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FC Cincinnati vs DC United Game Preview

Predicted Lineups: 

FC Cincinnati 

Potential Starters: (3-5-2) - Roman Celentano, Alvas Powell, Miles Robinson, Matt Miazga, Kipp Keller, Luca Orellano, Obinna Nwobodo, Pavel Bucha, Luciano Acosta; Corey Baird, Sergio Santos

Potential Subs: Evan Louro, DeAndre Yedlin, Bret Halsey, Ian Murphy, Malik Pinto, Gerardo Valenzuela, Yuya Kubo, Stiven Jimenez, Aaron Boupendza

Captain: Luciano Acosta

Injury Report:


  • Alec Khan (Hand)


  • Nick Hagglund

DC United 

Potential Starters: (4-1-2-1-2) - Alex Bono, Aaron Herrera, Lucas Bartlett, Christopher McVey, Jared Stroud, Pedro Santos, Matti Peltola, Mateusz Klich, Gabriel Pirani, Jackson Hopkins, Cristian Dájome

Potential Subs: Luis Zamudio, Matai Akinmboni, Garrison Tubbs, Conner Antley, Ted Ku-DiPietro, Martín Rodríguez, Kristian Fletcher, Jacob Murrell 

Captain: Pedro Santos

Injury Report:


  • Steven Birnbaum (left knee)

  • Mohanad Jeahze (thigh)

  • Tyler Miller (right shoulder)


  • Russell Canouse (right ankle)

  • Christian Benteke (groin)

The Managers: 

FC Cincinnati - Pat Noonan

The FC Cincinnati Head Coach is a former MLS player who played for the New England Revolution the Columbus Crew, the Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders. He ended his playing career with the LA Galaxy, and transitioned to being an Assistant Coach under Bruce Arena. Noonan had two coaching stints under current Arena, one the most successful and well-known soccer coach in U.S. history. The first ran from 2013-16 at LA Galaxy, and the second was with the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2017. After that Noonan moved to Philadelphia where he learned under Jim Curtain for three seasons before accepting the Head Coaching position with FC Cincinnati. He has steadily become one of the best young Head Coaches in the league, leading Cincinnati to the Supporters’ Shield just two years after earning their third straight Wooden Spoon

Noonan utilizes a counterattack strategy based on strong defensive fundamentals, and constant pressure, very similar to the tactics he learned under Jim Curtain. His team has become a strong defensive team with a clean sheet and only given up one penalty goal in league play..  

DC United - Troy Lesesne - The New DC United Head Coach made his debut on the sidelines against Portland after serving a one game ban. He was the interim Head Coach of the New York Red Bulls last season, and picked up an idea or two about how to implement the press. A young energetic Head Coach who helped to establish and led New Mexico United in the USL Championship. Between his time with Red Bulls and New Mexico United, Lesesne has used tactical ideas that are similar to Jim Curtin in Philadelphia and Pat Noonan in Cincinnati.


Two Eastern teams that had impressive games in their second week, face off against each other this weekend, when DC United visits TQL Stadium to take on the Orange and Blue of  FC Cincinnati. 

Last week FC Cincinnati dominated the Fire in Chicago, while DC United came back from two down to draw the Timbers 2-2 in Portland. Both teams showed a lot of their strengths, and are setting a tone early in this season.

In their opening game, FC Cincinnati only managed a scoreless draw against a surprising Toronto. However that result doesn’t look as bad after Toronto gone on to win their next two matches. Despite not scoring, the Orange and Blue created chances, and was the stronger team on the field.

The overarching narrative about FC Cincinnati at this time is their participation in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The Black & Red will again benefit from playing an opponent who played earlier in the week. In addition the Orange and Blue  play the second leg of the Champions Cup just four days after their game against United.

For DC, this will be the second of a two-game road trip, and an opportunity to continue to prove they are not the same team as last season who missed the playoffs.

Keys to the Match: 

Will Benteke play?

Christian Benteke can be a difference maker for DC United. An argument can be made that when he’s at full fitness, Benteke is the best pure Striker in MLS. It’s safe to say that DC United’s chances of winning are decidedly better if Christian Benteke is on the field, especially going up against FC Cincinnati’s back line which features reigning MLS Defensive Player of the Year, Matt Miazga, and USMNT regular, Miles Robinson. 

That said, players like Ted Ku-DiPietro, Mateusz Klich, and Aaron Herrera showed that the Black & Red will play a tenacious style of press, and quick counter attack that will give United opportunities to score. It’s not all is lost if Christian Benteke doesn’t play, it’s just not as easy.

