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DC United vs Toronto FC Game Preview

The Managers: 

DC United - Troy Lesesne 

DC’s new Head Coach early on improved the play of the Black & Red on the field, and has improved the sense of camaraderie and teamwork, but now is dealing with a downturn in form and is going to need to prove his head coaching chops. It’s easy to look good when things are going well, but when the team is winless in four, it’s tougher.

In addition, United’s defense has been hit with injuries and suspensions. It will mean that United will have to utilize tactical changes and players stepping up out of position to cover for the absences.

Lesesne showed a lot of pragmatism against Inter Miami. Will he do a similar thing when facing a team as hot as Toronto?

Toronto FC - John Herdman

John Herdman, the former head coach of Canada’s men’s national team, has taken on the challenge revitalizing Toronto FC. His arrival has brought some excitement and hope to the club, as he aims to develop a new group and restore the team to its former recent glory.

Herdman’s coaching philosophy emphasizes a culture-driven approach. He believes that success stems from a strong foundation built within the changing room. Having led both the Canadian women’s and men’s teams to World Cup qualification, Herdman brings a wealth of experience and a track record of achievement.

His leadership style is characterized by “practicing what I preach.” Herdman not only imparts his coaching principles but also lives by them. He understands the importance of creating a self-driven culture, where players take ownership of their development and performance. This approach aligns well with Toronto FC’s aspirations to reach the next level.

The 48-year-old Englishman recognizes the immense opportunity at Toronto FC. He aims to reinvigorate the team, working closely with the staff and players to elevate their game. His biggest success so far has been getting the buy in of his Italian DO’s, who have begun to play to their potential. Herdman’s fresh perspective and energy has made him an ideal fit for the club, which has a rich heritage and a hunger for success.

In his new role, Herdman has faced the challenge of turning around Toronto FC’s fortunes. With his proven ability to build winning cultures, he is determined to bring the team back to prominence. Fans have been happy with the impact of his coaching style and Toronto FC’s resurgence under his guidance. 


DC United is hitting a really rough patch having failed to pick up points against two of the weakest teams in the East, and now are hosting one of the hottest teams currently in MLS. With seven victories and a tie in their last 11 matches across all competitions, Toronto FC are proving to be one of the biggest surprises this season. The Reds currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference, while DC has slid to tenth.

Toronto FC, was the worst team in MLS in 2023, and has undergone a remarkable turnaround under John Herdman. Their resurgence is largely due to a high-powered offense led by Federico Bernardeschi and Deandre Kerr, both of whom have five goals each. Not far behind are Jonathan Osorio and Lorenzo Insigne, each with four goals.

Toronto has also proven to be a strong defensive team. Their zero-zero draw at Philadelphia was their sixth clean sheet of the season.

United missed out on points in their recent games, have a huge challenge in Toronto FC, they will have to get back to playing fun exciting ball again to have a chance.

Keys to the Match: 

Can DC halt their slide? 

After two disappointing losses DC United faced must win games against two of the worst teams in the East. United was only able to get one draw. 

The Black & Red must improve their home form, if they are to make the playoffs. Teams like Toronto FC make this much harder.

A home victories against Toronto would not only stop the team’s slide, it would be against a direct rival for a playoff spot, and just be good for morale. It would also reward the team for their really strong play earlier in the season. 

It’s imperative that DC United must harness the power of their home ground and turn it into a fortress to achieve their postseason aspirations.


Can the defense improve? DC United’s defensive unit has been bad recently, conceding four goals in games against Red Bulls and Montreal, and gave up a late winner on the road against Inter Miami, and a game tying goal to Chicago. 

They are not helped by injuries and suspensions which have hit the team’s defensive players disproportionately.

DC has shown a vulnerability to quick counterattacks by opponents, especially when turning the ball over in the middle of the field. New York and Montreal were both able to push the ball upfield quickly, and keep United defenders on their heels.

Steve Birnbaum has started to play more and while his physicality and aerial ability can provide stability and help shore up the defense, he doesn’t provide much speed. If Birnbaum and Bartlett play together, does DC need to play a bit deeper? Understanding that neither Bartlett nor Birnbaum are very fast. Any improvement will most likely have to come from tweaks to tactics which help cover the vulnerabilities that the Black & Red have exhibited.

What defensive structure does DC utilize? 

DC United has not been good defensively up late outside of the near draw that DC was able to do against inter Miami and the wonder one they were able to hold onto against Chicago fire DC has been shipping goals.

Because of personnel available head coach, Troy Lesesne had started to utilize a three back system, but with suspension to the Cristian Dajome

 and Matti Peltola, plus injuries to Conor Antley and Christopher McVey, the Head Coach might need to rethink this tactical setup.

Should the team play a four back system, and have the Fullbacks play deeper, to cut down on the space behind them? Aaron Herrera has been an excellent addition for the team, both offensively and defensively, so having him stay deeper will hurt the team’s offense. With Dajome suspended, the team will have to utilize either Pedro Santos or Matai Akinmboni at Left Back. If the team goes with Santo, the team is probably going to attack more, while if it is Akinmboni, expect the team to play a hybrid three back/four back setup.

Things to Watch: 

Offense - DC Striker Christian Benteke is tied for second in league scoring with 13 goals, which accounts for more than half of D.C.'s 23 goals this season.DC United needs to develop other goal scorers. The team is at its best when it uses a dynamic pass and move as a cohesive approach to their offensive buildup. Quick and accurate passing from Klich, Herrera and Stroud, combined with intelligent movement from Benteke and Ku-DiPietro, gives the Black & Red their best scoring chances. 

This more multifaceted attack will not only benefit Benteke but also will make DC United a more potent offense if the rest of DC United players can be more efficient in their goal scoring.

Defense - With 29 goals against, DC United has the second worst defensive record in the East.  

Toronto will want to take advantage of this. The Red will rely on the team’s leading scorer Federico Bernardeschi to lead the line and challenge the makeshift defensive line that Troy Lesesne will be forced to play.

The Midfielders need to prioritize getting back into position more quickly when the team loses possession. Quick transition from attack to defense is crucial to prevent Bernardeschi and Jonathan Osorio from controlling the midfield. 

Unlike DC, Toronto has multiple goal scorers. Bernardeschi has led the way, but Toronto’s scoring has come from multiple players, so it’s impossible to focus just on a specific player.

One thing Lesesne wants his team to do is short accurate passes between United’s lines so his team can retain possession and quickly build the attacks from the back. Clearing the ball hastily has often lead to loss of possession and invite more pressure from the opposition. The Midfielders play an important role in this vital aspect of defense.

By improving their pressing, transition play, and communication between the lines, DC United’s defenders can reduce the pressure they face and enable the team to have better control over games. It’s not just about individual defending but also about working as a synchronized defensive unit to disrupt the opposition’s rhythm and create more opportunities to regain possession and launch fast attacks. These adjustments could be pivotal in improving DC United’s defensive performance and overall competitiveness.

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