Updated: Jul 1
Starters: Joe Willis; Dan Lovitz,, Jack Maher, Walker Zimmerman, Shaq Moore, Dax McCarty, Sean Davis, Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar, Alex Muyl, Teals Bunbury
Subs: Laurence Wyke, Josh Bauer, Elliot Panicco, Taylor Washington, Ján Greguš, Lukas MacNaughton, Ethan Zubak, Tah Brian Anunga, Luke Haakenson
Captain: Walker Zimmerman
Nick DePuy (Achilles)
Aníbal Godoy (Panama)
Fafà Picault (Haiti)
Jacob Shaffelburg (Canada)
Starter: Tyler Miller, Brendan Hines-Ike, Derrick Williams, Donovan Pines, Andy Najar, Pedro Santos, Chris Durkin, Mateusz Klich, Lewis O’Brien, Cristian Dájome, Christian Benteke
Subs: Alex Bono, Steve Birnbaum, Jacob Greene, Gaoussou Samaké, Yamil Asad, Russell Canouse, Kristen Fletcher, Taxi Fountas, Eric Hurtado
Captain: Christian Benteke
Ted Ku-DiPietro (ankle)
Andy Najar (hamstring)
Nashville SC - Gary Smith
The only Head Coach the Music, have ever had continues to have Nashville as one of the most consistent top teams in MLS. Gary Smith’s fundamental strategy is built on old-school English football fundamentals of strong team defense and successful counter attacking which doesn’t leave many vulnerabilities. With this formula and the play of perennial MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar, Nashville SC have been a very successful team since its inception in MLS.
Expect a hard fought physical match as Smith has Nashville’s Boys in Gold playing with a gritty mentality, and every player on the field will know their role and keep their formation. It makes playing at Geodis Park very difficult. As things stand, Nashville looks to again be a top four team, this year in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, and will be a tough challenge for DC United.
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.
Rooney is 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.
Keys to the Match:
Can DC take on another top team? The Black & Red beat the Supporters' Shield leaders FC Cincinnati, 3-0, a nice bounce back from a two game slide. Now they travel to Nashville to take on another Eastern Conference leader. Since joining MLS, Nashville has been a solid if unspectacular contender, making the playoffs every season, and being a tough out. Save the top spot, the Eastern Conference is going to be a tight race, with the fifth through ninth spot separated by five points, and the difference between Nashville at third and DC at ninth being just nine points. Nashville has shown more this season than DC but not so much that United can’t challenge for the win. Their first meeting this season ended in a draw, but that was due to the flukiest goal you will ever see, no Benteke and Taxi going down with an injury just 20 minutes into the game. The Black & Red were able to match Nashville in grit and physicality so expect a tight match. Getting a point on the road would be good, all three points would be great and really help them towards a playoff berth.
Can DC beat Joe Willis? The Boys in Gold Goalkeeper, Joe Willis, is continually one of the most underrated Goalies in MLS. The former DC United Keeper is a mountain of a man, and has the ability to cover from post-to-post quickly. He rarely gives up the cheap goal, and makes teams earn their goals. With a strong defensive line ahead of him, he has six clean sheets. On top of that the team has only given up multiple goals in two games. Nashville SC is currently first in goals allowed at 16 total and 0.8 per match
If a team is to beat the Music, it has to keep a tight defense and make its chances count. Willis may not be brought up in many conversations about the best goalkeepers in MLS, but as long as the 34 year old continues to perform at such a high level, Nashville will be a tough win.
Can DC keep another League MVP candidate in check? The Black & Red take on reigning league MVP Hany Mukhtar this week. Not only is Mukhtar the current MVP, he’s the leading candidate for this season. He leads the Golden Boot race with thirteen goals and additionally has six assists.
The Black & Red’s ability to contain Hany Mukhtar will go a long way in how well they do in Geodis Park. Russell Canouse did not play in the match against FC Cincinnati, as Chris Durkin kicked inside and Andy Najar stepped into the Right Back position. The containment of Hany Mukhtar might warrant Canouse’s return to the starting lineup. In their first meeting Canouse and the rest of the team defense did a great job of stifling Nashville’s star player. Whether it is Canouse or Durkin, a lot of the responsibility for containing Hany Mukhtar will fall on their shoulders. At the same time Lewis O’Brien and Mateusz Klich will press midfield of the Boys in Gold, to keep Mukhtar’s opportunities to a minimum. No matter what, expect Rooney to have the Black & Red harrying Hany Mukhtar all over the field.