Expect Benteke to start on the bench, and for him to play only if the game offers United a chance to nick a win at the end. Otherwise there is a good chance that Benteke will be saved for next week’s match against Inter Miami.

How rotated will the FC lineup be? 

Like in their opener against the Revolution, the Black & Red will be facing an opponent who is taking part in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. This means FC Cincinnati has already played five games compared to DC United’s two. FC Cincinnati played CF Monterrey of Liga MX on Thursday night at TQL Stadium in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions Cup Round of 16. These two sides will meet again in Monterrey next Thursday night in leg two at Estadio BBVA. They lost 0-1 to CF Monterrey, so the Queen City’s team is behind the eight ball, but not out of the competition, so there is a chance that FC Cincinnati will be more focused on next Thursday’s match in Mexico.

Because of the CCC competition, there’s a good chance that FC Cincinnati’s starting eleven will be heavily rotated, and the players who do play will most likely have their minutes managed. This is not to say that the players DC United will face are scrubs, the front office of FC Cincinnati have put together one of the deepest rosters in MLS, while Head Coach Pat Noonan is getting the most out of his players.

Does DC’s Midfield control the middle of the pitch ?

For DC United to be successful in southern Ohio, the team needs its midfield to come out with the same type of energy as they had in the first two games. The Black & Red will face a loud and raucous crowd of supporters as intense as Timber Nation was last week. At the same time DC will be playing against one of the league’s best midfields led by reigning MLS MVP Luciano Acosta. The Black & Red will need to weather the opening minutes of the game and have Mateusz Klich and Matti Peltola do what they have done so well in their first two games and take control of the center of the pitch. 

Matti Peltola has been everything United needs him to be in this young season. He has been quick to the ball, willing to put in a challenge, and able to spray the ball around the field with accurate passes, a perfect partner to Klich. At the same time Mateusz Klich has been the leader of the team on the field, setting the tone with both his intensity and his willingness to put in a challenge. Klich may be Polish, but he was born to play Concacaf.

Expect DC’s central players to play with the intensity and drive in the midfield as they have in the two opening games, and use the outside backs to advance the ball in quick attacks. It’s a combination that leads to chances for the Black & Red, and will keep them in every game.

Which Aaron Boupendza shows up?

Aaron Boupendza can score. He’s a threat every time he’s on the ball, and he’s just as dangerous without the ball as he has the ability and knowledge to put himself in dangerous positions when his team has the ball. Last week, Boupendza capitalized on a turnover by the Fire to open up a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute at Chicago. His shot showed the pinpoint precision he can place a shot.

Last season Boupendza joined midway through the season as the replacement for Brenner who had been sold earlier in the year. He made a swift impact upon arrival that greatly contributed to the FC Cincinnati’s success. In seventeen appearances across all competitions, the Gabonese striker netted six goals and tallied two assists. Despite this success, it was clear the acclimation process for Boupendza was not smooth or without a bit of angst. The challenges of moving to a new country that does not speak his language, and fitting in with a new group of players were quite evident. Issues with being on time surfaced with both his club and his international team. There are also times where Boupendza seems disinterested on the field during games, while other times he is by far the best player on the pitch.

Boupendza has all the tools and talent for a big year with FC Cincinnati, but only if he stays focused. How Boupendza comes out and plays against them will be a huge factor for how United does in Cincinnati.

Things to Watch: 

Offense - The Black and Red’s offense will continue to be fed off of its press, and quick transition from defense to offense. No player better embodies this than Ted Ku-DiPietro. Without Benteke up top, aerial crosses will prove to not be as effective, instead it will be important for United to move the ball quickly with short accurate passes, which is where Ted KDP shows his best play on the field. Ted demonstrated his best against the Timbers in the second half of last week’s match. He bossed the midfield, and demonstrated his ability to play through congestion in the opponent’s penalty box. If not for an excellent save by the Timber’s goalkeeper, he would have scored his first goal of the season. Against FC Cincinnati, Ted KDP will be the key to United’s offense.


With Ted KDP playing the focal point of the attack, Cristian Dájome, Gabriel Pirani and Jared Stroud will play off of him with constant movement. The Black & Red will have no size, especially against Cincinnati’s size. FC Cincinnati could feature Miles Robinson, Matt Miazga, and Ian Murphy, all of whom will tower over United’s front line, so scoring opportunities will only come with smart off the ball movement in the attack. 

Pirani has technically been listed as the ten, but during the play on the field you are just as likely to see him playing on the left wing, picking up the ball and dribbling at the defense. On the other side, Stroud is listed as the Right Wing, yet he has been found just as often attacking up the middle and ceding the wide right to Aaron Herrera, who has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to cross the ball and provide scoring opportunities, having picked up two assists in two games. 

