DC United vs Charlotte FC Game Preview
Starters: (3-5-2) - Tyler Miller, Victor Pálsson, Steve Birnbaum, Donovan Pines, Andy Najar, Pedro Santos, Russell Canouse, Lewis O’Brien, Mateusz Klich, Christian Benteke, Taxi Fuentas
Subs: Alex Bono, Matai Akinmboni, Derrick Williams, Jacob Greene, Jackson Hopkins, Yamil Asad, Chris Durkin, Ted Ku-DiPietro, Kristian Fletcher
Captain: Steve Birnbaum
Martin Rodriguez (knee)
Brendan Hines-Ike (foot)
Nigel Robertha (ankle)
Starters: (4-5-1) - George Marks, Nathan William Byrne, Adilson Malanda, Hamady Diop, Harrison Afful, Jaylin Lindsey, Derrick Jones, Karol Swiderski, Brandt Bronico, Kerwin Vargas, Enzo Copetti
Subs: Sisniega, Jan Sobociski, Brandon Cambridge, Ben Bender, Andrew Privett, Chris Hegardt, Orrin Gaines II, Justin Meram
Captain: Brandt Bronico
DC United Head Coach Wayne Rooney has definitely improved the play on the field, but has not been able to fully train out the occasional lack of focus, and the team has conceded goals due to individual mistakes. He continues to promote the idea of playing with courage and on the front foot, and that has begun to pay dividends in the scoring department. This has allowed Rooney’s team to seek a fourth straight win across all competitions.
Charlotte FC made Christian Lattanzio their permanent Head Coach after he stepped in as Interim Head Coach last season and guided the expansion team to a respectable 13 wins, 18 losses and 3 draws, for a very respectable 42 points, and 9th in East. This resulted in Charlotte just missing out on the playoffs, but would be good enough this season.
Lattanzio has been an assistant coach for the Manchester City youth team, and then an assistant coach under Patrick Vieira at New York City FC, and OGC Nice. He has also worked with fellow Italian coaches, Fabio Capello.
Last season Lattanzio became the interim coach for Charlotte FC, after their original Head Coach, Miguel Ángel Ramírez, was fired due to a disastrous start to the season. Upon taking the reins of the team, Lattanzio set about improving the defensive structure for The Crown, and was able to infuse more confidence in the team’s attack. He looks for his team to play with a fluid style in what is often a front four attack.
This season he has developed what can be an exciting, but at the same time, complex tactical approach based heavily on fluid positional versatility while dominating possession. Charlotte FC are often described as setting up in a 4-3-3, but could also be seen as a 4-5-1 as player positions are more flexible. On defense it often transitions into a 3-2-2-3 with inverted full-backs underlapping to become auxiliary central midfielders to clog the middle. There was concern his strategy was over-complicating at the beginning of the season, but with time has come familiarity and some tweaks by the Head Coach, and results have begun to emerge. He will be challenged this week with a lineup decimated by injuries, though, so more tweaks might be needed.
Keys to the Match:
Can an improving DC United find a result against an improved Charlotte FC? Charlotte FC started the season on a sour note, playing like one of the worst teams in the league. They lost their first three matches before picking up a draw. Since then though they have not lost, and now have two wins and four draws to go with their opening three losses. Last week was the most impressive as they played what might have been their most tenacious defense of the season, and were able to stun the Crew with a first time strike from the team’s best player Karol Świderski.
DC also had an early season dry patch, but have now won two in a row in league play and won their Open Cup match this past Wednesday. Last Saturday away at Orlando City, United showed real offensive chops, putting three past the Goalkeeper and comfortably winning 3-1; but what was most impressive was the control DC had of the ball, often keeping it away from Orlando with quick sharp passing. As this team grows in familiarity, you see the confidence continuing to grow.
Can DC United take advantage of a depleted Charlotte FC? This will be only the third meeting between the two sides in the regular season. Each team won their respective home game 3-0 last year. Last Saturday the teams might have been more evenly matched, but last Saturday’s game and the US Open Cup match saw Charlotte pick up a couple knocks to key players. This includes Karol Świderski, who had scored two goals and assisted on another through the three matches.
