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DC United vs CF Montreal Game Preview




The Managers: 


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



Opponent -  Laurent Courtois

The 45-year-old Frenchman has taken the reins as the new head coach of CF Montreal. His appointment follows a successful stint with the Columbus Crew 2, where he was named the MLS Next Pro Coach of the Year in 2022 after leading the team to the league title. Courtois brings a wealth of coaching experience and a commitment to developing young talent.

Courtois’s coaching philosophy centers around communication and connection with players. He has earned a reputation as a “player’s coach”, emphasizing the importance of understanding and motivating his team. His approach extends from the developmental levels of the sport, where he crafted his coaching style.


There are two key factors that seem to define Courtois’s vision for taking CF Montreal, into the future, both of which he brings from his time at Columbus Crew 2. The first is a dynamic and attacking style on the field, similar to what former Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought to Montreal in 2022. He wants his players to be focused on playing forward and creating scoring opportunities. From the goalkeeper to the forwards, the focus is on a proactive, exciting brand of soccer. The second key factor is embracing the youth development potential of the Montreal area. Courtois has shown a commitment to playing young players, and developing homegrown talent. CF Montreal intends to build on the foundation laid by his predecessors, nurturing talent and integrating it into the first team. Courtois has been hired with the goal of creating a seamless pathway for youth players to thrive at the professional level.

Courtois is CF Montreal’s tenth head coach since it joined MLS in 2012, ownership hungry for success. His leadership, communication skills, and dedication to the beautiful game will be crucial in reviving the club’s desire to win both at home and on the road. CF Montreal fans can expect an exciting brand of soccer under his guidance.


Preview: 

This Saturday, Audi Field will witness an intriguing clash of exciting up and coming MLS teams as DC United squares off against CF Montreal. Both teams have a lot in common; Both missed the playoffs in the 2023 season. Of late, both teams have hovered near the bottom of the table, in or near the playoff line. Both have new Head Coaches who are introducing playing styles that have led to exciting matches early in this young season. Both see the other as competition for the coveted playoff spots.

Since Troy Lesesne’s arrival, the Black & Red has embraced a highly coordinated opportunistic pressing approach. Inspired by his time with New Mexico United and influenced by his time as an Assistant and Interim Head Coach with the New York Red Bulls, Lesesne’s side aims to apply pressure at just the right moment to stifle opponents control of the ball, force turnovers, and launch quick counter attacks. Expect intense pressure from the Black & Red, especially in advanced areas after a United turnover. Unlike the Energy Drink brand of Soccer, DC will try to keep the ball, and advance it through quick accurate passing.


CF Montreal will attempt to mirror this style of play as Courtois has brought a possession-oriented philosophy to his new team. His preferred formation is 3-4-2-1 while Lesesne’s formation of choice has been 4-2-3-1. Both teams will emphasize ball circulation, creativity, and patient buildup. Expect Montreal to involve every player, including their goalkeeper, in building up play and creating partnerships to take the ball forward into the final third.

Both teams have used a narrow setup aimed at overloading the central areas of the field, allowing quick ball circulation and intricate passing sequences, though both teams are not adverse to kicking the ball wide on the attack to take advantage of space. United used this to great effect against St. Louis CITY.


This clash of promising new MLS Head Coaches will be a battle of similar styles that are applied differently. United’s opportunistic pressing and Montreal’s possession-based creativity. Whether it’s turnovers or intricate passes, anticipate drama and excitement coming out of Audi Field Saturday night.



Keys to the Match: 


Can DC get Lesesne his first win on the sideline? The Black & Red have only one win on the season, and Troy Lesene was not on the sideline for that match, having to serve a one game ban for a red card picked up while he was the Interim Head Coach of the New York Red Bulls. Since that opening win, save for the beat down administered by Inter Miami, United have been in every match, and played some exciting ball, but have only managed to earn draws. Granted, those draws were on the road, and with a roster missing a number of key players, so these were the type of draws that feel like wins.