Up top, Dájome will never be mistaken for Christian Benteke, but one couldn’t argue against his effort on the pitch. He used his speed to get into scoring positions, and to harass the opposition in the press. He didn’t score against the Timbers, but he had real moments of danger.

The movement of the attacking four, along with the ball movement of Mateusz Klich will allow the Black & Red to create overloads on offense that could be exploited with better finishing.

Off the bench in the game against Kristen Fletcher has quickly cemented himself as a difference maker. His athletic ability and positive play was instrumental in United earning the draw last week and nearly the win.

Also off the bench has been Jackson Hopkins, who has played well on the Wing, though his best still might be up the middle. This early season, Hopkins has demonstrated speed and confidence in his role which has made him a truly dangerous super sub. 

Additional players off the bench that have not been seen yet are Martin Rodriguez and Jacob Murrell. Against a team like FC Cincinnati, it could be an opportunity for these players to get time, so they can use their fresh legs against players who have already played a lot of minutes.

Defense - After two matches, we know a bit more about DC United’s completely new defense, and the two showings were excellent. Alex Bono has made the goal his, as he continues to demonstrate he is one of the better Goalkeepers in the league. Bono continues to be calm and collected in his box, making a number of impressive saves and a willingness to be vocal and control his area. Considering he has been playing behind a completely new backline, it has been an excellent showing so far.

The new Center Backs have shown well in both games. Both Lucas Bartlett and Christopher McVey have partnered well with each other, with their strengths complimenting each others. Both handled the pace offered by New England and the Portland Timbers, and did a good job reducing the scoring opportunities of their opponents.

There has been a noticeable improvement by DC United’s defenders to move the ball upfield more frequently through long passes, especially by Aaron Herrera, though oth Bartlett and McVey have also proven quite capable of breaking lines with their passing. Through two games, Aaron Herrera has been the team’s MVP. He has set the tone both on defense, and in pushing the ball forward into the attack. 

On the other hand the Left Back spot has been an absolute enigma. Pedro Santos is a good soccer player in his prime he would be perfect for the left back spot. Unfortunately Pedro Santos is 35 years old and it sometimes shows on the field. He has all the tools to be a good defender when the team is back, and has the passing ability to play long passes into United’s offense. It’s in the open field where Pedro Santos is found out. He just doesn’t handle speedy attackers when there is a lot of space. If Santos is having difficulties against FC Cincinnati, he could be pulled and replaced by Conor Antley.

Central Defensive Midfielder Matti Peltola has shown he could easily be the team’s MVP. The young DP may never get the accolades that other young players get, but that is only because he’s primarily a defensive player. In both games Peltola has shown he is worthy of being a young Designated Player. In Portland he again demonstrated great awareness of where to be on the field and intercept a number of passes and opponents trying to dribble through the middle of the field. Playing with Mateusz Klich, the two have made the middle of the field a difficult place to start the attack, which will be necessary again when playing against Lucho Acosta.

It might be more a question does Head Coach Lesesne trust Matai Akinmboni as the starting Center Back in the very hostile environment of Providence Park. 

Through both of the two games this young season, all of the newly acquired defenders have proven themselves to be quality players. This has allowed Head Coach Troy Lesesne to utilize a pressing defense, similar to that which is utilized by FC Cincinnati, so it will be interesting to see how these two teams match up. It could be an absolute train wreck, but it could also be an absolute wild and entertaining match to watch.

By the Numbers 

The Orange and Blue are 3-1-1 across all competitions so far this season. 

FC Cincinnati key players 

  • Aaron Boupendza has a goal in MLS play 

  • Miles Robinson has a goal in MLS play

  • Luciano Acosta has an assist in MLS play 

  • Corey Baird hasn’t scored for Cincinnati yet

DC United key players 

  • Christian Benteke has 3 goals 

  • Mateusz Klich has a goal 

  • Kristen Fletcher has a goal 

  • Aaron Herrera has two assists

  • Pedro Santos has an assist 

  • Connor Antley has an assist


Richard - 1-1 draw. It will be difficult for DC United to keep a clean sheet in Cincinnati and the Blue and Orange have shown in the past they are quite capable of scoring. At the same time, even without Benteke the Black & Red showed that they are capable of scoring. In the end I believe both teams pick up a point.

Where: TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio 

When: Sunday, March 10, 2024

Pregame: 2:45pm ET

Kickoff:  3:00pm ET

Coverage: Apple TV - MLS Pass


Written by: RJ Rolsen 


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