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Columbus Crew vs DC United Game Preview



The Managers: 

Columbus Crew - Wilfried Nancy

The French Head Coach is making a good case for being the best head coach in MLS. Entering his second season with Columbus, Wilfried Nancy joined the Crew on Dec. 6, 2022 replacing Caleb Porter, and has already helped guide the Crew to a MLS Cup Championship. 


Nancy came to Columbus after serving as the Head Coach for CF Montreal during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. In 2022, Nancy led Montreal to a club-best, regular-season record of 20-9-5. With 65 total points, Montreal finished second in the Eastern Conference and third overall in MLS, just two points shy of the Supporters’ Shield winners. Montreal’s 20 wins were second overall in the league, and his team finished in the top five for goals scored (63). Nancy would finish second in voting for the 2022 MLS Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year award, just behind Philadelphia Union’s Jim Curtain.


Nancy’s preferred style of play emphasizes ball retention and patient build-up. He looks for his team to control the game through short passes and positional play. He asks a lot of his players, and shows faith that they can deliver. If he stays in MLS, there is a good chance that Wilfried Nancy will be viewed as the greatest Head Coach in MLS history.



DC United - Troy Lesesne: 

The 40-year-old American Head Coach has stepped into his role with DC United, truly making the position his in a relatively short period of time. The United position is his first permanent position as an MLS head coach. His journey includes prior managerial experience with New Mexico United in the USL Championship, where he honed his coaching skills over three years. Lesesne then transitioned to the MLS, serving as an assistant manager with the New York Red Bulls before taking on the interim head coach role during most of the previous season after parting ways with Gerhard Struber.


Lesesne’s tactical approach and player-centric management style have swiftly resonated with DC United players and fans. His coaching philosophy is predicated on two key factors: strategic use of high-pressing intensity and quick turnovers leading to attacking intent.

Lesesne’s hallmark is a strategically applied high-pressing game. Drawing inspiration from the Red Bull philosophy, but not replicating it fully, he encourages his players to apply pressure on opponents at opportune times. DC United currently leads MLS in challenge intensity and passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA). Their pressing actions are concentrated in a narrow 4-1-3-2 shape, aiming to overload the midfield or force wide passes from the center-backs to the full-backs.

Lesesne also encourages his side to focus on regaining possession swiftly and launching attacks within seconds of losing the ball. Their 72 high regains this season have led to 31 dangerous recoveries, resulting in rapid shots after winning the ball. The goal is to play forward, create scoring opportunities, and keep the opposition on their toes. 


The first six games should have DC United fans anticipating an exciting era of fun soccer, fueled by pressing intensity and attacking flair under Troy Lesene.


Preview: 

Like last week’s game against CF Montreal, this week’s game is a battle of contrasting styles. Like Montreal, United’s opponent this Saturday, the Columbus Crew, focuses on possession and has a fluid midfield, while DC United aims for balance and relies on their goalkeeper and midfield prowess. The problem for fans of the Black & Red is that Columbus Crew are just a lot better than CF Montreal in playing with the ball.

For the Black & Red to stand a chance against the current MLS Cup winners, United will need to strike a balance between defense and attack. Goalkeeper Alex Bono will need another stand out game, and the midfield of Mateusz Klich and Matti Peltola will need to be able to disrupt the likes of Darlington Nagbe and Aidan Morris, who have been one of the best midfield partnerships in MLS the last two seasons.

The clash between these two teams at at Lower.com Field will be an intriguing battle and a real test for Troy Lesesne’s team.


Keys to the Match: 

Will Cucho Hernandez play? 

For the last week the overarching story about the Crew has been — what’s going on with Cucho Hernandez? 


