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Toronto FC vs DC United . Game Preview


Predicted Lineups: 

Toronto FC

Starters:  Sean Johnson; Raoul Petretta, Matt Hedges, Aime Mabika, Richie Laryea, Brandon Servania, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Themi Antonoglou, Ayo Akinola, Lorenzo Insigne, CJ Sapong

Subs:  Tomas Romero, Joe Bendik, Kobe Franklin, Hugo Mbongue, Kosi Thompson, Jordan Faria, Jordan Perruzza, Markus Cimermancic, Antony Curic, Cristián Gutiérrez

Formation (3-4-3)

Injury Report:

Out

  • Federico Bernardeschi (coach’s decision)

  • Michael Bradley (thigh)

  • Jonathan Osorio (Abdominal injury)

  • Victor Vázquez (Abdominal injury)

  • Sigurd Rosted (Chest injury)

  • Shane O'Neill (Muscle injury)

Questionable

  • Adama Diomande (Muscle injury)



DC United 

Starter: Tyler Miller, Victor Palsson, Derrick Williams, Donovan Pines, Chris Durkin, Gaoussou Samaké, Mateusz Klich, Russell Canouse, Lewis O’Brien, Ted Ku-DiPietro, Christian Benteke

Subs: Alex Bono, Steve Birnbaum, Brendan Hines-Ike, Jacob Greene, Andy Najar, Yamil Asad, Ted Ku-DiPietro, Taxi Fountas, Cristian Dájome

Captain: Russell Canouse

Formation (3-5-2)


Injury Report:

Out

  • Rodriguez (knee)

  • Robertha (ankle)

  • Jeahze (thigh)

Questionable

  • Santos (thigh)

  • Ruan (thigh)


The Managers: 


Toronto FC - Bob Bradley 

Toronto’s Head Coach is arguably one of the best American coaches ever. His coaching career started in 1996 when Bradley was hired by Bruce Arena as an assistant with D.C. United. He was with United for back-to-back championships before he was hired as the first Head Coach of the expansion team Chicago Fire in 1998. His first season as a Head Coach couldn’t have gone much better, as he led Chicago to winning both the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup. For this he was named MLS Coach of the Year. He won a third trophy in 2000, when Chicago won the Open Cup again.


Bradley would leave Chicago in 2002 to take the Head Coaching position with the Metro Stars. While he did get his team to the US Open Cup final, his time in New York was underwhelming. He would be fired late in the 2005 season but bounced right back when he was named the coach at Los Angeles club Chivas USA for the 2006 season. After a passable season where Chivas made the playoffs, Bradley was named the interim coach for the US Men’s National Team. He won his first match, a friendly against Denmark, and then three of four matches in the spring of 2007, which helped him get the permanent job, and that summer he led the USMNT to winning the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, with a 2–1 final win over Mexico.


It was a mixed bag for Bradley as the USMNT Head Coach. After winning CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Men’s team was swept out of the 2007 Copa América, but then came in second in the 2009 Confederations Cup, including a 2–0 semi-final victory over European champions Spain. Bradley would go onto lead the USMNT to a World Cup, where they got out of the group stage via one of the most iconic late game winners in US Men’s history. He would be relieved of his position after losing to Mexico in the Championship match of the next Gold Cup.


After the US Men's National Team, Bradley would decide to look for opportunities around the world. He would go on to coach the Egyptian’s Men’s National Team, then Stabæk Fotball in Norway, and then French Ligue 2 side Le Havre AC. In 2016 Bradley was the first American to manage a Premier League club when he was appointed the new Swansea City Head Coach. Unfortunately things did not go well and Bradley would be sacked that December with a 2–7–2 record.


This setback didn’t hold Bradley down for long as that following summer he was announced as the first Head Coach for the MLS Expansion team Los Angeles FC. LAFC started playing in the 2018 season, and Bradley had them flying out of the gate. Thanks in large part to Bradley and his tactics, LAFC became a model for MLS expansion. During Bradley's time LAFC the club went to the postseason in their first three seasons of existence, and in 2019, LAFC earned the most points in MLS history at that time with 72, winning the Supporters' Shield. Unfortunately for him, his teams were not able to replicate their regular season success in the playoffs. His fourth season with LA didn’t go as well and LAFC failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time. He was relieved of his Head Coaching duties on November 18, 2021, but was immediately hired by Toronto FC on November 25, 2021.

