On the surface, D.C. United should be heavily favored in today’s game against FC Cincinnati. Cincy broke an MLS record on opening day, losing their 13th straight game, and by a 5-0 score to an Austin FC side that was one of the worst teams in the league in 2021. Meanwhile, United won 3-0! Throw in Cincinnati’s struggles against the Black-and-Red — they’ve never beaten DCU, and they’ve only scored twice in United’s four visits to southern Ohio to play them — and all signs are pointing to an easy win, right?
Not so fast. Cincinnati will be backed by a rowdy crowd, and both their 5-0 loss and D.C.’s 3-0 win are not indicative of how those games went. Under a new coach in Pat Noonan and possibly having striker Brenner available after he missed out last week, it stands to reason that United will have to improve on last week to get the result that people will expect of them.
Key player: Moses Nyeman
United’s youngest player (still!) got the nod on opening day as the deepest-lying player in central midfield, and the results were, to be honest, mixed. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t able to make as big of an impact defensively as the Black-and-Red will likely require, and there is competition for his spot in the form of Sofiane Djeffal.
Facing a Cincy team that a) will feature a highly motivated Luciano Acosta, b) deploys four central midfielders, and c) was not nearly as bad as the 5-0 scoreline in their opener indicates, United will need Nyeman to factor in both by controlling the game with his passing, and they’ll need him being a big factor defensively beyond just positioning.
Location: TQL Stadium (Cincinnati, OH)
Kickoff time: 6:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (352) - Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Brendan Hines-Ike, Steven Birnbaum; Julian Gressel, Drew Skundrich, Moses Nyeman, Sofiane Djeffal, Brad Smith; Edison Flores, Michael Estrada
Bench: Jon Kempin, Donovan Pines, Tony Alfaro, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Gaoussou Samaké, Griffin Yow, Adrien Perez, Nigel Robertha, Ola Kamara
Hernán Losada sent out a 352 rather than 343 or 3421 the first time he faced Philadelphia’s diamond 442 last season, and that was with a more experienced midfield at his disposal. This is purely an educated guess rather than something tipped off in Thursday’s press conference, but we expect him to go that route again. Djeffal would most likely replace Yow in that case, though we could see Pines or Odoi-Atsem come into the back three to allow Najar to move into the midfield.
However, we can’t rule out last week’s starters being retained, though Yow and Perez are still probably neck-and-neck to be the third forward. Other than that, Robertha is off the injury report, while Russell Canouse and Jeremy Garay are still out. The former being available (even if it seems likely he’ll be used quite sparingly) means Azaad Liadi is probably not going to be in the team on another four-day emergency contract. It also appears that Ted Ku-DiPietro, who came off the injury report this week, didn’t travel after missing last week with a knock.
Projected Cincinnati starting 11: (4312) - Alec Kann; Ray Gaddis, Geoff Cameron, Tyler Blackett, Rónald Matarrita; Yuya Kubo, Júnior Moreno, Allan Cruz; Lucho Acosta; Brandon Vázquez, Brenner
Noonan probably isn’t ready to completely get away from his Plan A after last week, and he might have Brenner back after the Brazilian DP was held in reserve due to having traveled back to Brazil during the week to complete the process of getting US residency. He (or MLS veteran Dom Badji) should step in for rookie Nick Markanich up top.
There may be an issue at left back, though, as Matarrita and John Nelson are both listed as questionable. If both can’t go, Noonan may have to lean on utility player Zico Bailey (as he did after Matarrita was substituted against Austin). Gustavo Vallecilla (also questionable) could step in ahead of Blackett at center back if he’s fit enough to start.
Referee: Pierre-Luc Lauziere
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus (yes, Plus, not the normal NBCSW), 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 episode of Filibuster is all about what to expect from...we need a nickname for these guys. The FCC? The Dubious Chili Dudes?
What are you drinking?: I’ll be at home sipping on lime LaCroix seltzer until the post-game presser is over, at which point I’m going to turn to City-State Brewing’s Lost Laws Pilsner.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos continued series dominance!
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