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St. Louis CITY SC vs DC United Game Preview

Predicted Lineups: 

St. Louis CITY SC

Potential Starters: (3-5-2) - Roman Bürki, Tomas Totland, Joakim Nilsson, Josh Yaro, Anthony Markanich, Tomáš Ostrák, Chris Durkin, Célio Pompeu, Aziel Jackson, Indiana Vassilev, João Klauss 

Potential Subs: Christian Olivares,  Akil Watts, Jake Nerwinski, Nikolas Dyhr, Sam Adeniran, Hosei Kijima, Rasmus Alm, Nökkvi Thórisson, Kyle Hiebert

Captain: Roman Bürki

Injury Report:


  • Kyle Hiebert 

  • Njabulo Blom

  • Joshua Yaro

  • Rasmus Alm


DC United 

Potential Starters: (3-5-2) - Alex Bono, Conner Antley, Lucas Bartlett, Christopher McVey, Jared Stroud, Mateusz Klich, Gabriel Pirani, Martín Rodríguez, Ted Ku-DiPietro, Cristian Dájome, Christian Benteke 

Potential Subs: Luis Zamudio, Hayden Sargis, Jackson Hopkins, Jacob Murrell 


Injury Report:


  • Steven Birnbaum (left knee)

  • Mohanad Jeahze (thigh)

  • Tyler Miller (right shoulder)

  • Garrison Tubbs (thigh)


  • Russell Canouse (right ankle)

International Call up

  • Aaron Herrera (Guatemala)

  • Matti Peltola (Finland)

  • Matai Akinmboni (USMNT U-19)

  • Kristian Fletcher (USMNT U-19)

Red Card

  • Pedro Santos

The Managers: 

St. Louis CITY SC -  Bradley Carnell - The CITY SC Head Coach first arrived in St. Louis in January 2022 with the assignment to build a roster from scratch, and help launch MLS’s latest expansion team. The South African Manager exceeded his mandate by leaps and bounds. Not only did Carnell build a roster that could compete, but he guided his expansion team to historic heights, as St. Louis City won the Western Conference, and was the top seed in the Western Conference of the MLS playoffs.

A big reason for St. Louis’s success is due to the ultra-aggressive, high-pressing approach Bradley Carnell has utilized. It’s designed to produce goals out of transitions from turnovers. Carnell is a true believer of gegenpressing, the German phrase for counter-pressing. It was a style he saw playing with Stuttgart and Karlsruhe of the Bundesliga. His proclivity for gegenpressing brought him to the attention of the New York Red Bull’s, a team that helped Carnell refine his pressing style.

St. Louis CITY General Manager Pfannenstiel has suggested that hiring Bradley Carnell was a no-brainer for the expansion team. For him the new Head Coach represents the ideal combination of gegenpressing enthusiast with MLS experience who enjoys being part of big-project. 

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.


The Black & Red travel west to visit Saint Louis CITY SC for a Western vs Eastern conference matchup. St. Louis CITYare one of the remaining unbeaten teams in MLS. A slightly misleading fact because while St. Louis city has not lost yet they’ve also tied most of their matches. They have a record of one win three draws so only a point better than DC United who have one win two draws and a loss thanks to Miami last week.

Last week DC was dominated by Inter Miami. It was a game that showed some of United’s potential but highlighted many of its weaknesses. The roster for DC United is not yet set and has a number of holes to fill. The overhaul started in the off-season has only just begun, and partially finished; so when Ted Ku-DiPietro did not play, a major portion of the Black & Red’s offense was missing. This week that particular issue will be on steroids as they will be missing both starting forwards, their starting defensive midfielder and one of their primary subs.

On the other hand, offense was not a problem for St. Louis last week. In their game against the LA Galaxy, St. Louis City scored three goals. Unfortunately for their fans they also conceded three goals. This has been the difference between last season’s historic start, and this season’s decent beginning, outside of a game against a floundering NYFC, CITY SC have conceded as many goals as they have scored. St. Louis CITY SC and Head Coach Bradley Carnell will be looking to change this against a very depleted DC United. Which is the real story of this match, every decision made by Troy Lesesne is with the understanding that he has limited options, both on the field and on his bench.