Can DC United’s Defense make Audi Field a fortress? After winning the season opener, DC has not had much luck at home. Currently they are tied for the worst home record in the division. This is a match where United can turn things around in front of their supporters, by showing the tenacity and coordination on defense that the team has been displaying the last few weeks. This will be important if the Black & Red are to build upon a decent turn of form the last two weeks.
Victor Pálsson will most likely again start as a third Center Back, which has been a great use of his abilities, as he is a strong one-on-one defender and very confident in his ability to play long passes up to teammates in the attack. His insertion into the back line has seen improvement in Donovan Pines and Steve Birnbaum.
Can DC exploit the space on the wings? When The Crown transitions into a 3-2-2-3, with their inverted full-backs playing as extra central midfielders the Black and Red will have a hard time playing through the middle of the field, it will be imperative for Andy Najar and Pedro Santos to be able to bring the ball up the wings. Lattanzio encourages his wingers to push up against opposing full backs, so there will be space on the sidelines for the ball to be advanced.
Mateusz Klich and Lewis O’Brian as the team’s two Eights will continue to advance the ball, and will create opportunities for DC players, but also you will see them press the Crown’s midfielders with the support of Russell Canouse. While Rooney doesn’t press with the same intensity or as much as Hernan Losada, he does utilize it strategically to catch opponents unaware and launch a quick counterattack up the sides.
Chris Durkin is currently coming off the bench, but he has not lost any of his intensity or work rate when he does play. Expect him to press the ball and make long passes to DC players running up the wings.
DC is finally getting healthy. United actually has a full bench to call upon now. Mo Jeahze is suspended, Ruan picked up a slight knock in the Cup match, and Brendan Hines-Ike and Nigel Robertha are still a few weeks away, but other than that the rest of the team is available.
Pedro Santos and Andy Najar will provide both defense and attack from the wings, Russell Canouse and Lewis O’Brian are most likely the starting midfielders with Durkin and Asad off the bench to provide DC with the ability to either protect a lead or chase the game. Ted Ku-DiPietro, Jackson Hopkins and Kristian Fletcher will all be available for late in the game, where their energy and enthusiasm can discombobulate tired defenses.
Look for Jacob Greene to provide backup for Andy Najar, and Matai Akinmboni or Derrick Willams to be available for any of the Center Backs or Pedro Santos.
Will we see newly acquired forward Cristian Dájome? On the last day of the Primary Transfer Window, the Black & Red acquired forward Cristian Dájome from Vancouver Whitecaps FC. This acquisition has garnered mixed reviews, but it does give DC another attacking player. He is a dynamic player who can play multiple positions and is known for his transitional speed. With Ruan on one side and Dájome on the other, Dc can pin defenders back with speed.
During his time in Vancouver, Dájome scored 17 goals and recorded 12 assists across 103 appearances, not amazing numbers, but definitely show’s ability to score. With less expectations and demands placed on him, Dájome could see his opportunities increase as defenders have to focus on Benteke and Taxi.
Now the question is, how soon can Dájome get his visa sorted so he can play.
Will newly acquired forward Erik Hurtado be on the bench? It had been reported but not confirmed that the Black & Red had acquired MLS veteran forward Erik Hurtado from San Antonio FC.
Now it's been confirmed that United has picked up the Center Forward from USL Championship side San Antonio FC for a $10,000 transfer fee.
Hurtado, 32, is an experienced MLS forward who provides important depth behind Christian Benteke. Hurtado spent 10 seasons in MLS after initially being selected No. 5 (first round) in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. He’s scored 22 goals and contributed 11 assists across 154 regular-season games (64 starts) combined at Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Sporting Kansas City, CF Montréal and Columbus Crew.
He has joined the Black & Red through the 2023 MLS season with an option in 2024. Unlike Dájome, there's no visa issue, so Hurtado could be available tonight.
Things to Watch:
Offense - The DC United offense has started to click more and more with the three goals last week as explicit proof. Christian Benteke and Taxi Fuentas both scored for the first time this season, and are proving to be the perfect partners up top. Taxi plays off Benteke’s holdup play perfectly, making runs and pulling defenders. Because of this Benteke has seen more space which has allowed him to really show his dribbling and passing ability.
