Revamped D.C. United, Orlando City square off in opener
After D.C. United and Orlando City finished with two of the poorest records in MLS last season, it was a foregone conclusion that the teams would undergo massive changes.
Some of the results of their respective rebuilding efforts will be on display Saturday night when the Lions play host to the United in the season opener for both sides.
With a record of 10-15-9, Orlando finished in 10th place in Eastern Conference in 2017. The only team that kept the Lions from occupying the basement was United, which went 9-20-5.
"Any time you're going into the first match, especially when it's against an opponent that has as many changes as they do, you're not going to be exactly sure what it's going to look like," Orlando City coach Jason Kreis said. "We have a pretty good idea of what they're trying to do, and the truth of the matter is this is a home game."
Orlando features 13 new players, including midfielder Justin Meram (career-high 13 goals with the Columbus Crew in 2017), forward Chris Mueller (sixth overall pick in the 2018 Superdraft from Wisconsin), and Brazilian forward Stefano Pinho (NASL Golden Boot winner in 2015 and 2017).
Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan is serving the first match of a two-game suspension. Orlando will also be without forward Dom Dwyer (quad), 2013 MLS Cup champion Oriol "Uri" Rosell (fitness), designated player Josue Colman (quad) and 2013 Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers (ankle).
Goalkeeper Joe Bendik, who led the league with 118 saves last season, is back for his third season with the Lions and seventh in MLS.
One of United's biggest changes is the addition of Argentine forward Yamil Asad, who had seven goals and 13 assists in 32 games with the expansion Atlanta United last year. No D.C. player scored more than five goals.
"This is a new personal challenge. I want to match what I did in Atlanta, or to do better if it is possible," Asad said in an interview published on the league's official website.
Also new to the club is Jamaican forward Darren Mattocks, a speedy forward who notched four goals in 24 games with the Portland Timbers last season.
After United recorded a minus-29 goal differential -- the worst in the league -- in 2017, the club has a competition for a new starting goalkeeper. With record-setting veteran Bill Hamid in Europe, United acquired David Ousted in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps in January to compete with Steve Clark.
Clark, 31 surrendered 11 goals in five starts with D.C. last season after being a three-year starter with the Columbus Crew. Ousted, a 33-year-old Dane, collected 55 wins in 142 starts in five seasons with the Whitecaps.
United coach Ben Olsen did not tip his hand as to who will start.
"David has really come on strong as of late," he told The Washington Post. " ... To Steve's credit, he's been staying at a very high level."
D.C. will be without Argentinean forward Luciano Acosta (suspension) and midfielder Russell Canouse and defender Taylor Kemp with injuries.
United is trying to avoid its fourth straight loss to the Lions.
"They've made a lot of changes in the offseason, not quite as many as us, but they've strengthened their squad, certainly," new Lions captain Jonathan Spector said. "They've got some good attacking options going forward. ... We know they'll be dangerous going forward, but we also know they can be vulnerable."
Updated March 1, 2018