D.C. United begins the most grueling week of its entire season tonight with a trip to Tennessee, where they’ll face Nashville SC. United, just one point and one spot behind Nashville, will be looking to be the first team to beat the stingiest defensive side in the Eastern Conference at Nissan Stadium.
While Nashville will be looking to recover from a stunner of a loss to Inter Miami, the Black-and-Red will be hoping for a positive start to a demanding seven-day stretch. United is in a venue that no visitor has won in this year, then heads to Massachusetts to face a Shield-leading New England side, and returns home for a Saturday tilt against a reinvigorated Atlanta side.
Key player: Julian Gressel
Gary Smith’s Nashville is risk-averse in tactics and player selection: their box-to-box guys are defensive midfielders, their wingbacks are fullbacks who are playing a bit higher, etc. They’re also extremely experienced and organized, which is how they’ve become one of the hardest teams to beat in the league. They don’t give away much (United is currently atop the expected goals against table at American Soccer Analysis, and Nashville is just barely behind them in 3rd place), is what we’re saying.
So United’s creator-in-chief, Gressel, needs to have a big game. Whether that’s getting more touches than normal, or turning dead ball opportunities into really dangerous situations, scoring on Nashville usually takes something special. If Gressel can dominate his side of the field, he’ll also be helping defensively, as Nashville left wingback Dan Lovitz is their top source of key passes.
If Gressel has a standout match, United’s very likely going to get out of this game with a point or three.
Location: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, TN)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Jon Kempin; Andy Najar, Frédéric Brillant, Tony Alfaro; Julian Gressel, Moses Nyeman, Junior Moreno, Kevin Paredes; Drew Skundrich, Ola Kamara, Paul Arriola
Bench: Chris Seitz, Steven Birnbaum, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Joseph Mora, Felipe Martins, Yamil Asad, Griffin Yow, Edison Flores, Yordy Reyna
United remains without numerous starters, and new addition Ramón Ábila (who is on the trip) sounds like he’s along to train with the team as they stay on the road for a few days more than he is to be in uniform just yet. Flores is also on the trip, but it seems more like he’s going to see some minutes tonight. Given the choice between this game on grass or playing on turf Wednesday, this feels more like a game where we could see him for 15-30 minutes.
Elsewhere, we’re guessing that Paredes returns to a wingback role to help stretch Nashville’s typically compact shape, with Skundrich coming in as part of the front three (which may signal more of a 3421 than 343).
Projected Nashville starting 11: (532) - Joe Willis; Eric Miller, Jack Maher, Jalil Anibaba, Dave Romney, Dan Lovitz; Randall Leal, Dax McCarty, Aníbal Godoy; Hany Mukhtar, CJ Sapong
Gary Smith started the season in a 4231, but has over the past couple of months toggled between 532, 352, and 3412. This could be any of those, with the positioning of the wingbacks and Leal the tell, but generally against aggressive teams, Gary Smith prefers to sit deeper and take a more conservative approach.
With another game on Wednesday night, they could easily opt to rotate some players in, with Alex Muyl, Taylor Washington, and Brian Anunga candidates to step in. Up front, they’ve also got plenty of pricey depth, as two different Designated Players (Jhonder Cádiz and $6.8 million acquistion Aké Loba) both currently seem second-choice behind the crafty Mukhtar and longtime United killer Sapong.
It’s worth adding that Smith may have two starters returning to action. Alistair Johnston could see minutes at right wingback, while there’s a chance that Walker Zimmerman could start (which would probably move Anibaba to right-center back at Maher’s expense).
Referee: Drew Fischer
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington, TeleXitos
Feel free to check our our DCU how to watch guide to figure out what your best option is.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: The latest Filibuster is all about what’s ticking with...NSC? The Nashvillains? What are we calling these guys? Anyway, listen to the show.
What are you drinking?: I am down to my last can of seltzer, and it’s a lime seltzer. Post-game, I’ll be heading directly to the grocery store because I’m down to some pretty dire options in the fridge.
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