Thursday MLS primer: Can DC United, Portland Timbers regain their form?

Wayne Rooney – DC United – controls ball

Between a four-match Wednesday night slate and El Trafico on Friday sits a sumptuous double-header Thursday on ESPN. 

Here's a quick primer for Thursday night's matches:

FC Cincinnati vs. D.C. United | 8 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2

D.C. United have one win in their last nine MLS games, yet are still second in the Eastern Conference standings. Is that more a reflection of an egalitarian East or a nod to D.C.'s strong early-season work? As often is the case, probably a little bit of both. 

The Philadelphia Union have failed to pull away atop the conference, while New York City FC, Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls have all had their moments of form. None, however, have done enough to overcome slow starts to grip the top of the East. D.C. are still one of five or six teams that can realistically hold the No. 1 spot heading into the playoffs, and with it, a bye through the first round.

At some point, they've got to find their early-season form or it won't matter what seed they enter the playoffs as. Will that come with time? Is a resolution to Luciano Acosta's contract situation near? Was looking better over the final 45 minutes last week against the New England Revolution a blip or a trend? 

If nothing else, watching a match at Nippert Stadium on national TV is a reason to be interested. Plus, FC Cincinnati are on a two-game winning streak! 

Thursday MLS primer: Can DC United, Portland Timbers regain their form? -

Diego Valeri steps up to a penalty-kick attempt | USA Today Sports

Portland Timbers vs. Orlando City | 10 pm ET | ESPN, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada

Portland Timbers head coach Gio Savarese has done well with keeping players fresh amid this thick run of games. Once he chose to rest, essentially, his entire starting XI, while other times he has sat Diego Valeri here and Brian Fernandez there. 

Given the club's relative depth and the flexibility that his best attackers give him – Jeremy Ebobisse can play on the wing or as a lone striker, while Sebastian Blanco can fit almost anywhere in midfielder or out wide – those decisions are a tad easier to make. Sometimes, results won't fall, like last weekend's 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids. The Timbers played much of the second half down a man after Julio Cascante's red card. 

Will we see all of Fernandez, Valeri, Blanco, Ebobisse and Diego Chara? Or will one be rested against Orlando City? Dropping points at home twice in a row against a team below the Western Conference playoff line might also coincide with Savarese pulling back on rotation.