The Crew’s star striker has been conspicuously absent from the team’s two most recent games. These included a road game against Nashville SC, and the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup quarter finals against Tigres UANL. While The situation has generated considerable buzz on social media, with supporters eagerly awaiting updates, the Crew's Head Coach Wilfried Nancy has been reluctant to go into detail about what was behind this absence. It is known that it was not injury related. Although Nancy has continually refused to disclose details, including the status of Hernandez's availability for the Crew's home game against DC United on Saturday, he did say on Thursday that the situation is “not about Cucho”, but rather the big picture.


While not confirmed, Nancy seems optimistic that Camacho will return to the Crew’s starting lineup when they take on the Black & Red. Hernandez has scored the four of the Crew's nine goals in the first six matches of the season, so having him back and motivated could spell trouble for United. 



Can DC handle the Crew’s possession based style? The Crew enters this weekend’s game in good early-season form with a 3-2-1 record, demonstrating that they are again one of the elite teams in MLS. The Black and Yellow will look to keep control of the ball through short passes, and ball retention via the dribbling prowess of players like Darlington Nagbe. Under the tutelage of Wilfried Nanc, the Crew have become the masters of patient build-up and positional play leading to real scoring chances. 


Against this, the Black & Red will look to employ an aggressive pressing strategy, with their forwards and midfielders relentlessly closing down Columbus’s players. Against Montreal this tactic was very successful as United denied their opponents time and space to build up any real rhythm of play. The pressing was particularly effective in the middle third of the pitch, disrupting Montreal’s passing lanes and forcing hurried decisions.


Darlington Nagbe, Aidan Morris, Yaw Yeboah, and Diego Rossi are much better than any combination of players CF Montreal could muster. If they are able to break the press, Diego Rossi, Jacen Russell-Rowe and especially Cucho Hernandez could have a field day with United’s defense and create too many opportunities for Bono to keep a clean sheet.



Things to Watch: 

Offense - Of course DC United’s attack utilizes vertical ball progression and takes advantage of the towering presence of Christian Benteke at the top of the formation. However the key to the black and red offensive success lies not at the top, but in the middle, in the name of Mateusz Klich. Klich’s contributions deserve more recognition in this league. His versatility stands out in Troy Lesesne’s game plans, where he operates as a hybrid between attacking midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder. 


Klich covers ground at a high rate, shoots on goal, and possesses leadership qualities that make him the on field leader in games.


His ability to push the ball forward plays well with Benteke, and his passing has made the Belgian Striker more goal dangerous. Klich’s time with Leeds has allowed him to quickly adapt to Troy Lesesne’s high-pressure tactics while maintaining comfort in possession that the new strategy calls for. His ability to create danger and guide teammates strategically has allowed his teammates to move fluidly around the field giving them more opportunities to play to their strengths.


This will be needed in Columbus. Klich’s ability to receive the ball from either the defense or Petola, and quickly move it forward will determine if United can give the Crew a game. DC’s press got most of the attention from last week’s match against CF Montreal, but an underreported portion of the game was the Black & Red’s quick movement of ball. Repeatedly United moved the ball with quick one touch passes that cut through Montreal’s defenders.


United was not able to make the final pass or score the opportunities created, but those chances were there. Columbus is one of the best teams in MLS, but they can be scored on. United can’t be as wasteful as they were last week if they want a chance.


The other aspect of the offense that will need to step up is the combination of Stroud and Herrera on the right. Their partnership has been an unexpected highlight of the season. The attack for DC has been heavily weighted to the right side of the pitch.


Aaron Herrera gives the team the ability to cross the ball from out wide, which allows Jerrod Stroud to cut in and press inside. When Stroud stays outside, Herrera can shift inside to clog the middle. 


With a team like the Crew, Herrera may have to play further back, but if he can move into the offense, Herrera gives United another player capable of passing the ball to Benteke’s head.



Defense - DC United’s  defense has been a huge upgrade this season from last. What is most remarkable is that it is made up of entirely new pieces. Only Goalkeeper Alex Bono is a locked-in starter who played defense at the end of the 2023 season. Head Coach Troy Lesesne has done an amazing job bringing in all these new players and mold them into a highly competitive defensive unit.