With the roster back to relative fitness, and all players returned from International duty, Lesesne has his most complete team going into a match since the opening night. With a full complement of players, and a handful of games in Lesene’s new soccer system for the team to feel more comfortable with each other, Head Coach   


Can DC United make the most of their chances against CF Montreal? CF Montreal have been a pleasant surprise under new Head Coach ost to Chicago Fire 4-3 on the road in its last game on March 16, while being outshot twenty-four to eight. This shows that opportunities will be there for United. Unfortunately, one of the issues United has had in the early portion of this season is not taking advantage of the opportunities they have created. It’s important for United to make the most of their chances as CF Montreal will make United pay if they don’t.


Can Mateusz Klich continue to command the midfield? The Polish Center Midfielder has been a dynamic playmaker for United, and has been a pivotal force in their playing style under the guidance of Troy Lesesne. Klich tirelessly works to make himself available during transitions which is perfect for the new system. Whether it's off of a turnover or in build-up from the back, Klich positions himself to receive the ball. He will often begin deep in the defensive half, dropping back to receive the ball from the Center-Backs or Full-Backs, acting as a nexus between defense and offense. 

His quick decision-making has stood out this season. Upon receiving the ball, he frequently plays it first-time to another player which often creates space in midfield. His movement is fluid, drawing in opponents, allowing his teammates to find pockets of space. If unmarked, he turns and progresses the ball forward himself. United will need Klich to break lines with his passes, bypassing CF Montreal when they try to press. Klich’s ability to get the ball and transition seamlessly into the attack may be the biggest key for United to win. 


Troy finally has a bench. United actually has a full bench to call upon now, even Mo Jeahze is available, having played a few minutes at the end of last week’s game against St. Louis..


Pedro Santos will be back after serving a red card suspension and Aaron Herrera has returned from international duty. Both will provide improved defense and the ability to initiate the attack from the wings. Conner Antley will go back to the bench and provide depth at both the Fullback positions and the Defensive Center Midfielder position. Cristian Dajome has shown that he can fill in as a Leftwing Back, but will most likely be used as an attacking sub along with Martin Rodriguez.

Matti Peltola is also back from playing with his National Team and should partner with Mateusz Klich to control the midfield. This will allow Jackson Hopkins to come off the bench with Kristian Fletcher, who will provide DC with the ability to sub either Ted Ku-DiPietro or Gabriel Pirani late in the game, where their energy and enthusiasm can discombobulate tired defenses. Look for Matai Akinmboni Is back to provide backup for the Center-Backs.


Can Gabriel Pirani make more of an impact? The young Brazilian attacking midfielder has shown promise and potential in the past, but has been largely pedestrian so far this season. He possesses good vision, ball control, and passing accuracy in spurts, but hasn’t shown any consistently. He also needs to improve his decision making.


In Troy Lesesne’s system, Pirani could enhance his performance by putting more into the defensive half.  If he can track back better he would add value to United, as his ability to advance the ball and break lines with his passing and dribbling would help control the ball and advance into attack.


Gabriel Pirani has the raw talent to impact the game against CF Montreal, but he has to improve his off-ball movement, get himself into position to receive the ball and make quicker decisions, to help keep the ball moving.




Things to Watch: 


Offense - The DC United’s Troy Lesesne encourages vertical ball progression in the attack, seeking to take advantage of having the towering presence of Christian Benteke in the front line. Both Christian Benteke and Ted Ku-DiPietro have shown the ability to exploit gaps in their opponent’s defensive shape. Benteke and KDP can be the perfect partners up top if they stay healthy. Ted Ku-DiPietro plays off Benteke’s holdup play perfectly, making runs and pulling defenders. Because of this Benteke will have more space which will allow him to really show his dribbling and passing ability. 


Similarly Mateusz Klich and Matti Peltola are proving to be an excellent pairing in the midfield. Klich and Peltola don’t need to score, but rather are masters at getting the ball from the opponent and making smart passes to teammates.  Both have shown strong defensive play off the press. Once they win the ball, both look to create scoring opportunities within seconds.