While Bradley to Toronto FC seemed like a perfect fit, it has been anything but. His first season with the Red ended with the team second-from-bottom in the Eastern Conference, but their was hope because the team spent big to bring in Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi. Both joined Toronto for the last third of the 2022 season, and while they weren’t able to turn around 2022, big things were expected for 2023. Those expectations so far haven’t been met, and Bradley finds himself on the hot seat.

Given the plethora of attacking talent in Toronto, one might expect better results. Few teams have as good a duo as Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne on the wings and it was thought Bradley would be able to harness their talents like he did with Vela and Rossi. Bradley has often utilized a strategy where the winger finds the ball in the halfspace and advances into the attack. Early in the season it was thought that Bernardeschi was cutting inside too much. To correct this possible shortcoming he CJ Sapong was brought in to give the team a target striker, and allow Bernardeschi and Insigne to stay wide.


In the middle of the field, Bradley has his center midfielders to serve as a conduit from back to front, and between both sides of the pitch. Their job is to keep the ball moving quickly and make forward progress while the wingers and or fullbacks overlap aggressively. This though has been one of Bradley’s problems this season, as his midfield has been old, slow and prone to injuries. Bradley also likes his team to defend in an aggressive way that let them force turnovers. His expectation is that each line presses in coordination with the other lines at certain points in the match. While not the all-out energy-drink press of that New Jersey team, it proved very effective in LA. It’s actually very similar to the press Rooney employs with DC.


Over his career, BobBradley has shown quite a bit of formation flexibility. He has used a fairly standard 4-3-3, with one clear pivot in possession. Other times he flipped the triangle into a 4-2-3-1 structure when initiating the midblock press against some opponents, leaving the double pivot against others. With LAFC he also utilized a 3-5-2 with a clear number 10 behind two false-nines. Of late with Toronto he has been using a 3-4-3, and this is what DC should expect on Saturday.



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 keep Toronto down? There’s a world where the Black & Red didn’t show their grit and determination in the first game of the season, and instead their vulnerabilities allowed Toronto to pick up the first win of the season. If the Red had picked up those early points, would their confidence allowed them to pick up a couple more wins instead of draws? As United has demonstrated, success breeds confidence and camaraderie, two things Toronto FC are in short supply of right now. 

On the other hand, DC United are playing their best soccer in years in part because they did come back in that game. It set a standard for this season. Now there is confidence on display by each player in themselves, their teammates, and in the tactics they are playing with. It’s making for truly enjoyable soccer. Last year teams knew this wasn’t the case for DC, and they knew if they punched DC in the mouth the team would fold. This is what the Black & Red need to do in this match. Toronto is not as bad as their record suggests. They have numerous draws on their record, they play tight games and give themselves the opportunity to win. So far both of their wins are at home: a 2-0 win over Inter Miami and a 1-0 win over New York City FC. If DC don’t take them seriously, the Red will punish them.


Can DC contain Toronto’s Designated Players? Toronto FC made a HUGE splash last year when they signed Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi for record MLS fees. The Red’s front office was trying to recreate the success they had when they signed Sebastian Giovinco. The two wingers are high quality on the ball, with the ability to dribble past defenders, make pinpoint passes, and finish. Federico Bernardeschi has three goals and three assists on the season, and has been the Red’s most dangerous player. Lorenzo Insigne has been hampered by injuries this season only has one goal in seven appearances, but showed his magic last season when he joined Toronto. Both diminutive Italians are versatile, hard working players and serve as creative hubs with excellent technical qualities. At their best the two create a dynamic where Toronto baits their opponents by moving the ball quickly and shifting the side of attack with aggressive support and overloads that both utilise the whole pitch effectively and enable collective progression up the field into the final third. DC’s back line will have to show discipline, and the wings will need to fall back to contain, and not allow the Italian duo to dictate the game.

