Starter: Tyler Miller, Brendan Hines-Ike, Derrick Williams, Donovan Pines, Andy Najar, Chris Durkin, Mateusz Klich, Lewis O’Brien, Pedro Santos, Christian Benteke, Cristian Dájome
Subs: Alex Bono, Jacob Greene, Yamil Asad, Kristen Fletcher, Ruan, Eric Hurtado, Russell Canouse, Taxiarchis Fountas
Nigel Robertha (ankle)
Martin Rodriguez (knee)
Mohanad Jeahze (ankle)
Ted Ku-DiPietro (ankle)
Pedro Santos (thigh)
Steven Birnbaum (red card)
Starters: Roman Celentano, Alvas Powell, Ian Murphy, Nick Hagglund, Alvaro Barreal, Marco Angulo, Obinna Nwobodo, Santiago Arias, Luciano Acosta, Dominique Badji, Arquímides Ordóñez
Subs: Alec Kann, Isaiah Foster, Raymon Gaddis, Joey Akpunonu, Yuya Kubo, Malik Pinto, Bret Halsey, Gerardo Valenzuela, Stiven Jimenez
Sergio Santos (hamstring)
Brenner da Silva (ankle)
Nick Hagglund (hamstring)
DC United - Wayne Rooney
DC’s Gaffer has improved the play on the field, even as the results on the field have been less than satisfactory. He has improved the sense of camaraderie and teamwork, but it has been put to the test with this recent dip in form. Rooney’s preference is to promote the idea of his players playing with courage and on the front foot, yet at the same time patience and calmness on the ball, so they can maintain control of the game.
The other aspect of Rooney’s coaching style is to be pragmatic as a coach and shape his strategy around the strengths of his players, while putting in place tactics designed to mitigate their weaknesses. There are some obvious issues that have cropped up in this downturn in form, it will be a good test of Rooney’s managerial improvement to see how he handles it.
FC Cincinnati - Pat Noonan
The FC Cincinnati Head Coach has to be seen as one of the best up-and-coming American coaches. He been an Assistant Coach under two of the best in MLS history Bruce Arena and Jim Curtain before he became the Head Coach of FC Cincinnati.
Noonan utilizes a counterattack strategy based on strong defensive fundamentals, and constant pressure, very similar to New Jersey energy drink play. His team has become a strong defensive team with nine clean sheets in league play, and only allowed multiple goals in three matches. He has FC Cincinnati playing as the best team in MLS, and will be a huge test for United.
Keys to the Match:
MLS’s Hottest Team vs Not MLS’s Hottest Team
DC’s opponent, FC Cincinnati, is coming off a decisive 3-0 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday night. The team from Cincinnati has only dropped eleven points all season. On the opposite side, DC has only picked up 9 points since United last played the Orange & Blue. It will take the grit, determination, and all players focused like they were in Philadelphia to get a result against Cincinnati.
Can they do it?
The short answer is yes. The team has shown a lot of improvement across the board this season. Players have upped their individual performance as the team has shown better coordination and consistency. Yet even as this team has been in a slump, they showed moments of potential. They need to reduce the individual mistakes, and make that final play in the final third to score.
Those mistakes had been fewer, but have popped back up these last few weeks. It should be remembered that while DC did lose to the Orange & Blue in Cincinnati, it went toe-to-toe with them, and only a crazy corner kick shot that deflected off a defender was the difference between a draw and the loss. At home United can play up to FC Cincinnati’s level.
How does United contain potential MLS MVP?
Former DC United attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta has scored in four consecutive MLS matches. He has eight goals since the beginning of May which is the second most scored in MLS behind only Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar who has ten. With the goal and assist he earned in Wednesday’s match against Toronto, Acosta became the eighth active MLS player with 50 goals and 50 assists. All this said, and considering the position of his team in the Supporter’s Shield race, Acosta has to be seen as a favorite for League MVP.
There are still a number of players on the United roster, including the Head Coach, that know just how good Lucho Acosta can be. He has definitely developed into the type of player who can take over a match. Even when he seems contained, one perfect pass can open an opportunity for one of his teammates, and then teams are playing catch-up. The Black & Red will need Acosta’s former teammate Russell Canouse to play at his best, and get under Acosta’s skin. For all his improvement, Lucho Acosta can still be a bit petulant when things don’t go his way.
Can DC score first?
FC Cincinnati has allowed the first goal in a game just once this season, April 15 at St. Loui, which is also the only match that Cincinnati lost. Meanwhile, every other team in MLS has conceded first in a league game at least five different times in 2023. If DC is to get the win in this match, they must mitigate the slow start and push for an early goal. FC Cincinnati want to press and counter attack, so if DC are pressing to score in the second half, they will be vulnerable. For the Black & Red to win, it would be helpful for DC to start on the front foot, and challenge a depleted Cincinnati back line.
Can DC defend the set piece?
FC Cincinnati’s has been very dangerous in the set piece. The first goal DC gave up was off a corner kick. This is an area DC should be strong in, but have shown vulnerability. In a game that could see few goals, just as in the first game in Cincinnati, it is important that DC not concede on a set piece.
Who will the Black & Red be playing?
