting four times in his last two outings. While Henry has proved that he can still perform to his best at 37 years of age.

Home advantage will play a huge factor in the results of the playoff ties and we see no difference here, and the Red Bulls will want to build on their first ever home win in the playoffs with a second game in three days.

New York Red Bulls’ home form: Played 18 – Won 11 – Drawn 4 – Lost 3

The sides are meeting in the playoffs for the fifth time, and DC have come out on top in all four previous meetings, most recently at this stage in 2012.

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New York did beat the Washington-based club at home in the regular season, but lost twice on the road this year and this looks a tough one to call.

DC United’s away form: Played 17 – Won 6 – Drawn 4 – Lost 7

This should be a tight contest, and if DC can walk out of New York with a win, they will have one foot in the Eastern Conference Championship game. The Red Bulls cannot afford to lose this one.

Key Player: Bill Hamid – odd choice we know, but if D.C want to stay in this tie come the final whistle, Hamid is crucial in stopping this Red Bulls attack.

Key Stat: New York has scored at least one in their last seventeen games at home this season.

New York’s last five: W/W/L/W/W

DC’s last five: W/D/W/W/D

Prediction: New York Red Bulls 1 – 1 DC United

Preview: Houston Dynamo vs New England Revolution

The BBVA Compass Stadium will play host to the New England Revolution on Thursday night, as the Houston Dynamo will look to restore some pride after missing out on a playoff berth.

The Revolution are in second place in the Eastern Conference, tied with Sporting Kansas City on points, and will be looking to put some distance between themselves, SKC and the New York Red Bulls as they look to put pressure on DC United, who are six points better off with just two games to go.

New England come into the game having only lost one of their last ten in MLS. Whereas, Houston were on the wrong end of a 3-1 result as they lost at home to DC United for the first time, ending their playoff hopes for 2014.

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The Dynamo will be looking for a performance for the fans more than anything, knowing this will be the last home game this season, and so we’re hoping to see a fine show of character from Houston on Thursday night.

They will have to contain one of Major League Soccer’s newest stars and USMNT World Cup sensation, Jermaine Jones, though, though he is set to play in both the USA game on Tuesday as well as this clash on Thursday night, and may be fatigued with two games in such a short space of time.

Houston opened the season at home to the Revs, winning 4-0 on that occasion, and they would love to finish in similar style despite the disappointment at missing out on a place in the playoffs.

Key Player: Lee Nguyen – Nguyen is the Rev’s top scorer with 15 and that’s from midfield! Expect him to have a huge impact once more on the result on Thursday.

Key Stat: Houston has eleven wins this season and eight of them have come at home. Could their last home game be number 9?

Houston’s last five: D/W/L/W/L

New England’s last five: W/L/W/W/D

Prediction: Houston Dynamo 0 – 2 New England Revolution

Preview: D.C. United vs Houston Dynamo

Houston Dynamo travel to DC tonight hoping to continue a rich run of form against the Washington DC based club.

DC will be without the suspended Eddie Johnson who misses out through a retrospective ban for leaving his foot in on Troy Perkins when the Montreal Impact visited on Saturday night.

However, they still can call upon the talent of Fabian Espindola, who will have to improve his record of four goals in ten games tonight if DC has any chance of winning.

The Dynamo will be pleased with how their attack is shaping up, with the recent form of Mark Sherrod impressing, and the rookie has 2 goals in as many appearances. Will Bruin will play alongside Sherrod again and ex-Derby prospect Giles Barnes will be responsible for supplying the duo in the absence of Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia.

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(Photo: Mark Sherrod will hope to continue his fine run of performances of late)

It looks set to be an uphill battle for DC, however, having lost only one in their last six, form is certainly on the side of the Washington-based club.

The loss of Eddie Johnson will be huge, as ideally he would have freed up Espindola to roam. But with EJ missing, expect attentions to turn to Espindola, who will be tightly marked for most of the game.

Player to watch: Andrew Driver (Houston Dynamo)

English-born Driver is due a goal and it would be perfect timing for the ex-Hearts winger to score tonight. He was unlucky against the Galaxy as he saw an effort come off the post, and he will be hoping his luck changes tonight.

Key stat: Houston have won six out of the last seven meetings between the two.

Prediction: D.C United 0-1 Houston Dynamo – I expect a second clean sheet in a row for Tally Hall who has been impressive this season.