Troy Lesesne is confident that D.C. United have the right players to get a result against a "difficult" Charlotte FC on Saturday.

D.C. have failed to win any of their last five matches, though did come from 2-0 down against Toronto FC to draw before the mid-season break.

They sit 10th in the Eastern Conference with 19 points, and despite missing a lot of players, Lesesne believes he has a squad capable of snapping their winless streak.

"We're not going to put energy into what we don't have," he said. "We're going to put all our focus onto a difficult opponent in Charlotte. It's a great atmosphere there, but it's a team we feel we can match up against and hopefully get some points.

"We have a task at hand and a capable group to get the job done this weekend. We have to concentrate on the things that we need to concentrate on, not the distractions, not the excuses.

"We have young talented players in this squad that can make an impact, and they can handle the pressure."

Meanwhile, Charlotte sit five places above them in the table and have six points more.

Despite finishing the first half of the season with a 3-2 victory over Atlanta United, defender Adilson Malanda thinks the club could be in an even stronger position.

Malanda said: "I think we could look better, we've given points away, but I think we're ready for the second part. Big part of dropping points was away, so we want to fix that to stay where we are, but it's important we win at home too."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Charlotte FC – Liel Abada

Abada scored Charlotte’s first multi-goal game of 2024 in the Crown’s 3-2 win over Atlanta. Abada is the eighth different Charlotte player to score multiple goals in a match, with only Inter Miami (nine) has more different players with a multi-goal game since the start of the 2022 season.

D.C. United – Mateusz Klich

Klich earned a valuable point with his late penalty in D.C.’s 2-2 draw with Toronto FC last time out. He is their joint-second scorer this season with two goals but is still 11 behind Christian Benteke’s tally of 13.

MATCH PREDICTION: CHARLOTTE FC WIN

The home team have not lost any of the four meetings between Charlotte and D.C. United, with Charlotte recording a win and a draw in two matches at Bank of America Stadium. D.C. did not score in either match, one of two teams that have made multiple visits there without ever scoring (Inter Miami).

Charlotte have won four of their last seven matches (D2 L1) including a 3-2 win at Atlanta on June 2. The 14 points over the last seven games equals the second-most in any seven-game span in the club’s MLS history (15 in April-May 2023)

Meanwhile, D.C. have won one of their last 13 regular-season away matches (D6 L6) dating back to last July. United have failed to score in more than half (seven) of those games.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Charlotte FC – 52.1%

Draw – 24.4%

D.C. United – 23.4%

John Herdman described Toronto FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson as an MLS legend ahead of Saturday's meeting with D.C. United at Audi Field. 

Toronto sit sixth in the Eastern Conference standings after playing out a goalless draw with the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday.

That was their first clean sheet since April 21 (a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution) but their sixth overall in MLS play this year. Only Charlotte FC have more, with seven.

"When the big man is called on, he brings it," Herdman said after their win over the Union. "This man, he's starting to become a bit of an MLS legend. 

"He's on 400 games now in MLS and probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves… 10 clean sheets for TFC. 

"I can't say enough about the big man. He's done a hell of a job for us this season."

D.C. sit 10th in the standings after going four games without a victory, losing 4-2 at CF Montreal in midweek. 

Troy Lesesne criticised his side for making rookie mistakes after that game, saying: "We put ourselves in a hole and we can't make these types of mistakes, those are hard lessons to learn.

"Particularly on the road, with some of the form we've been in over the last three matches… it just sets the tone."

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

D.C. United – Christian Benteke

Benteke scored both of D.C. United’s goals in their midweek defeat, his fourth multi-goal MLS match of the season. 

The only D.C. United players with more in a single regular season are Luciano Emilio (five) in 2007 and Raul Diaz Arce (five) in 1996.

Toronto FC – Federico Bernardeschi 

Bernardeschi attempted five shots and set up four chances for team-mates on Wednesday. 

The Italian has been directly involved in 94 shots this season (57 shots, 37 chances created), the fourth-most in MLS.

MATCH PREDICTION – D.C. UNITED WIN

Toronto's scoreless draw with Philadelphia on Wednesday took them to 23 points for the season, surpassing their total from the entirety of last year (22). 

