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DC United vs Seattle Sounders 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. Now it needs to lead to more goals. United continue to lead the league in XG, but need to do better in scoring.


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. Last week Lesesne was not happy with the effort. He does not want the absence of certain players to be an excuse, and expects his players to continue to play as a team. It will be interesting how the Black & Red responds to his tough love.



Seattle Sounders - Brian Schmetzer 

The Sounder’s Head Coach has been one of the most successful American soccer coaches in recent years. Having been the head coach of the Seattle Sounders when they were in the United Soccer League’s First Division from 2002 to 2008. During this period, he led the team to USL-1 championships in 2005 and 2007, as well as Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal advancements in 2007 and 2008. 


Schmetzer returned as head coach of the Seattle Sounders FC in 2016. He has achieved remarkable success since, including winning the MLS Cup in 2016 and reaching the playoffs consistently. Schmetzer’s coaching style emphasizes teamwork, tactical awareness, and player development. 


Schmetzer is often described as a conservative manager. He doesn’t chase flashy tactics or radical changes. Instead, he relies on punctual adjustments based on the opposition. He’s not wed to a particular playing style, instead sets his teams up based on the strengths and weaknesses of his players. This pragmatic approach allows him to adapt to different teams while maintaining defensive solidity.


And defensive solidity is definitely something Schmetzer prioritizes. Since being hired as Head Coach, Schmetzer’s Sounders have been known for their strong defensive foundation. His teams are well-organized at the back, making it difficult for opponents to break through. By emphasizing defensive discipline, he frustrates opposing attacks and aims for clean sheets.


Schmetzer’s biggest strength is his deep understanding of the Seattle soccer personality which has allowed him to get the very best from his players and made the Sounders more than the sum of their parts.



Preview 


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and MLS scheduling, this will be the first meeting between the two cross-country clubs in almost five years. In that match, the Black & Red beat the Sounders 2-0 at Audi Field on Sept. 22, 2019.


Both teams are looking to bounce back from losses last weekend. Seattle Sounders fell to the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 behind second-half goals from Ryan Gauld and Brian White, while DC United lost to NYCFC with the same score line. 


Mateusz Klich and Aaron Herrera will be back each having served a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation, so United will have a stronger lineup than last week. Both provide experience, vision, and range of passing that makes the United offense go. Both will make the rest of the DC players, especially Benteke, more effective.


DC United is on a three-match winless skid, with the last two games being losses, Seattle is a vulnerable team that could be a make right, but only if the Black & Red stay focused and play to their strengths.


Keys to the Match: 


Can United put the ball in the net? 

United have the most Expected Goals (XG) in MLS at 18.45, according to American Soccer Analysis. The problem is Black & Red have been confounded

t in front of goal, however, having scored just 12 times. Only the San Jose Earthquakes are underperforming their GD-xGD worse than D.C. this season.


Seattle will be without first-choice defenders Alex Roldan and Jackson Ragen, who will be serving one-game suspensions for red cards shown in the loss to Vancouver. This loss could help United have more opportunities. 


With Mateusz Klich and Aaron Herrera back and Pedro Santos probably starting due to Conor Antley’s injury, United will have its three best players for serving Benteke in the box. This could provide more scoring opportunities than the team had against NYCFC.


Can United control the midfield?

Against NYCFC the Black & Red could not gain any semblance of control in the midfield. Both Jackson Hopkins and Matti Peltola have showed their upside this season, but are still in need of their on-field mentor in Mateusz Klich. With Klich there to provide his confidence and control, the younger midfielders have played with a sureness that helps them play more naturally. This in turn has helped DC to better control the midfield. Against the Sounders this will be important 


The Sounders got a boost last week with the return of central midfielder João Paulo, who made his first start of the season against the Whitecaps. The Brazilian had missed the opening month with a hip injury and was able to go 63 minutes as he works his way back to full fitness. Having João Paulo back in the lineup is a big plus for the Sounders. He and Christian Roldan will give the Sounders better control of the ball.


Does Pedro Santos or Matai Akinmboni start?

If Head Coach Troy Lesene chooses to play a back four, he will most likely start Pedro Santos as the Left Back. With Antley hurt, and Mo Jaehze locked away in a dog house, this will leave the Black & Red dangerously thin backing up the 36 year old Portuguese player. Santos always gives his best, but the longer he plays the more tired his legs, which leads to mistakes.


Lesene might decide to play a back three instead and give Matai Akinmboni another start. Matai had a rough start last week versus NYCFC, but grew into the game. Playing at home should also improve his confidence. If Matai Akinmboni gets the start, Cristian Dajome can play Wingback, which has been his best position. Dajome has been remarkably consistent in his defensive play, and has speed to push the ball forward. This would also allow Pedro Santos to come in as a sub, which is his better role with United.




Things to Watch: 


Offense - While the offense runs through Christian Benteke, it doesn’t run without Mateusz Klich and Aaron Herrera. Those two are needed to make the long and accurate passes that allow Benteke to link up with his teammates. Benteke gets the goals but Klich’s ability to provide the service is key to DC United’s attack this season. 


The loss of Ted Ku-DiPietro continues to affect United’s offensive dynamics. Outside of Benteke, no other player looks to take his shot more. Mateusz Klich may need to be more willing to play forward and take shots on goal. If he can utilize space that Benteke creates, there will be open looks. Then it’s just up to Klich to take his time and better place his shot.


With the return of Klich, there should also be better opportunities for Benteke to shoot on goal, as Klich is the best United passer. His ability to put the ball right where Benteke needs it, makes for a dangerous combination. It could also lead to chances for Pirani, as happened against Orlando. Pirani scored his first goal of the season, and had two additional good looks because Benteke was fed the ball in dangerous scoring situations. If Pirani can be a Fox-in-the-box, and pick up some goals, United’s offense could get back on track.


Look for the bulk of United’s attack to come from the right side of the field with Aaron Herrera back to team up with Jerrod Stroud. They have been a highly effective offensive partnership for the Black & Red. Both have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to cross the ball and provide scoring opportunities for teammates. If one goes inside, the other goes outside, and vice versa. This combination has allowed United to create overloads down the right side.


Off the bench, United will have its young guns Kristen Fletcher and Jacob Murrell. Both have shown that they have some of the smoother shots on the team, but need to play with more confidence.


Defense - Troy Lesesne will need to decide if he wants to play with a back four or a back three. A back three will allow Matai Akinmboni get another start, and allow Pedro Santos to come off the bench. This could give United more flexibility later in the match whether they are protecting the lead or chasing a goal.


Christian Dajome on the left side of the formation and Aaron Herrera on the right give United strong outlets for moving the ball forward. If pressed, both have shown to be strong defenders, and the team can play a back five if protecting a lead.


Whether Lesesne goes with Matti Peltola or  Jackson Hopkins to partner with Mateusz Klich at the start of the game, United will have a strong defensive pairing in front of the back line. Both have the exuberance of youth to run all over the field. While not ready to be a partnership together, they are both much better when paired with Klich. Hopkins has been getting the start, but don’t be surprised if Matti Peltola gets this start.



Predictions:


Richard - 2-1 DC. DC United need a bounce back after two disappointing performances. The Black & Red will work to exploit that the Sounders are down and have to travel across the country. If they can return to what they were doing in the first few weeks then they will be able to pick up their third win of the season.











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