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DC United vs Real Salt Lake Game Preview

DC United 

Starters: (3-5-2) - Tyler Miller, Derrick William, Steve Birnbaum, Brendan Hines-Ike, Chris Durkin, Gaoussou Samaké, Russell Canouse, Lewis O’Brien, Mateusz Klich, Cristian Dájome, Christian Benteke

Subs: Alex Bono, Donovan Pines, Jacob Greene, Ruan, Yamil Asad, Erik Hurtado, Pedro Santos

 Kristian Fletcher

Captain: Steve Birnbaum

Formation: (3-4-2-1)

Injury Report:


  • Martin Rodriguez (knee)

  • Theodore Ku-DiPietro (ankle)

  • Nigel Robertha (ankle)

  • Andy Najar (hamstring)

  • Mohanad Jeahze (thigh)

International Call ups

  • Taxi Fuentas 

  • Victor Pálsson

Real Salt Lake  

Starters: Zac MacMath, Bode Davis, Justen Glad,  Marcelo Silva, Andrew Brody, Damir Kreilach, Jasper Löffelsend, Pablo Ruiz, Diego Luna, Danny Musovski, Ilijah Paul

Subs: Gavin Beavers, Carlos Gomez, Maikel Chang Ramirez, Scott Caldwell, Emeka Eneli

Captain: Damir Kreilach

Formation: (4-2-2-2)

Injury Report:


  • Erik Lee Holt (injured), 

  • Zack Farnsworth (injured), 

  • Bryan Oviedo (injured)

  • Axel Kei

International Call ups

  • Jefferson Savarino

  • Anderson Julio

  • Rubio Rubin

  • Braian Ojeda

The Managers: 

DC United - Wayne Rooney 

The English Gaffer has continued to improve DC United’s play in all aspects on the field. Every player has demonstrated some improvement this year. At the same time he has built a sense of camaraderie and teamwork that hasn’t been seen in years. It’s not a finished product, as the team still makes untimely mistakes both in the offense and defense. Most look like they need to take time, playing together on the pitch.

Rooney has shown himself to be a pragmatic coach who continues to build his strategy around the strengths of his players, while putting in place tactics designed to mitigate their weaknesses. Rooney continues to preach the idea of playing with courage and on the front foot, yet at the same time patience and calmness on the ball when in the attack, so they can maintain control of the game. His team is playing better in defense and controlling the flow of the game. The next step is for the Black & Red to improve in the final third and create more scoring opportunities.

Opponent -  Pablo Mastroeni 

Mastroeni is an Argentinian born American soccer coach. A player in the early years of MLS, Mastroeni played for the Miami Fusion, and when that team was contracted he was selected by the Colorado Rapids to play in their defensive midfield.

Defensive Midfielder mindset has definitely influenced how Pablo Mastroeni wants his teams to play. Wherever Mastroeni has coached he has created a defensive based identity for his teams. A very detail oriented coach, he looks for all his players to know exactly where they should be and how to play a compact team defense. Highly organized lines working in synchronization is the most important factor to how Mastroeni wants his team to play.

It was this attention to detail that had the Real Salt Lake front office promote him from Assistant Coach to interim Head Coach upon Freddy Juarez's unexpected midseason departure. That season, utilizing his team’s defense, Mastroeni led RSL on an unlikely run to the Western Conference Finals via upsets of Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City. Famously the Claret and Cobalt beat Seattle while not recording a shot on goal for the entire 120 minutes.

As a reward for his team’s play Pablo Mastroeni was made full-time Head Coach. Since then RSL has continued to build a reputation of stifling defense, and this season is no exception. Real Salt Lake has kept four clean sheets over a recent stretch of games, although all of those were scoreless draws, which has been the biggest issue for RSL. As great as the Claret and Cobalt is in keeping the ball out of the net, the team is weak at scoring. 

DC United fans can expect a tough match against a very organized defense, and a low scoring result.

Keys to the Match: 

Can DC United bounce back from their trip to Atlanta? DC United lost its last game 3-1 against Atlanta United FC away from home. The match wasn’t as lopsided as the score, but it is again where the team couldn’t get a result despite playing well.