However, D.C. are unbeaten in their last seven home games against Toronto (three wins, four draws), also losing just one of their last four on home soil overall. 

Toronto have also won just one of their last five regular-season games after winning their previous three. D.C.'s energetic approach could catch them out. 

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

D.C. United – 48.8%

Toronto FC – 25.5%

Draw – 25.7%

Laurent Courtois was pleased to see CF Montreal "stop the bleeding" with Saturday's goalless draw against Nashville SC, but he knows more is needed when they host D.C. United on Wednesday. 

Montreal are winless in their last nine matches across all competitions (four draws, five losses) and sit 13th of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.

They did at least snap a four-game losing streak with that stalemate, and Courtois wants them to use that result as a platform.

"I heard a couple of guys talking about 'stopping the bleeding' and I hate it, but it's the reality of the moment," said Courtois.

"We're happy in the sense that we were able to get back to our standards of commitment and competitiveness, but we know that we need more at home, so we have to get back to work."

D.C. were also held to a draw last time out as their own winless run stretched to three matches, being pegged back in a 1-1 home tie with the Chicago Fire.

Coach Troy Lesesne was less than pleased with his team's performance in that match, saying: "In the end, we were fortunate to get a point out of that, and that's not good enough.

"Maybe there wasn't enough service. I think it was to do with how we went out. 

"In the first half you could see our identity by the way we went out, but you could not see that in the second half." 

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

CF Montreal – Josef Martinez

Martinez has scored eight regular-season goals against D.C. United, equalling the most he has scored against any opponent in his MLS career (also eight versus the New England Revolution and Orlando City).

D.C. United – Christian Benteke

D.C. have won 347 aerial duels this season, over 100 more than any other MLS team and almost three times as many as Montreal. 

Montreal have won 122 aerial duels this year, the second-fewest in MLS and 42 fewer than Benteke alone (164).

MATCH PREDICTION – CF MONTREAL WIN

D.C. have won two straight matches against Montreal in all competitions, but the only three-game winning streak achieved by either team against the other came in 2016-17 (three victories for Montreal).

Montreal's nine-match winless run is their joint-longest across all competitions since they joined MLS in 2012 (also nine in 2013-14).

However, D.C. have failed to win any of their last three matches (one draw, two losses) and have only won one of their last 13 on the road (seven draws, five defeats).

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

CF Montreal – 46.9%

D.C. United – 25.7%

Draw – 27.4% 

Frank Klopas and the Chicago Fire may not have to worry about demotion from MLS, but he wants them to adopt a "relegation battle" mentality ahead of Saturday's visit to D.C. United.

The Fire sit 14th in the Eastern Conference standings after losing four straight games, with three of those defeats coming at home including last week's 3-1 reverse against the Columbus Crew. 

Their current losing run is their fifth streak or four or more regular-season defeats since the start of 2021, though they have not lost five in a row in league play since 2018.

"The thing is trying to simplify things in practice, I think that's the most important thing with teams going through a difficult moment," Klopas said.

"The mental state of the team is obviously down. I think that's expected when you don't get results, when performances are not going your way.

"Even though there's no relegation battle in this league, we have to approach every game right now like it's a relegation fight until we can get out of this situation we're in."

D.C. are also looking to respond after back-to-back losses to the New York Red Bulls (1-4) and Inter Miami (0-1), with those results leaving them ninth in the East.

Troy Lesesne's team have won praise for their counter-pressing approach this year, but he says they still have plenty of room for improvement when playing on the break.

"No matter who the opponent is, we want to be difficult to play against and to break down, but we're also doing that so we can create," Lesesne said.

"We're top in the league for expected goals on the counterattack, but we have to finalise those situations.

"We're going to keep working on that, keep gaining those moments and keep improving." 

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

D.C. United – Christian Benteke 

Benteke has scored 11 of D.C.'s 20 goals this season, with no other team-mate netting more than once in MLS play.

D.C. United are one of two MLS teams (also the Houston Dynamo) to only have one player with multiple goals this season.

Chicago Fire – Carlos Teran 

Teran scored the Fire's only goal against the Crew last week and has now netted once for them in each of the last four seasons, making him the only player to score in each of the last four campaigns for Chicago.