Can DC United beat Nashville SC? Nashville has been the dominant side in the history of this fixture, having picked up three wins and three draws in their six meetings since the Music joined the league. The opportunity for United to taste victory looked possible in the last meeting, but injuries to Christian Benteke and Taxi Fountas made that a remote possibility. It’s uncertain if this match in Nashville is where this changes, but United looked really strong against Cincinnati, while Nashville has lost its last two games. It won’t be easy, but the Black & Red have a chance if they play with the same confidence and focus they demonstrated last week.
Things to Watch:
Offense - The offense starts and ends with Christian Benteke. One set of tactics is reliant on long balls to Benteke, where the Belgian’s 6’3 frame is strong enough to hold off most defenders and his skill at controlling the ball is underrated. His hold up play, and ability to link up with teammates is unparalleled in this season’s MLS. When you add Benteke’s finishing, there is an argument that he is the best pure Striker this season. Benteke gives DC the ability to go long, and get the ball out from their half of the field. Even when Benteke doesn’t score, his presence forces the defense to pay attention, and can lead to scoring opportunities for Taxi Fountas and Cristian Dájome.
Benteke’s ability to control a match will be put to the test against the Boys in Gold back line. Walker Zimmerman and Jack Maher have been consistently top performing Center Backs in MLS. Most likely Smith will utilize a back three, to make sure there is two players marking Benteke.
To counter this look for Black & Red to make passes across the field to switch the point of attack, which should help them keep up the pressure on the defense. Dax McCarty has long been a great defensive midfielder in MLS, but is not the quickest, so making him move will help United in the attack.
Defense - The defense of the Black & Red looked to be in top form last week against FC Cincinnati. Pedro Santos and Andy Najar were back and helped to support the back line, and give an outlet for the defense to pass the ball to. The two Wing Backs that Rooney uses have had to rotate due to the number of injuries the team suffered in that position, but Najar and Santos are back healthy and should greatly improve the team’s defense.
The key to the United defense is the Goalkeeper, and Tyler Miller was back to playing at a high level. In that match he was not undone by an amazing shot as he had been the prior two games. He will continue to play the role of Keeper Sweeper and will be challenged in the Music City, as Nashville will look to counter attack. Rooney wants his Goalkeeper to cover the space behind the back line, which allows his three Center-Backs to push higher. No Keeper makes the defensive plays at midfield like Miller does, and he will have to be on his toes to keep Hany Mukhtar off the score sheet.
DC United’s Center-Backs are solid but are better with Victor Pálsson back in the lineup. Derrick Williams, and Donovan Pines have become a foundational force, very capable of settling the ball and shutting down opponents. Pálsson and Williams give DC two excellent long ball passers, quite capable of putting the ball into dangerous attacking positions.
Over a number of games, Durkin has proven to be a decent replacement for Najar, but his best position is the defensive midfielder. It will be either
Chris Durkin or Russell Canouse to harass and harry Hany Mukhtar.
Hany Mukhtar has been the the Music’s main source of goals this season. He’s found the back of the net thirteen times despite the slow start to the early season. He has also assisted six times, so he has the ability to set up his teammates.
The United defense will need to have another good match to start a win streak. This is another match that can change a team’s narrative or reinforce the story that the pundits have been pushing about DC United. There is a great opportunity in this match to get a victory, but the defense will need to play the same smart disciplined soccer they did against FC Cincinnati.
By the Numbers:
Nashville SC has put up 28 goals in 20 games (9th in MLS)
Nashville SC has allowed 16 total for 0.8 per match (1st in MLS)
With a +12 goal differential this season, Nashville SC ranks 3rd in MLS
Mukhtar has 13 goals to lead the Golden Boot race and 6 assists
Fafa Picault has 4 goals and 1 assist
Daniel Lovitz has zero goals, and 4 assists
Teal Bunbury has 2 goals and 1 assist
Joe Willis has kept 6 clean sheets
DC United has scored 29 goals in 20 games to rank 8th in MLS
DC United has conceded 26 goals to rank 14th in MLS
DC United’s goal differential of +3 is 10th in MLS
DC United’s +3 goal differential is 11th-ranked in MLS
Christian Benteke has 8 goals and 2 assists for DC United
Mateusz Klich has 2 goals and 5 assists, for DC United.
Taxi Fountas has 4 goals.
Donovan Pines has 3 goals
Tyler Miller has kept 6 clean sheets
1-1 Draw. DC United will have to wait a bit longer to get the win against the Boy in Gold from the Music City.
Coverage: Apple MLS Season Pass on Apple TV (Free)
Start time 8:30
📻: 1190am, 101.1HD2, 104.7fm
🔊: Any Smart Speaker
📱: @iHeartRadio App
Written by: RJ Rolsen