D.C. United

D.C. United 2022 MLS season preview: Tactics, predicted XI, predictions

Chris Smith
DC United will be looking to combine fun with consistent results this year.
DC United will be looking to combine fun with consistent results this year. /

After a season of adjustment under Hernan Losada, DC United are ready to show they mean business in 2022.

The Black and Red made a sharp turn last year, replacing 10-year coach Ben Olsen with the young, swashbuckling, high-pressing Losada. 2021 was fun, but ultimately ended in failure. Can they cash in on their potential this time?

Here's everything you need to know about DC United ahead of the new MLS season, including tactics, key players, and predictions.

How did DC United perform in 2021?

On the pitch, there was a lot to like about DC United last season. At times, they were among the most fun teams to watch in MLS as Losada got them pressing high and attacking quickly. The 7-1 win over Toronto FC in July was undoubtedly their high point.

Ultimately, though, it was just a little too much to ask them to be in-tune enough with the Argentine's methods to qualify for the Playoffs in his first year.

The Black and Red ran out of gas and even though they beat the TFC again 3-1 on Decision Day, that followed a run of four defeats and just one win from their final six matches - including a 6-0 thrashing to NYCFC.

Losada will be using this pre-season to further increase fitness levels to ensure that doesn't happen again.

DC United transfer activity

Transfers in

  • Brad Smith (from Seattle Sounders, $750k)
  • Hayden Sargis (from Sacramento FC, undisc.)
  • Sofiane Djeffal (SuperDraft)
  • Alex Nagy (SuperDraft)
  • Brendan Hines-Ike (from KV Kortrijk, undisc.)
  • Gaoussou Samake (from ASEC Mimosas, undisc.)
  • Michael Estrada (from Toluca, loan)

Transfers out

  • Kevin Paredes (to Wolfsburg, $7m)
  • Paul Arriola (to FC Dallas, $2m)
  • Junior Moreno (to FC Cincinnati, $425k)
  • Yamil Asad (to U. Catolica, free transfer)
  • Yordy Reyna (to Charlotte FC, free transfer)
  • Felipe Martins (to Austin FC, free transfer)
  • Michael DeShields (to Revolution II, free transfer)
  • Joseph Mora (to Charlotte FC, Expansion Draft)
  • Erik Sorga (to IFK Goteborg, Undisc.)
  • Frederic Brillant (retired)
  • Chris Seltz (retired)

Hernan Losada: Tactics and style of play

As mentioned, Losada absolutely loves to press and counter.

Whether or not he intends to switch remains unclear, but the Argentine did this in a 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 formation last season. Three center-backs are the best option given that most of the other players will be hunting for the ball further forward - including wing-backs Julian Gressel and new arrival Brad Smith.

DC ranked sixth in MLS for pressures (5,478) and fourth for xG (54.9). That sums it up. Intense, lung-busting, and hella fun! All that's left is for Losada to learn how to pace himself and add a tiny bit more possession control.

DC United predicted XI (3-4-2-1): Hamid; Najar, Birnbaum, Pines; Gressel, Canouse, Nyeman, Smith; Flores, Robertha; Estrada.

Who are DC United's key players?

Julian Gressel

Julian Gressel's departure stung Atlanta United fans greatly in 2020, and with good reason. The German-born wing-back is one of the most effective creators in MLS, notching 44 assists in 151 regular-season appearances to date and forging formidable partnerships with Josef Martinez and Ola Kamara for his respective clubs.

Continuing in his right-wing-back role, Gressel will be charged with firing more deadly crosses into the box, taking set-pieces, and helping out his forwards when DC United go hunting for the ball back high up the pitch.

He's one of the first outlets that needs cutting out from an opposition perspective.

Bill Hamid

Bill Hamid has kept 82 regular-season clean sheets to date and is fast closing in on the MLS record. He might be 31 now, but make no mistake, the eight-time USMNT goalkeeper is still among the best in the league.

Hamid remains agile and commanding inside his box, making some seemingly impossible saves and making sure his center-backs don't have to worry about what's behind them. He brings a ton of experience to a pretty young group and is a huge leader in the locker room for Losada.

Andy Najar

Andy Najar's role in 2021 was interesting to say the least, and extremly indicative of what Losada is trying to do at Audi Field.

The Honduras international most often lined up on the right of a three-man center-back line, but rather than hang back, he was tasked with charging forward to disrupt the opposition shape. Whether underlapping or driving down the outside, he dovetailed beautifully with Gressel and was probably the most entertaining center-back in MLS last year.

DC United 2022 season prediction

For DC United, a lot will depend on whether or not they keep hold of Ola Kamara and Junior Moreno. Until those issues are cleared up, there's a lot of uncertainty. The departures of Kevin Paredes and Paul Arriola will sting a little, too.

But let's say Losada comes into the season with exactly what he wants. His players love him and have had another pre-season to adjust to and get fit enough for his style.

This is the season they'll combine fun with enough results to be a Playoff team.

Prediction: 5th in the Eastern Conference