The Colombian defender is hardly a goal machine, but Chicago will hope he can have an impact at both ends here.

MATCH PREDICTION – D.C. UNITED WIN 

Chicago's tally of 10 points through 14 matches in 2024 is their worst total at this stage of a season in club history.

Things may not get any better for them on Saturday against a team known for employing an energetic approach.

D.C. United recorded a 4-0 home win over Chicago in the teams' last meeting last September, and they are looking to post back-to-back victories over the Fire for the first time since a four-game winning run against them between 2014 and 2016.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

D.C. United – 47.7%

Chicago Fire – 26.6% 

Draw – 25.7% 

Gerardo Martino is expecting Lionel Messi to play for Inter Miami at home to D.C. United this weekend, though he emphasised he would not take "any risks".

Messi was absent as Miami were held to a 0-0 draw away at Orlando City last time out with what Martino described as a "bit of a niggle".

The goalless draw, combined with FC Cincinnati's win over Atlanta United, means Miami's lead at the top of the Eastern Conference has been closed to just a point ahead of this weekend's fixtures.

As Miami look to get back to winning ways this weekend, Martino believes Messi will be able to return, though he will not rush the former Barcelona man back onto the field.

"The fact is that he felt some pain in his movements and, given that we're on a run of three games in the space of a week, we felt the most sensible thing to do was leave him out of today's game," Martino told reporters.

"The plan is that he'll play on Saturday, but it’s going to depend on how he progresses. We’re not going to take any risks, and on Thursday and Friday we'll assess his fitness."

D.C. were handed a first loss in four as they were thumped 4-1 by the New York Red Bulls in midweek, but head coach Troy Lesesne believes the defeat does not cancel out the previous solid form displayed by his side.

"For the last three weeks, we can feel good about our performance, and tonight doesn’t just erase all that," Lesesne said.

“We're building still. We can recognise tonight was a setback.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Inter Miami – Luis Suarez

With Messi absent against Orlando, Suarez couldn't make it four straight games with a goal as he drew a blank. With Messi potentially missing again on Saturday, Suarez will be keen to get back among the goals to help his team to victory.

D.C. United – Christian Benteke

Benteke was held scoreless against the Red Bulls despite taking six shots in the match. It was Benteke’s third MLS match this season with at least six shots with all other D.C. players having combined to do that once in league play in 2024 (Gabriel Pirani). The former Liverpool man certainly isn't afraid of pulling the trigger, though he will be hoping this time to find the back of the net with one or more of his efforts at goal.

MATCH PREDICTION – MIAMI WIN

D.C. are unbeaten in three all-time matches at Miami. D.C. are the only opponent that have visited Miami more than once in regular season play and never lost.

Miami’s five-game winning streak ended Wednesday with a 0-0 draw with Orlando. Miami had exactly seven shots for the second straight match, the club’s first time having consecutive MLS matches with single-digit shots since May-June 2023.

In Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Red Bulls, D.C. attempted 22 shots while allowing 11. The plus-11 shot differential was United’s highest in a loss by three or more goals since a 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew in April 2013 (+14).

In 2024, Miami have one win in their five MLS matches (two draws, two defeats) without Messi and seven victories in their nine games with him. The team’s goals per game average in MLS matches this season is 3.2 with Messi, and 1.2 without him.

Messi is clearly Miami's star man, then, and with him looking likely to feature this weekend, the hosts will be the favourites to return to winning ways at the top of the Eastern Conference.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Inter Miami - 50.8%

D.C United - 22.9%

Draw - 26.3%

D.C. United coach Troy Lesesne feels fortunate to work with Christian Benteke, who is battling the likes of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi for the MLS Golden Boot after a flying start to 2024.

Benteke has been in incredible form this year, scoring 11 goals in 10 MLS appearances to join Suarez and Cristian Arango at the top of the scoring charts, with Messi one behind that trio.

The former Liverpool and Aston Villa man scored a hat-trick of headers last time out, helping D.C. recover from behind for a 3-2 win over Atlanta United. 

With Lesesne's former employers the New York Red Bulls visiting Audi Field on Wednesday, the D.C. boss will be hoping for more of the same.   

"He's incredible," Lesesne said of Benteke. "He's got two hat-tricks this year, he's on 11 goals now and he's just such an incredible presence in our team, even beyond scoring.