This matchup will be a first-time clash between the two teams. Both have shown some strengths and some weaknesses in this early part of the season, yet each are setting a tone that they could challenge for MLS Cup Playoffs.

Keys to the Match: 

Who wins the battle of the former Energy Drink Coaches?

Both Troy Lesesne and Bradley Carnell were at one time Interim Head Coaches for the New Jersey Energy Drink team. Like Troy, Carnell was an Assistant Coach with the New York Red Bulls before getting the opportunity to be Head Coach. Carnell was in New York for five seasons, before becoming the interim Head Coach in late 2020. 

Both men were already fans of using pressing before their stints in New Jersey, but were able to learn more about properly using the press, and about when not to press. The tactical similarity between DC United and CITY SC could mean any real difference in Saturday night’s match will be based on very small margins — like one team having no bench

Who will play for United?

Christian Benteke was back for DC United last week which was desperately needed by the Black & Red. This week Ted Ku-DiPietro should also be back, also desperately needed as a number of key players for the Black & Red will be missing on international duty for this weekend’s match. Matti Peltola, Aaron Hererra, Kristian Fletcher, and Matai Akinmboni are all away representing their respective countries. In addition, Pedro Santos will miss the St. Louis match due to the red card he picked up against Inter Miami.

This will mean players like Martín Rodríguez and Conner Antley, who have so far only played limited minutes will need to be ready to go for the fall 90 minutes. While players like Jackson Hopkins and Jacob Murrell will need to be ready to play out of position.


What formation does DC United play? 

With so many players missing and an incomplete roster to start with, it might not be possible for Troy Lesesne to set up his team in the style that he’s utilized so far this season. With only one Fullback available in Conner Antley, Lesesne might choose to play him as a third Center Back, and instead utilize Wingers out wide. This way Jared Stroud and either Martín Rodríguez or Cristian Dájome playing on the wing. 

In addition there will not be a true defensive midfielder on the field for the Black & Red, so Mateusz Klich and or Gabriel Pirani might need to slide back to a deeper position, with a returning Ted Ku-DiPietro playing the ten.

If Lesesne does want to play with a back four, he could push Christopher McVey out to the Left Fullback and start newly returned Hayden Sargis at the Center Back spot. This could allow Conner Antley play a more natural Right Back spot. Conner Antley could also play the Central Defensive Midfielder position, but that means both Fullback positions to players playing out of position.

This is why I believe DC United will come out with three at the back.

Can the Black & Red score against St. Louis? 

Roman Bürki is once again proving to be one of the best goalkeepers in MLS. Made captain for the expansion team, Bürki has provided St. Louis with a foundational defense from which the team always has a good chance at winning. For example the goalie’s six-save performance last week earned him a spot on the MLS Team of the Matchday and helped keep St. Louis in their game. He will prove a tough obstacle to beat for a team that hasn’t proven to be a consistent scoring threat, even with a full strength squad. Now with a depleted squad, scoring for United could be scarce.

Opportunities could be had, St. Louis has shown that if their press can be played through, there are chances to score, but they better be well placed shots, or Roman Bürki will just earn himself another MLS Team of the Matchday spot.

Can DCU play to the final whistle?

Last week’s 3-3 finish was the third come-from-behind effort by St. Louis. A hallmark of Bradley Carnell’s team since its inception has been high intensity from whistle to whistle, similar to the intensity that Losada had DC United playing a few years ago. St. Louis city comes at teams, pressing hard, looking to force  turnovers and quickly transitioning into the attack. It’s a relentlessness that can tire opponents. Now add to the equation that United will have fewer players on the bench, and will be relying on players who have not played a full 90 minutes.

It could be a long day for United.

