Under Troy Lesesne, D.C. United has gotten off to a good start to the season, but they're up against their toughest test so far in Inter Miami. While Lionel Messi won't be available for the Herons, this will still be a challenge for an improved D.C. United side that hasn't lost a game yet this season. After winning their opening match, D.C. drew their next two as goal scoring has been hard to come by. 

Part of the reason for that is that after scoring a hat trick for D.C. United on the opening day of the season, striker Christian Benteke has been absent due to a thigh injury. Back in training, he should be set to make his return to the squad this weekend which will be quite a boost for a D.C. team that has lacked an identity. Under Lesesne, the groundwork is being laid for success, but they need a target man in the middle to make it happen. Facing Miami without Messi will be a boost to D.C.'s attack. 

Since Messi's debut on July 22, 2023, the Herons only average 1.5 goals per game while conceding two goals per game when Messi doesn't start. Only Leonardo Campana and Messi himself have scored two or more goals when the Argentine isn't in the first XI. This is in comparison to Miami scoring 2.7 goals per game with Messi and only conceding one goal per game in his 16 starts. Messi has 21 goal contributions in games that he starts, and it's clear, and obviously unsurprising, that the Herons are much worse off without him. 

The hope is that Luis Suarez will help fill some of that creative void. The Herons have been unstoppable when both Messi and Suarez started, but since that likely won't be the case in D.C., that's when this could become an interesting clash. Only the Vancouver Whitecaps have conceded more goals from set plays since the start of last season than Miami's 17. Only three of those set play goals have been conceded during the Messi era, but two of those three were against CF Montreal where the Herons suffered their first defeat of the season.

D.C. United have scored 11 goals from set plays since the beginning of last season, which is a top 10 figure in the league and Benteke himself has netted four of those. Adding his aerial abilities with the excellent delivery from Mateusz Klich will create danger for the Herons, especially given that they commit 13.25 fouls per 90 minutes in the Messi era, which is the seventh-highest figure in the league. D.C. are also up there, committing 13.64 fouls per 90 minutes, but without Messi, Miami's set play danger decreases.

Ted Ku-Dipietro will miss the match decreasing some of Benteke's supply, but with players like Jackson Hopkins and Pedro Santos more than capable of getting crosses in from the left side, D.C. will have no issues getting the ball to the Belgian in the middle. A different style of team, this will be quite a challenge for Tata Martino and Miami to navigate. Adjusting to challenges without Messi are moments that show Miami's staying power, and so far in the Messi-era, it isn't something that they've been able to overcome.

The Herons will have their latest chances to prove that things are different Saturday in the District, but in order to make that happen, confronting their Achilles heel from dead ball situations will be critical.