Preview: Nashville SC at D.C. United

The homestand has ended and after a 2-0 win in the US Open Cup, the ‘Yotes are back on the road. Tonight, they travel to the nation’s capital to take on D.C. United. Can Nashville keep their win streak alive? Will D.C. bounce back from their Open Cup disappointment?

D.C. United

8th (East) | 14 points | 4-2-5 | +3 GD |
Power Rankings: 15

Injuries / Absences:

Out: Ted Ku-DiPietro (ankle)
Questionable: Martín Rodríguez (knee), Nigel Robertha (ankle), Mohanad Jeahze (thigh), Steven Birnbaum (hip), Andy Najar (calf), Pedro Santos (thigh)

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It’s been a rough few seasons for one of the most historic teams in the league. Last year was especially bad as they picked up the Wooden Spoon to miss the playoffs for the third year in a row.

However, things are starting to look up for D.C. United. They brought in former star, Wayne Rooney, to not only coach the team but shape the squad to get them back to where they belong. The 2023 season started off much like last, but the team has started to find its identity over the last few weeks.

To start the campaign, Wayne Rooney had been setting his team up in a straight 4-4-2 formation, but they struggled to win games. Through the opening seven, United had only picked up a single win against Toronto FC.

To fix their issues, Rooney made the switch to a back three and played in a 3-5-2 in order to get the best out of his central midfielders. Since the switch, they’ve won two of their last three. Expect to see Rooney continue with this formation.

Rooney will have to contend with a host of injuries, but there are two key areas of the pitch that the ‘Yotes will have to keep an eye on tonight.

The switch to a back three has allowed Rooney to get Russell Canouse, Lewis O’Brien, and Mateusz Klich all out on the pitch at the same time. Canouse’s ability to break up play and quickly transition the ball to the two other midfielders will be key to stopping the ‘Yotes on the counter.

If D.C. is able to get out in transition they will look to get the ball to Taxi Fountas and Christian Benteke up top. Fountas is a very mobile forward who at times will drift a little wider or drop in to make Benteke the main focal point.

The battle between Benteke and the Nashville Centerbacks could be the point that decides tonight’s match.

Nashville SC

3rd (East) | 18 points | 5-3-3 | +8 GD |
Power Rankings: 3

Injuries / Absences:

Out: Nick DePuy (season-ending injury list)
Questionable: Walker Zimmerman (lower body)

When the season ends, we may look back at this homestand as a turning point for the ‘Yotes.

It’s not to say that Nashville was poor beforehand, but they were really struggling to score goals and generate chances. However, that has all changed in the last five games. In the league, Nashville took seven points from nine to move up to third place, all while moving on to the Round of 16 in the US Open Cup.

Now, the Boys in Gold have to go on the road and put the tactical changes to the test.

Nashville’s switch to the 4-4-2 diamond has seen them string together a run of results, but so far have all been at home. Tonight is the first opportunity to see if Gary Smith makes another tactical shift back to the 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1, or if the diamond is truly here to stay.

After listening to Smith in the past few press conferences, the change in formation feel more like an evolution of tactics rather than just a brief period of change. It allows a bit of flexibility in the game and with Randall Leal fit, more ways to change the game off the bench.

Leal made his return to the starting lineup on Wednesday at the tip of the diamond. While a little rusty, he looked very lively and played some excellent balls onto the forwards. However, the position he played against Dallas is typically occupied by Hany Mukhtar. Long term, Leal will end up slotting in on the right side of the diamond but tonight, Alex Muyl should get a chance to continue his excellent form in that role.

The biggest question for Nashville is the fitness of Walker Zimmerman, who missed the Chicago Fire match with groin tightness. Lukas MacNaughton came in for Zimmerman and put in a good performance, albeit without having much defensive work to do. Smith’s substitutions on Tuesday, giving MacNaughton and Maher 45 minutes each, could indicat that he doesn’t expect Zimmerman to be fit and Nashville will lineup with MacNaughton and Maher at the back.

If Nashville’s Centerbacks can keep the D.C. forwards in check, the ‘Yotes should get out of the game with a result.

Pod Picks

Andy Simmons

Score: Nashville 0-1 D.C.
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville concedes a late goal

Chris Ivey

Score: Nashville 1-1 D.C.
Scorers: Jacob Shaffelburg
MOTM: Jacob Shaffelburg
Bold Prediction: D.C. fires off nearly 20 shots, but less than 5 on goal

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 2-0 D.C.
Scorers: Teal Bunbury, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville scores twice in the final 30 minutes

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 2-1 D.C.
Scorers: Fafa Picault, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville concedes a late goal.

Valair Shabilla

Score: Nashville 1-1 D.C.
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville finishes the match with over 55% of possession

Fan Forecast

Match info

Teams: Nashville SC v. D.C. United
Odds: NSH (+210), Draw (+225), DCU (+160) via BetMGM
Date: Saturday, May 13
Time: 6:30 pm CDT, Audi Field, District of Columbia
TV: Apple TV
Radio: 104.5 The Zone (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 75°/56°. Mostly Cloudy. 12% chance of rain. 72% humidity

Author: Jonathan Slapeoriginated from outside of Atlanta but has lived in Nashville since 2005. Original member of Speedway Soccer and has been talking and occasionally writing about Nashville SC since the USL days. Self proclaimed official fashion correspondent. Outside of Nashville SC you can find him singing the praises of Jurgen Klopp, discussing the latest in sneakers and soccer fashion with a good stiff drink.

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