Messi or not, Troy Lesesne prepares DC United for Miami "spectacle"

Lesesne Interview

Troy Lesesne, in his first season coaching D.C. United, has guided the Black-and-Red to an undefeated record (1W-0L-2D).

It’s a small sample size, sure, but one that has fans hopeful 2024 could be the year D.C. break their eight-season drought of not advancing past Round One of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. For now, the team is off to their best start since 2019.

Soon to be standing in the way of that unbeaten record, though, are Inter Miami CF – led by former FC Barcelona greats Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. The Herons visit D.C. on Saturday (2 pm ET | Apple TV - Free).

Lesesne sat down with Extratime to discuss the upcoming matchup, as well as his broader vision for the club. The former New York Red Bulls coach also gave a breakdown of key players Christian Benteke, Mateusz Klich and Ted Ku-DiPietro.

Inter Miami interest

Lesesne is no stranger to the circus Messi and Co. bring to town, even when the superstar attacker isn’t a shoo-in to play, which will be the case this Saturday as Messi battles to return from injury.

During his time with RBNY, Lesesne got a first-hand glimpse of the attention a Miami visit garners. Messi didn’t start that match, but the atmosphere around Red Bull Arena was markedly different, and when the GOAT did step onto the field for his first MLS appearance, he dazzled as the orchestrator and finisher of one of the best team goals of the 2023 season.

“It is different,” Lesesne told Extratime’s Andrew Wiebe. “And the reason I know it's different is I experienced it last year with Red Bull. The players have a different focus for the week. And it's not that they're any less focused, but there are other components at play beyond just Messi and Suárez, Busquets, Alba.

“There's a heightened sense of attendance, which there always is. There’s a heightened level of security, so the stadium feels a little bit different than most regular season matches. There's a heightened sense of media involved in it.”

Lesesne added: “Last year [Messi] didn't start against us, and I actually don't know if that benefited us because now the full attention was when's he going to come in the match, and the crowd wants that. I described it last year as a spectacle, and it really is. And by the way, when he ends up playing in a game, if he does play, it is a spectacle because the things that he can do, just no one else can.”

D.C. United approach

As D.C. prepare for Miami’s lineup question marks – brought on by both Messi’s injury and squad rotation as the Herons balance league play and Concacaf Champions Cup – they must also consider the health of their own star player, Benteke. The DP forward, who bagged a hat trick on MLS is Back weekend, missed the last two matchdays due to injury, but did return to practice this week.

Lesesne is confident in his squad whether or not the burly Belgian can give it a go.

“When we have [Benteke], we want to use him,” said the D.C. coach. “When we haven't had him, we have other weapons.

“Those weapons include Aaron Herrera, Cristian Dájome, Jared Stroud, Gabi Pirani, Matty Klich, Ted Ku-DiPietro. They have different skill sets. That's where we have to be flexible in how we attack. If it's on to play vertical, then let's go. If it's not, then we have to be patient and find our 10s and our fullbacks and get them into the right areas."

Regardless of who’s in Lesesne’s XI, the coach believes his team must represent the new culture he and general manager Ally Mackay laid out for the club: “relentless, deliberate and decisive.”

“We said we need to define exactly what it means to be ‘united’ at D.C. United,” said Lesesne. “And so if we're checking those three boxes every day – not one out of three, not two out of three – all three, and each of those three words have a clear definition as well to make sure that we know exactly what that means, then we can say that we’re united in the right way.”