"He deserves to be talked about first. He is a handful, and he allows other players to come into the match and have dangerous opportunities themselves. I'm very lucky to work with him."

Benteke's form has helped put D.C. in the playoff picture early on this campaign, but the Red Bulls are three points clear of them, sitting third in the Eastern Conference.

They also came out on top in a thriller last week, with two late goals helping them overcome the New England Revolution 4-2.

One of their goalscorers, Elias Manoel, says the Red Bulls' ability to pick up results when not at their best will take them far this term.

"It was really important to keep the consistency because even though we had some unfavourable results, in some games we didn't lose as well," Manoel said.

"This consistency is going to be really good at the end of the competition."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

D.C. United – Christian Benteke

Against Atlanta last week, Benteke became just the second player since 2010 to score three headed goals in a single MLS game, alongside the Five Stripes' Juan Purata in 2022 (versus Toronto FC).

New York Red Bulls – Elias Manoel 

Manoel recorded both a goal and an assist as a substitute in New York's win over the Revolution last week. 

He joined Cameron Harper and Bradley Wright-Phillips as the only Red Bulls players over the last 10 seasons to come off the bench and record both a goal and assist. Will he be rewarded with a start?

MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

This will be the 107th meeting between D.C. and the Red Bulls in all competitions – it is the most-played match between two MLS teams. The Red Bulls, winners of the last three meetings, have never won four straight against D.C.

D.C. have gone unbeaten through their last three games, winning two and drawing one, while scoring multiple goals in each match. An entertaining draw could be on the cards here… 

The Red Bulls are coming off a 4-2 win over New England in which they only had 33.1 per cent of possession. They have had four games with less than a third of possession and four or more goals in the last three seasons, more than every other MLS team combined.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

D.C. United – 39.1%
New York Red Bulls – 32%
Draw – 28.9% 

Gonzalo Pineda hopes his Atlanta United side's 3-0 win over the Charlotte Independence in the US Open Cup on Tuesday gives them confidence after a tricky recent run.

Atlanta had gone five MLS games without a win prior to Tuesday's victory, leaving them 10th in the Eastern Conference after 10 matches.

However, with his side now heading into a home game against D.C. United off the back of a dominant display, Pineda is hoping that will spur his players onto better things in the league.

"When you win and have a solid performance like we did today, that brings confidence to the players," Pineda told reporters.

"I think at times there are certain games like this that can be a game changer or system changer."

Meanwhile, D.C. have only won one of their last five outings themselves and are just two points and a place above Atlanta having played a game more.

D.C. appeared to be on their way to victory against the Philadelphia Union last weekend, but they let a two-goal lead slip to instead be held to a draw.

Despite letting the Union escape with a point, D.C. head coach Troy Lesesne believes it was still an impressive showing.

"It may have been our best performance of the year," Lesesne said. "I'm very proud of what we put together.

"At the end of the season, this will be a point against a really good side."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Atlanta United – Giorgos Giakoumakis

Giakoumakis attempted six shots against Minnesota United last weekend with all of them coming from inside the box. Giakoumakis has averaged 4.1 shots in the box per 90 minutes this season, the highest rate in MLS (min. 400 minutes), and he will be hoping to add to his impressive tally of five goals in seven MLS appearances this Saturday.

D.C. United – Christian Benteke

Benteke has already netted eight MLS goals so far this season and is very much on course to beat his output of 14 that he managed last term. He is a constant threat in attack for D.C., and Atlanta will have to keep a watchful eye on the former Liverpool man.

MATCH PREDICTION – ATLANTA WIN

Atlanta have suffered consecutive regular season home losses for the first time since July 2021. This is only the club's fourth two-match home losing streak in regular season play as they've never lost three in a row at home.

Meanwhile, D.C. lost a two-goal lead in their 2-2 draw with the Union. D.C. have dropped 12 points from winning positions this season, tied for the second most in the league this season (Sporting Kansas City – 14).

D.C. are winless in 10 straight away matches in all competitions dating back to early August, and Atlanta could extend that poor run by taking the three points on Saturday.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Atlanta: 55.2%

D.C.: 19.8%

Draw: 25%

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