Things to Watch: 

Offense - The Black & 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. The perfect partner with Benteke up top, Ted KDP seems very comfortable running off of the Belgian Striker’s hold up play. At the same time Ted KDP also is quite adept at holding up the ball, and should be able to provide Benteke with the ball in dangerous positions.

As St. Louis CITY will attempt to high press, United should look to kick long to Christen Benteke, who is the best player in MLS at controlling long passes. If he can connect with Cristian Dájome, Gabriel Pirani and Jared Stroud as they drive towards the opposition’s goal, United could generate scoring opportunities.

With injuries to Christen Benteke and Ted Ku-DiPietro in the first four games that caused both to miss two games, Mateusz Klich has grown into a leader on offense. In the game at FC Cincinnati, Klich showed a willingness to shoot, and be more assertive in the attack. With two true goal scoring threats, Mateusz Klich could be a more dangerous option.

One bright spot last week against Miami was Jared Stroud, who scored his first goal for the Black & Red. A return to the team who he had relatively good success with last season might be an incentive to ball out. This would be welcome for United.

If United utilizes a 3-5-2 offensive setup, the movement of the attacking three, along with the ball movement of Mateusz Klich will be important for the Black & Red to create offense. There will most likely be no build up on offense. Because of this there will be few scoring opportunities, so those that do come will need to be quickly exploited.

Off the bench will be Jackson Hopkins and Jacob Murrell. Both should get plenty of run, and have the opportunity to prove they deserve more playing time. Their versatility will surely be tested in this match.

Defense - Even after last week’s loss DC United’s new defense showed it would play with dogged determination. Alex Bono will need to have another Man of the Match performance for United to have a chance. Due to the lack of Fullbacks on the team, there is a good chance DC will play with three in the back, to help stabilize the defense. Bono has said in the past that he likes working with three Center Backs, especially if they are like Conor Antley and Christopher McVey who have the ability to play the ball from the back. This will allow Bono to continue to control his box, and make quick counter attacks.

Both Lucas Bartlett and Christopher McVey will need to continue to show they were excellent acquisitions by DC United’s front office. One or both will need to step up as a leader of the defense as Aaron Herrera will not be available as he is away for International competition with Guatemala. Conor Antley will most definitely replace Herrera, but where on the pitch is the question. Antley was one of the top defenders in USL Championship, so he has the potential sets the tone both on the defensive half and in pushing forward into the attack. 

Without Aaron Herrera and Pedro Santos, DC United’s defenders will not be as proficient to move the ball upfield through long precision passing. Bartlett, Antley and McVey will need to break lines with their passing to avoid the high pressing of St. Louis. 

Head Coach Troy Lesesne may not utilize his pressing defense as much as he has in the first four games as he will want to save the legs of his players, and United might be better off bunkering and playing off the counter. 

By the Numbers 

This weekend’s match will see the Black & Red face St. Louis CITY SC for the first time.

Saint Louis CITY SC key players 

  • Celio Pompeu has 2 goals and 1 assist 

  • Adeniran has 2 goals and 1 assist

  • Eduard Lowen has 1 goal and 1 assist

  • Tomas Ostrak has 1 goal

  • Tomas Totland has 1 assist

DC United key players 

  • Christian Benteke has 3 goals 

  • Mateusz Klich has a goal and an assist 

  • Jared Stroud has 1 goal 

  • Connor Antley has 1 assist


Richard - 2-0 loss. It will be difficult for DC United to keep a clean sheet in Saint Louis as the second year team have shown that last season’s success was not a fluke. Both teams will press and try to turn turnovers into scoring opportunities. In the end I believe a very depleted United will concede and not be able to pull one back.

Where: City Park in Old North Saint Louis, St. Louis 

When: Saturday, March 23, 2024

Pregame: 8:15pm ET

Kickoff:  8:30pm ET

Coverage: Apple TV - MLS Pass


Written by: RJ Rolsen 

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