Similarly Mateusz Klich and Lewis O’Brien are proving to be an amazing pairing in the midfield. Klich and O’Brien don’t need to score, but rather are masters at getting the ball from the opponent and making smart passes to teammates.
The base formation for DC is a flat 3-5-2, which allows players to move fluidly around the field. You will see O’Brien on the left pick up a ball and hit a long diagonal pass to Taxi on the right, who will hit Klich in the middle. The next time you might see O’Brien receiving a pass from Najar on the right, play a one time to Benteke in the middle who slides it to Taxi on the left. There is a progressive movement of both ball and players that looks to unbalance the opposing team.
Off the bench will probably be Ted Ku-DiPietro who played the entire Cup match. He didn’t score on Wednesday, but he put himself in position. Expect him to give Taxi a rest if the team is winning, and Canouse if the team is chasing a goal. Yamil Asad is also expected off the bench. While his defense has vastly improved, he’s still a threat to score. Ted KDP’s and Asad’s energy and aggressive play make them perfect for coming off the bench.
Charlotte FC has let in the second-most away goals, so there is going to be opportunities for DC to score.
Defense - DC United have to handle the Crown’s dynamic attacking style of play, which will see players moving without the ball to exploit space, and get behind defenders for quick passes.
Because of this, I expect Wayne Rooney to continue to utilize a back three as it has proven to be the most defensively sound formation for this team; and quite frankly both Birnbaum and Pines have played better with Victor Pálsson’s leadership in the line. Derrick Williams is back, but expect him to be subbed in to ease him back into the lineup.
Ruan is questionable with an injury, so if he can’t go, expect Andy Najar to play Right Wingback, and push further up the field. He earned DC it’s penalty against Richmond with his deft footwork, expect to see him again pushing all the way into the Crown’s box.
With the unfortunate news about Mo Jeahze, Pedro Santos will get another start at Left Wingback. He acquitted himself quite nicely in Orlando, so this might actually be a step up. Santos has shown a real talent for beautifully timed slide tackles. Jacob Greene will be backup for both positions, and I expect him to get some playing time as both Santos and Najar have picked up knocks this season, so should see their minutes monitored.
Russell Canouse has been solid in the midfield, and Rooney has trusted him to the point that his name on the team sheet is almost in pen. Expect him to start again, especially as he didn’t have to play Wednesday, and Chris Durkin played the whole match. Durkin and Asad will most likely come off the bench in the second half as they have proven to be lock down defenders who can see out the match.
Tyler Miller has been strong in between the posts, and has grown in confidence as his defense has become more consistent. After watching Alex Bono have a great Cup match, expect Miller to step up his game. If he plays the way he has the last few weeks, he could very well earn his third clean sheet of the season.
By the Numbers:
D.C. United are currently 8th in the Eastern Conference, tied on points with 3 teams.
DC United’s 11 goals in 9 matches rank them 13th in MLS scoring
DC United have conceded 13 goals (1.4 per match) rank them 21st in MLS defense
DC United’s -2 goal differential makes the club No. 18 in MLS this season
DC United have taken 39 shots on goal, averaging 4.4 per game
DC United have taken 39 corner kicks, averaging 4.4 per game.
Christian Benteke has 4 goals (on 19 shots, 2.1 per game) tied for 9th in MLS.
DC United have 7 players with 1 goal apiece.
Mateusz Klich has 1 goal and 4 assists.
Charlotte FC has scored 10 goals (1.1 per match) in 9 games ranking 17th in MLS offense
Charlotte FC has surrendered 16 goals, ranking 27th in MLS defense
Charlotte FC ranks 25th in MLS in goal differential at -6 for the season,
Kamil Jozwiak has 2 goals and 2 assists for Charlotte FC.
Kerwin Vargas has 2 goals and 1 assist.
3-0 victory over the Crown. The Black & Red have started to play with confidence and fun. The team is relatively healthy and only a few starters had to play on Wednesday during the Cup match, while the youngsters got invaluable playing time. Now is the time for DC to play on its front-foot and put a stamp on the season.
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Written by: RJ Rolsen