One of the more impressive signings has been Finland international midfielder Matti Peltola. Not only is Peltola new to the team, he’s new to MLS and the United States. Yet the 21-year-old Young DP has hit the ground running, and while not perfect really has made a huge impact for the Black & Red. Peltola is averaging a team-high 3.4 successful tackles per 90 minutes and is ranked first in MLS in tackles won with 16.

Playing as the deepest midfielder in a 4-3-3  or 4-1-2-3 this season, he’s been an excellent compliment for Mateusz Klich. Peltola covers a ton of ground and sweeps up in behind his more advanced midfield teammates. According to FBref, the young Finn is fourth in MLS in tackles plus interceptions, though he has played fewer minutes than the three ahead of him.


Against the Crew, Peltola’s dogged determination will desperately be needed. Darlington Nagbe and Aidan Morris are proven MLS stars who have dominated MLS in recent seasons, and have a history of carving up DC United. With the aggressive pressing that Peltola is becoming known for, he will need to relentlessly close down the Crew’s stellar midfield and disrupt their rhythm of play.


Another new player who has integrated well into DC United, and probably surprised many is Conner Antley. The seasoned defender has become a key player in the defense since joining DC United from the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the USL Championship. Having started the first four games on United’s bench, Antley has established himself as a starter in the backline the last two games.


Antley’s ability to play multiple positions in the defense has been invaluable for Troy Lesesne. Whether slotting in as a full-back or center-back, he adapts seamlessly to the needs of the situation. His versatility has allowed Lesesne to tweak formations both prior and in games without compromising the defensive solidity. This has made identifying what formation the Black & Red are playing at any given time very challenging. There are times when United are supposed to be in a 4-3-3, but really are in a 3-4-3. By shifting into more of a Center Back role, Antley allows Cristian Dajome and Aaron Herrera to play more advanced as Wingbacks.

Moving Conner Antley into the starting lineup has also allowed Pedro Santos to come off the bench. In the long run this is better for United as the 35 year old’s legs are saved, and he can make a difference off the bench. Santos showed the offensive spark he can provide against Montreal with his goal, but he can also add his deep line passing, which was demonstrated against Portland in the game tying goal.



By the Numbers:


Columbus Crew:

Columbus Crew are currently 3rd in the Eastern Conference, tied on 11 points 


Columbus Crew has 9 goals-for at 1.5 per match


Columbus Crew has conceded 6 goals  


Columbus Crew has a +3 goal differential


Columbus Crew are ranked 18th with 4.3 shots on target per match


Cucho Hernandez has 3 goals and 1 assist


Diego Rossi has zero goals, but 3 assists


Jacen Russell-Rowe has 2 goals 


Sean Zawadzki has 1 goal and 1 assist


DC United:

DC United are currently 8th in the Eastern Conference, tied on 9 points with 3 teams.


DC United has 9 goals-for at 1.5 per match


DC United has conceded 8 goals 


DC United has a +1 goal differential


DC United rank 6th in MLS with 5.5 shots on target per match


Christian Benteke has 4 goals and 1 assist 


Pedro Santos has 1 goal and 1 assist


Mateusz Klich has 1 goal


Ted Ku-DiPietro has 1 goal


Aaron Herrera has zero goals, but has 2 assists


Matti Peltola is averaging 3.4 successful tackles per 90 minutes and is ranked first in MLS in tackles won with 16

Alex Bono has 2 clean sheets and 24 saves on the season 




Predictions:

Richard - 3-1 Loss - The Black & Red break their streak of three straight draws, but unfortunately fall to the MLS Cup Champions.



Coverage: Apple TV Season Pass.

Pregame 7:15pm 

Kickoff: 7:30pm 


Listen on:

1190am, 101.1HD2, 104.7fm

iHeartSportsDC

Any Smart Speaker 

@iHeartRadio App


Written by: RJ Rolsen 













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