At home the Black & Red should be able to maintain control of the ball, as they have shown on numerous occasions with quick sharp passing. As DC United has grown in familiarity the team’s confidence continues to grow. The Claret and Cobalt will be no pushover as they are unbeaten in 12 of its last 14 with 7 wins and 5 draws, but are not a goal scoring threat. If United can control the ball and get Christian Benteke the ball in dangerous positions, the team should be able to get a result.

A tale of two depleted teams - Between injuries and International call ups, both teams will be digging deep into their benches. Both Taxi Fountas and Victor Pálsson are gone for international duty, while the Black & Red’s wingers are still decimated by injuries with Ruan, Mo Jaehze, and Andy Najar are all out with injuries. On the other side of the ball, RSL will be without Jefferson Savarino, Anderson Julio, Rubio Rubin, and Braian Ojeda which depletes their already depleted offense.

Being at home DC should be able to weather their absences with the players still available and could pick up three points against the Claret and Cobalt.

Who fills in for Taxi? Taxi Fountas actually looked really dangerous against Atlanta, putting a really dangerous shot on frame in the early moments of the game, and scored DC United’s lone goal to bring them even against Atlanta United FC. He has been selected to represent Greece in this international window. Usually Ted Ku-DiPietro would step in and has shown himself to be a good replacement. Unfortunately Ted KDP is sidelined by an ankle injury. This leaves a couple of candidates.

The most likely is Cristian Dájome, playing the second forward next to Benteke. His pace and attacking style could serve the Black & Red well. RSL will most likely play a very compact defense, so Dájome’s speed might not be a factor, in that case Yamil Asad might be a better option. Asad hasn’t shown his scoring touch, but he has shown he’s still capable of breaking down defenders with his dribbling. Kristen Fletcher seems less likely to start, but he is an option to come off the bench. His speed again could be mitigated by a low block, but brought on against tired legs might be the best use of his skills. One last option could be starting Erik Hurtado next to Benteke. A two striker option seems the least likely, but Rooney has shown a propensity to surprise lineups.

Can Tyler Miller be a goldfish? Against Atlanta, DC United’s shot stopper had his worst game since joining the Black & Red. He will need to be sharper this week. Their opponent, Real Salt Lake may have only drawn with New York City FC 0-0 at home, they did register 15 more shots than NYCFC. Taking a page from the coaching style of on Ted Lasso, Miller needs to be a goldfish and forget last week and continue to play as he has for 90% of the season. It’s unorthodox, and looks risky, so it often is disparaged by national pundits, but the benefits have far exceeded the risks. Hopefully Rooney keeps Miller’s chin up, and doesn’t deviate from this ambitious defensive strategy.

Can DC exploit the space on the wings?  When the Claret and Cobalt play they start in a compact defense and then transitions into a dangerous counterattack, with their inverted full-backs playing as extra central midfielders. The Black & Red will have a hard time playing through the middle of the field, even with Lewis O’Brien and Mateusz Klich working the ball. Not having Taxi and Ted KDP will make breaking down the Claret and Cobalt’s defense more challenging. It’s imperative for Chris Durkin and Pedro Santos to be able to bring the ball up the wings and deliver well placed crosses.  

Where Mateusz Klich and Lewis O’Brian may be the most dangerous is when they press RSL, and then see them advance up the wings quickly. Expect to see them press the Claret and Cobalt’s midfielders with the support of Russell Canouse. While Rooney doesn’t press with the same intensity or as much as teams like the Red Bulls and St. Louis City, he does utilize it strategically to catch opponents unaware and launch a quick counterattack up the sides. 

Things to Watch: 

Offense - The DC United offense has been hit or miss. Christian Benteke and Taxi Fuentas have been scoring for United, and are proving to be the perfect partners up top, but Taxi will not be available against RSL. Rooney will need to find a new partner capable of playing off Benteke’s holdup play and headed passes. While Real Salt Lake will make it difficult for the Black & Red to make runs and their discipline doesn’t allow for pulling defenders. This will make it tougher for Benteke to find space. It’s important for Mateusz Klich and Lewis O’Brien to pick up the ball in the midfield and breaking lines with a combination of dribbling and sharp passing. Both Klich and O’Brien need to score show their mastery of getting the ball off their opponent and making quick smart passes to teammates for transition offense. 

