By Brian Maurer
Charlotte FC and DC United competing last season at Bank of America Stadium (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC)
What We Have Seen So Far
DC United are off to a much better start after winning the Wooden Spoon in 2022. DC United have seven points out of their last five games and have won two in a row. They are sitting 8th in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte FC will likely be facing a team this weekend that is far more up for a fight than they were toward the end of last season.
DC United’s coach, Wayne Rooney, showed his ability to recruit players from the Premier League, which was likely a strong reason for DC United hiring him midway through 2022. One of their more recent signings, midfielder Lewis O’Brien, was brought in on loan from Nottingham Forest. The other notable Premier League signing was midfielder Mateusz Klich, who was transferred in from Leeds United back in January.
Besides the two Premier League midfielders DC United also focused on revamping their defense, signing three goalkeepers (Tyler Miller, Alex Bono, and Luis Zamudio) and five defenders (Derrick Williams, Pedro Santos, Mohanad Jeahze, Ruan, and Yamil Asad).
Most recently, DC United traded for forward Cristian Dájome from Vancouver Whitecaps right before the trade window closed. Dájome will likely not be ready for the match this weekend as he was traded on April 25th.
Player’s to Watch
Mateusz Klich - Klich was brought in as a designated player (DP) with the intent of being the centerpiece of the team in midfield. So far he has five goal contributions (1g/4a). Consistently marking him and stopping him from providing service to the frontline will be a key to Charlotte FC finding success defensively.
Christian Benteke - Benteke is an extremely strong target man number nine. He leads DC United with four goals in 2023. If Charlotte FC’s center back Bill Tuiloma is unable to go on Saturday, defending Benteke becomes a monumental task, especially since crosses and set pieces have been a weakness for Charlotte FC.
Ruan - Ruan, like Klich, is another one of DC United’s winter signings. He has been used as a full back on the right side who pushes up high to help play crosses in from wide towards Benteke. Ruan has two assists so far this season. Stopping the service from wide will help reduce the amount of pressure Charlotte FC will face from defending Benteke in the box. If Charlotte FC can prevent Ruan’s service then they will also reduce the impact Benteke can have on the game.
DC United’s Starting XI
Of late DC United’s lineup has included several mainstays so far to start the season. Klich, O’Brien, and Russell Canouse have been the regular midfield grouping set by Rooney. Benteke and Taxi Fountas have been a regular part of the attack. DC United's midfield, backline and strikers will all likely be the same. The one area where rotation has been occurring is in the wider areas, although Ruan and Santos may have begun locking down those roles.
DC United's starting lineup from last week against Orlando City (Graphic from MLSsoccer.com)
Ruan stayed wide and high in their most recent match against Orlando City, as he would provide crosses in from the right. Klich and O’Brien have both been attacking from the halfspaces. Reducing the midfielders' impact will be difficult, but imperative to getting out of the Nation’s capital with at least a point this weekend.
DC United's passing network from last week's game against Orlando City (Graphic from MLSsoccer.com)
DC United's zones of control* for the 2023 season (Graphic from theanalyst.com)
DC United have not held onto the ball the way Charlotte FC have for much of the season. As you can see in the zones of control map above DC United have been able to compete and get touches in the wide areas in the attacking third. The Black and Blues will need to make sure they aren’t giving up space in the wide areas and allowing free crosses into the box defensively.
Outlook for 2023
DC United’s start to the season already makes things look far brighter than their last place performance in 2022. The large overhaul they made during the winter window appears to be paying off for Rooney, at least for now. Whether they can maintain their place in the standings will be an intriguing story line through the first half the season, because if they do they will have made a significant jump from where they were last year.
Charlotte FC will not be getting an opponent this week that is going to just lie down as DC United will compete for 90 minutes in this match up. To get a result Charlotte FC will need to be sharp especially when marking Benteke in the box and when marking wide players looking to cross.
*For the zones of control, blue symbolizes areas on the field that DC United have had at least 55% of total touches. Red represents areas where the Rapid's opposition have had at least 55% of total touches.