The base formation for DC is basically a 4-2-3-1, but often plays more like a 4-1-4-1, with  Peltola the lone pivot deep, and the rest pushing forward to play off of Benteke. This allows players to move fluidly around the field. You will see Pirani out wide on the left, pass quickly to Klich who will lead Stroud on the right, who will attack space and hit a long diagonal pass to Benteke in the middle. The next time you might see Peltola receiving a pass from McVey in the middle, play a one time to  Herrera on the right who slides it to Ted KDP on the left. Throughout this offensive play there is a progressive movement of both ball and players that looks to unbalance the opposing team.


Aaron Herrera gives the team another maestro with the ball, and both he and Pedro Santos provide dangerous passing which should give Benteke and Ted KDP more service in dangerous positions.


Off the bench will be Kristin Fletcher and Jackson Hopkins, who have shown they can give a boost of octane to the offense in the final moments. Expect Cristian Dájome to continue to be the Jack-of-all-trades for Lesesne. He can come in for either offense or defense. Martín Rodriguez, and Jacob Murrell have also played in recent games, but have yet to provide much contribution.


Defense - DC United leads MLS in challenge intensity and PPDA (passes per defensive action) with their dynamic pressing style of play. Their defense starts when the Black & Red lose the ball. United will swarm their opponents off of a turnover, aiming to regain possession swiftly. While doing this United will have to handle CF Montreal’s controlled play, which will see Montreal’s players moving without the ball to exploit space, and receive quick short passes that will look to pull United’s players out of position. 


When not pressing, the Black & Red will setup a midline block, In their more standard defensive shape the team relies on steady play of Alex Bono. The man with the mustache continues to make the case he’s the team’s number one goalkeeper. Bono continues to demonstrate a steady hand and an awareness to be in the right spot to make quick reaction saves. Bono continues to be calm and collected and always a vocal leader of the defense. 


The new Center-Backs have shown well in their games. Both Lucas Bartlett and Christopher McVey have grown in their partnerships, with their strengths complimenting the others. Both have handled the challenges of their opponents, even that by Inter Miami, though Luis Suarez did make them look a bit foolish.

 

Aaron Herrera returns, which can only be a good thing as he has been the team’s MVP. He sets the tone both on defense, and in pushing the ball forward into the attack. His partner on the left, Pedro Santos is also back from his suspension. He has all the tools to be a good defender when the team is back, and has the passing ability to play long passes into United’s offense. It’s just there are those times where Pedro Santos is found out. He doesn’t handle speedy attackers in a lot of space. 


Central Defensive Midfielder Matti Peltola has shown he could easily be the team’s MVP. The young DP may never get the accolades that other young players get, but that is only because he’s primarily a defensive player. In both games Peltola has shown he is worthy of being a young Designated Player. In all but the Miami game, Peltola has demonstrated great awareness of where to be on the field to be able to intercept passes and stop opponents trying to dribble through the middle of the field. This will be a necessity when playing Montreal. Both Peltola and Mateusz Klich will have their hands full in middle of the field as Samuel Piette, Mathieu Choiniare, and Bryce Duke will constantly try to start the attack from the center.



By the Numbers:


DC United are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference, tied on 6 points with 4 teams.


DC United is tied with 6 teams with 8 goals, 1.6 per match.


DC United is tied with 6 teams who have conceded 8 goals 


DC United has a Zero goal differential.


Benteke leads DC United with 4 goals


Mateusz Klich has 1 goal


Theodore Ku-DiPietro has 1 goal


Aaron Herrera has zero goals, but has 2 assists.


CF Montreal sit 6th in the Eastern Conference table


Montreal’ has scored 8 goals in 4 games.


Montreal has surrendered 7 goals in 4 games..


At +1 for the season, Montreal ranks 12th in MLS in goal differential


Montreal’s Coccaro has 3 goals and 1 assist.


Josef Martinez has 1 goal and 2 assists.


Jules-Anthony Vilsaint has scored 1 goal.


Predictions:


2-0 victory over Montreal’. The Black & Red have started to play with confidence and fun. The team is relatively healthy so now is the time for DC to play on its front-foot and put a stamp on the season by beating a team that’s a peer.


Written by: RJ Rolsen 









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