Note: The Athletic is reporting that Federico Bernardeschi will most likely not play against DC United after Bob Bradley made a “coach’s decision” based on internal discussions. This comes after Bernardeschi made highly critical remarks about Bob Bradley and his coaching style after last week’s loss to Austin. This decision leaves Toronto FC without their strongest offensive weapon (3g/3a) this season.


Who plays in place of Federico Bernardeschi? With Federico Bernardeschi missing this match, it will be interesting to see who Bob Bradley decides to play in his stead. Ayo Akinola is a consideration. He has hurt the Black & Red in the past, looked good against United in their first match and has pace that could challenge DC’s back line. If Bradley were to go in this direction tough, there would probably be a formation change, such as to a 3-5-2, with Akinol up top with CJ Sapong.


Will DC’s midfield dominate? Currently DC has multiple players who are excellent chance creators, strong dribblers with the ability to turn with the ball and move with pace. As a group their tactical movements have been essential to creating space and chances for teammates to run at goal. On the other hand Toronto FC is nursing a number of injuries, and have not been able to replicate the success Bob Bradley’s LAFC team had in controlling the midfield. This game could be decided on how well they can stifle and then counter Brandon Servania, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Themi Antonoglou. Russell Canouse has really stepped up in this regard. Expect him to press and harry Toronto's midfield.


Can Steve Birnbaum break into this lineup?  Steve Birnbaum is the penciled in Captain of the Black & Red when he starts. He was also showing a lot of improvement game-after-game from last season’s lows when he went down with a hip injury in the Charlotte FC Match. Now he’s getting healthy but the back line of Victor Palsson, Derrick Williams, and Donovan Pines are playing exceptionally well, and Birnbaum might have a hard time getting back into starting lineup. It's a good problem to have, but it's most likely the team takes its time with him. BMO Field has artificial turf, so any player coming off the injured list will probably be eased back and given limited minutes. In addition, DC has a midweek game, so Rooney will most likely keep Birnbaum and Hines-Ike on the bench and rotate them in on Wednesday.



Things to Watch: 


Offense - 

Bradley’s teams are often the pressiest of sides in MLS, so DC United can expect to see some press. Earlier this season this might have been an issue, but DC has grown in confidence and capability to either pass through it or pass over it.

As the season has progressed, Rooney has actively made an effort for DC United to use group tactical movements in the final third whilst varying the tempo and frequency of passes to destabilize the opponent’s defenses and improve chance creation, especially to Striker Christian Benteke.


In the last few matches Mateusz Klich, Lewis O’Brien, and Ted Ku-DiPietro have all given United the dribbling and passing ability to both control the tempo and to break the opponent's defensive lines. Rooney’s emphasis in the offense has been for a collective attack, with movement off the ball prevalent here, as an effective way of getting DC players into the halfspaces between defenders thus allowing Klich, O’Brien, and KDP to make the correct decision when given the option to dribble, shoot, combine or set up goal opportunities.

Look for the Black & Red to frequently switch the ball from side to side and patiently wait for high percentage plays they can exploit, knowing full well that their teammates will provide the necessary support to capitalize on opportunities created. 


In their most recent outing the Black-and-Red beat LA Galaxy, 3-0 with Christian Benteke, Cristian Dájome, and Mateusz Klich each scoring a goal in a span of 10 minutes to secure all three points. DC isn't all the way there, but the team is showing that it has the ability to put the ball into the back of the net.


Defense - The defense of the Black & Red started out the season as United’s biggest question mark, and early in the season they let in a number of goals at one point leading the league in most goals allowed. However, over the last two months, the defensive form for the team has been the foundation the team is built upon. It starts with the Goal Keeper, Tyler Miller, who plays the role of Keeper Sweeper in the most unique way. No other Keeper has made defensive plays at the midfield like Miller has. Rooney wants his Goal Keeper to cover the space behind the back line, which allows his three Center-Backs to push higher.