The base formation for DC is usually a flat 3-5-2, which allows players to move fluidly around the field, but with the absence of Taxi the team might change to a 3-6-1. No matter what, Benteke in the middle will be the key to breaking down the opposing team.

Defense - The defense of the Black & Red started out the season as United’s biggest question mark, and early in the season they let in a number of goals at one point leading the league in most goals allowed. Over the last two months, the defensive form for the team had been the foundation the team was built upon, yet they have been found out the last few games. Mistakes allowed Toronto, Montréal, and Atlanta to score multiple goals. The defenders have to keep their concentration throughout the whole 90 minutes.

It will start with the Goal Keeper, Tyler Miller, who plays the role of Keeper Sweeper in the most unique way. No other Keeper has made defensive plays at the midfield like Miller has. Rooney wants his Goal Keeper to cover the space behind the back line, which allows his three Center-Backs to push higher. Last week Georgios Giakoumakis was the first opponent to make Miller pay for playing Sweeper Keeper. Fortunately RSL doesn’t have a goal scorer of Giakoumaki’s caliber.

DC United’s Center-Backs are solid, however Victor Palsson will not be available due to an international call up. Most likely it will be Steve Birnbaum joining Derrick Williams and Donovan Pines.  All three are very capable of settling the ball and passing the ball into dangerous attacking positions, but are not the most fleet of feet. There is always the chance that Brendan Hines-Ike could replace Victor Palsson as he does offer more pace. With the Claret and Cobalt playing a very defensive strategy, United might not need the pace in their back line as much, but they will need to shut down the counter attack.

The two Wingbacks that Rooney uses have had to rotate due to the number of injuries the team suffered in that position, yet there’s been little drop off. Andy Najar will be out for the match due to a hamstring injury. Over a number of games, Durkin has proven to be a decent replacement for Najar, and so will most likely play Right Back against RSL. While not the amazing dribbler that Najar is, Durkin is a better defender, and provides better long passes.

Durkin will be able to play on the right because Russell Canouse will be back to play the six. Canouse has been the Black & Red’s most underrated player, and he along with Mateusz Klich and Lewis O’Brian have been able to shut down opponents in the middle. His absence coinciding with an uptick of goals given up is not a coincidence.

United’s defense has a great opportunity in this match to get a victory, but need to continue to play disciplined soccer.

Words from the Gaffer:

“We’re creating some really good chances and it’s been the story of the season really,” 

“It’s frustrating at times, but on the positive note of that, we are getting chances and that’s a positive. I’m just hoping we can start to put a few more of them away.”

By the Numbers:

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

DC United ranks 8th in MLS with 25 goals

DC United has surrendered 24 goals, 17th in the league 

DC United’s +1 goal differential makes the club No. 13 in MLS this season

Christian Benteke has 8 goals on 34 shots, 2.0 per game, and 1 assist for DC United.

Mateusz Klich has 2 goals and 4 assists.

Donovan Pines has 3 goals

Lewis O’Brien has 1 goal and 2 assists 

Real Salt Lake has scored 18 goals in 17 matches ranking 21st in MLS

Real Salt Lake ranks 22nd with 27 goals conceded

Savarino has 4 goals and 2 assists

Danny Musovski has 2 goals and 2 assists

Andres Gomez has 1 goal (on 17 shots, 1.1 per game) and 3 assists

Rubio Rubin has 2 goals (on 16 shots, 1.1 per game) and 1 assist


1-0 victory over the Claret and Cobalt. The Black & Red have been playing with confidence and should be up for this match. The team is depleted, but so is RSL. DC hasn’t been as consistent defensively, but RSL isn’t goal dangerous. Real Salt Lake will make it very difficult for United to score, but Benteke should be able to earn one goal, and Miller should have a bounce back game.

Coverage: Apple TV - Free

Pregame 7:15p 

Listen on…

📻: 1190am, 101.1HD2, 104.7fm

💻: iHeartSportsDC

🔊: Any Smart Speaker 

📱: @iHeartRadio App

Written by: RJ Rolsen 

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