D.C. United don’t always play the most visually-pleasing brand of soccer, but they have been able to get consistent results over the last two seasons. They have hit 50 points in each season while rolling through the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League twice. Their 2014-15 CCL run ended when they traveled to Costa Rica to face Alajuelense in the quarterfinals and left with a 5-2 loss.
Part of the problem against Alajuelense was the absence of star goalkeeper Bill Hamid, and he will be missing again as the 25-year-old underwent knee surgery in January. D.C. will be missing another cornerstone of their team over the past five years, as Perry Kitchen left the team during the offseason after his contract expired. The central midfielder had missed just 12 games over the past five seasons with United.
The rest of the starting lineup will closely resemble that of the 2015 version of the team with former LA Galaxy and Colorado Rapids midfielder Marcelo Sarvas or former right midfielder Nick DeLeon replacing Kitchen. Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe and Alvaro Saborio will be tasked with provide the attacking punch, but new addition Luciano Acosta could play himself right into the starting lineup.
- Steve Birnbaum – The third-year center back is coming off a stellar US national team camp, in which he scored the game-winning goal against Iceland. Birnbaum did have some struggles last season, briefly losing his starting job to Kofi Opare, but is expected to be the man beside Bobby Boswell as United get set to take on Queretaro. His ability in the air is a threat offensively and a big asset defensively.
- Fabian Espindola – Perhaps United’s most dangerous attacking player, Espindola was productive in 2015 but was only able to play 1,346 minutes. His year was hampered by suspensions and injuries, something he will not be dealing with heading into 2016. The 30-year-old also has plenty of CCL experience and was a key cog in Real Salt Lake’s run to the 2011 finals, scoring in the semifinals against Saprissa.
- Chris Rolfe – The 33-year-old attacker is coming off his most productive goalscoring season in MLS, ending the 2015 season with 10 goals. Capable of playing at forward or left midfielder, Rolfe is one of the most technical players in the United squad and is always a threat to get past a defender and fire a shot on frame.
Organization. That has been the key for United over the past couple of seasons as they have not always been always the most talented team on the field. That solidity has typically started with Hamid but with him absent, the pressure will fall on 30-year-old backup ‘keeper Andrew Dykstra. Dykstra had a rough outing against Alajuelense in last year's quarterfinal but has shown to be a capable MLS backup and will look to improve upon those performances against Queretaro.
Finnish international Markus Halsti and DeLeon will be called upon to do the job that Kitchen and Davy Arnaud have done in the past, which is no small task. Kitchen and Arnaud consistently outdueled three-man midfields and the team has struggled without them.
Most of the playmaking revolves around Espindola’s creativity but Acosta, and his Boca Juniors pedigree, could help out. Taylor Kemp and Sean Franklin will need to provide some attacking punch if United hope to keep pace with their Liga MX counterparts.
- GK: Andrew Dykstra
- RB: Sean Franklin
- CB: Bobby Boswell
- CB: Steve Birnbaum
- LB: Taylor Kemp
- RM: Patrick Nyarko
- CM: Markus Halsti
- CM: Nick DeLeon
- LM: Chris Rolfe
- F: Fabian Espindola
- F: Alvaro Saborio
United have captured a North American trophy in the past, winning the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup. They have had very little success since the inception of the Champions League in 2008-09.
D.C. United perhaps have the easiest opponent among their MLS counterparts, as they will take on Queretaro. The Liga MX currently sit in 12th in the Clausura after finishing 11th in the Apertura. Former Chivas USA defender Jonathan Bornstein regularly features at left back for the club, while Luis Gil transferred to the club from Real Salt Lake in the offseason.
Ben Olsen’s team does have continuity on their side, as most of their starting XI should be very familiar with each other, but they will be missing arguably their best player in Hamid. A struggle in Queretaro, which is about a mile above sea level, is a possibility and if that happens United may not have enough time to make up the deficit at home.