DC United’s Center-Backs are solid, Victor Palsson, Derrick Williams, and Donovan Pines have become a foundational force, very capable of settling the ball and passing the ball into dangerous attacking positions. The two Wingbacks that Rooney uses have had to rotate due to the number of injuries the team suffered in that position, yet there’s been little drop off. Most likely the team will start .

There is a good chance Andy Najar will return to the bench, but with Toronto playing on artificial turf, it’s doubtful he gets much of a run. On the opposite side of the field Gaoussou Samaké will most likely start, with Pedro Santos on the bench. Durkin and Samaké have proven to be decent defenders, and have grown better with each game.

The way DC United chooses to defend is to be very patient and maintain their positional shape. They will press, but at specific times, when the moment is right. This was seen last week when O’Brien pressed at just the right time to win the ball off the Goalkeeper, which led to Benteke’s goal.  


The United defense have a great opportunity in this match to get another clean sheet but need to continue to play disciplined soccer.



Comments by the Gaffer

“Yeah, he’s [Christian Benteke] a real team player. His work ethic, 

His engagement in the team defensively And he’s been a real breath of fresh air to the team. And that’s not just Christian. I think that’s Taxi when Taxi’s available to play. It’s Mateus Klich and Lewis O’Brien, all the players have bought into what we are trying to do.”


“Firstly, we want to be a hard team to play against And that takes every player on the pitch to work hard and I’ve been really delighted with the players for their attitude in the work ethic they’ve been putting in.”


“Obviously with the change in formation, I think it’s suited our defensive players, and certainly the center backs to with three in there, and then, obviously with the wing backs having changed constantly throughout the season, whether that’s Andy [Najar] Pedro [Santos], Ruan, Jaehze, Samaké, who’s come in from Loudoun, Greeny, so that has constantly changed. I think having the stability of the three Center-Backs because we haven’t had the stability of the Wingbacks or Fullbacks if you like, have really helped us.”




By the Numbers:

DC United has 19 goals in 14 games so far this season (eighth in MLS)


DC United has conceded 16 goals (13th in MLS), 1.1 per match 


DC United’s goal differential of +3 is 11th in MLS


DC United has 14 goals in 10 games this season (7th in MLS)


Christian Benteke has scored 6 goals and 1 assist 

In addition Benteke has:

  • 143 aerial duels won (1st in MLS)

  • 38 'flick on passes' completed - 1st

  • 85 possessions in the penalty area - 1st

  • 39 crosses received - 1st

  • 5 shots deemed 'unsavable' by the goalkeeper - T1st


Mateusz Klich has 2 goals and 3 assists


Ted Ku-DiPietro has scored 2 goals and 1 assist


DC United have 6 additional players with 1 goal apiece


Tyler Miller has kept 5 clean sheets



Toronto FC has scored 13 goals, 0.9 per match (20th in MLS)


Toronto FC has allowed 18 goals, (18th in MLS)


Toronto FC’s -5 goal differential ranks 22nd in MLS


Federico Bernardeschi has 3 goals and 3 assists


Richie Laryea has 2 goals and 2 assists


Mark Anthony Kaye has 2 goals and 0 assists 


Toronto FC have 6 additional players with 1 goal apiece


Sean Johnson has kept 5 clean sheets



Predictions:

0-2 victory north of the border. The Black & Red’s just playing better, they are getting healthier and have a sense of team unity. The Red are limping right now, have numerous injuries, and a lot of discord in their locker room. In Toronto’s last match they lost 1-0 at Austin FC where they were outshot by 11 in the game, 13 to 2, DC has the ability to replicate this feat. Nothing is a given, and Toronto will play hard, but Rooney won’t let his team be complacent.


Coverage: Apple MLS Season Pass on Apple TV (Free)

Fox Sport 1

Pregame 7:15p 

Start time 7:55

Listen on…

📻: 1190am, 101.1HD2, 104.7fm

💻: iHeartSportsDC

🔊: Any Smart Speaker 

📱: @iHeartRadio App


Written by: RJ Rolsen 


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