FC Cincinnati have been forced to be flexible with its roster over its most recent stretch. In this game, defender Matt Miazga and forward Brandon Vazquez will play with the USMNT as they begin their 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup, they also have dealt with a number of injuries. Pat Noonan has done a masterful job of juggling playing time, and has used the team’s depth to great effect. He might or might not have a couple players back like Nick Hagglund. How much creativity he has to show in his lineup could go a long way to how well the Black & Red do.
At the same time, DC has also been juggling injuries and international call-ups. Both Taxi Fountas and Victor Pálsson will be back from international duty, while Andy Najar and Pedro Santos should be ready to play after coming back from injuries. The wings especially will be needed.
Things to Watch:
Offense - Christian Benteke and Taxi Fountas represent one of the more dynamic forward tandems in MLS so it will be good to have them playing together again. The attack will again go through Benteke, with Taxi, O’Brien and Klitch playing off of him.
With Cincinnati’s press, DC United will continue with an over-the-top attack strategy that takes advantage of Christian Benteke’s unique abilities; how well they do this will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. People have focused on United’s proclivity for the long ball, because it has been so effective for the team. Benteke leads the league in aerial duels won, and he might well be the most dominant physical presence in the league.
However, DC United can’t be overly reliant on that particular strategy. They will also need to move the ball quickly up the pitch with accurate passing to player’s feet. A big part of this is how well Andy Najar and Pedro Santos are able to play. When they are on, they help United to keep and advance the ball, which then opens the midfield for Mateusz Klich and Lewis O’Brien play. All four of these players have tremendous control, and the ability to dribble the ball forward.
It will be interesting if Ruan is again played more forward. Ruan as a wing forward, where his speed and ability to run at defenders is most useful, has been the most valuable for the Red & Black.
Cristian Dájome and Kristen Fletcher will most likely come off the bench, to give the team attacking speed.
Defense - The big question for the Black & Red is can United keep get their defensive form back? DC United has allowed multiple goals in several games since April, so there are definite areas for improvement.
Steve Birnbaum will be unavailable due to a red card in the last match. This might not be a detriment for the defense. Birnbaum has not looked in form since returning from injury. At the same time Hines-Ike has also not played up to his potential since returning from injury. The team defense should be improved with the return of Victor Pálsson and Donovan Pines. Both were instrumental in helping the team defend better earlier in the season. Derrick Williams has shown he is a better defender than Birnbaum this season, and is an upgrade in passing efficiency out of the back. With Pálsson and Williams, the team can play more long balls from the back, while Pines should make it difficult for teams to get in behind, as his long legs lead to deceptive speed.
If he’s healthy, will most likely get the start. Gaoussou Samaké was consistently targeted last week by Real Salt Lake, and was found wanting. Jacob Greene has also shown to be vulnerable as the season has progressed. If Santos can’t go the whole match, it could be that he platoons with Andy Najar. On the right side of the pitch Chris Durkin will most likely get the start. Durkin has proven to be both the most flexible player on the roster, and one of the best on ball defenders. His lack of pace can be a weakness, but Pálsson backing him up helps mitigate this, as well as the team's defensive shape.
The way DC United chooses to defend is to be very patient and maintain their positional shape. They will press, but at specific times, when the moment is right. That will be important as FC Cincinnati still has a host of dangerous players, Luciano Acosta first and foremost, but not the only one.
The United defense need to have a good match to return to their strong play. This is the type of match that can change a team’s narrative or reinforce the story that the pundits have been pushing. It will be interesting to see which way it goes.
By the Numbers:
DC United have scored 26 goals in 19 matches
DC United’s 26 goals conceded rank 18th in the league
DC United’s goal differential of zero is 13th in MLS
Christian Benteke has scored 8 goals (on 35 shots, 1.9 per game) and 1 assist.
Benteke leads MLS with 137 aerial duels won
Mateusz Klich has 2 goals and 4 assists
Taxi Fountas has scored 4 goals and 0 assists
Donovan Pines has 3 goals
Tyler Miller has kept 5 clean sheets
FC Cincinnati (13-1-4, 43 POINTS) is 1st in the Eastern Conference and 1st in the Supporter’s Shield race.
FC Cincinnati come to Audi Field with an undefeated streak of 14 matches across all competitions
FC Cincinnati rank 5th in MLS in goals scored with 30 goals
FC Cincinnati has surrendered 16 goals, 2nd in the league
FC Cincinnati has +2 goal differential this season, which ranks 9th in MLS
FC Cincinnati create an average of 2.4 chances per game and miss an average of 1.7 chances per game.
FC Cincinnati take an average of 11.6 shots per game and an average of 4. 8 shots on target per game.
FC Cincinnati take an average of 3.6 corners per game
FC Cincinnati’s Sergio Santos has 4 goals (12th in league) and one assist.
Luciano Acosta has 9 goals and 5 assists
Sergio Santos has 4 goals and 1 assist
Brandon Vazquez has 4 goals and 1 assist
Junior Moreno has provided 2 goals and 1 assist
Alvaro Barreal has 2 goals, and 3 assists
Roman Celentano has kept 5 clean sheets for the Orange & Blue
2-1 win over the MLS Leaders.The Black & Red’s losing streak comes to an end, and the team gets a much needed boost. This team is better than their record shows, but they need to play like it. If they can’t get up for the best team in MLS this season, then when will they.
Coverage: Apple MLS Season Pass on Apple TV (free)
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Written by: RJ Rolsen