For a deeper preview of D.C. United's upcoming match against the Colorado Rapids, be sure to check out the latest episode of our podcast Filibuster in which UZ from Burgundy Wave appeared for a full segment. But for now, here's a three-question exchange with UZ to get you ready for tomorrow night.
B&RU: After making two appearances off the bench so far, it sounds like Conor Casey is set to get his first start in 10 months on Wednesday. What should we expect from him?
BW: He looked fabulous in his first two cameo appearances with the team, playing 46 minutes over the course of the last two games he appeared in. (He was held out of the Rapids game against New England because they didn't want to risk his return getting ruined on that FieldTurf.) Even though he's coming off a serious Achilles Tear, he's never been a speedster so we're not worried about him losing much. All he does is park himself in front of the near post and wait for the service to come, eating space and defenders as he goes to free up other guys to take more open shots -- he did all that wonderfully in his appearances, so you'll probably be seeing the same old Conor Casey that you're used to seeing on Wednesday. Casey should at least play 45 minutes of the match if he doesn't start - though I don't think Oscar Pareja will want to take the chance of leaving his best striker on the bench for so long - so either way you'll be seeing a hefty dose of him.
For those of us east coasters who haven't seen a lot of the Rapids yet this year, tell us about your two new international midfielders Martin Rivera and Jaime Castrillon.
Rivero has been a breath of fresh air for the team, since we haven't had a true midfield attacking stalwart since Terry Cooke back in 2008. He has played well above his age and looks like a real team leader out there with immaculate passes and a bullet of a shot. Everything you'd expect from a 'True #10' player, Rivero has done. We're excited too because he's only 22 years old and still has room to grow, and if he keeps growing into the player we've seen he can be, we could end up with one of the best attacking players in the league. Not bad for an unknown kid from Argentina.
Castrillon has been a bit streaky, but has played the role of versatile midfielder well. He works best going from box to box, similar to a more attack minded Pablo Mastroeni. He has also been one of the few guys to get in the way on set pieces and put in the headers with Casey out of the line up. The only complaint for Jaime so far is that he has disappeared from a couple of games completely, but that's to be expected from a guy trying to get used to a new league. Both Rivero and Castrillon have played their way into starting positions for sure, and for a team looking to be a far more attack minded group this year, that's a good thing.
All of the talk about the Rapids has revolved around the team's surprising new "sexy" attacking style, but not much has said about the defense. How has Matt Pickens and Colorado back line done so far this year?
They've done a lot better than the statistics would lead you to believe. Pickens in particular has had a great year considering his mediocre 2011 season, controlling the defense well and making saves that you'd usually expect from Nick Rimando and Kevin Hartman types more than Matt Pickens types. The defense has allowed quite a few goals but the majority of them have been from set pieces, which were a very, very big problem early in the season. In the Rapids biggest loss, 4-1 to New York, the midfield was full of injuries so the makeshift group of three in the middle screwed up royally more than the defense which led to the goals. The defense has left us no reasons to worry about it the last couple of seasons since Drew Moor came aboard, and we're still not worried this time around. It helps that the team has finally started to listen to Pickens and figure out how to defend on set pieces recently, of course.
BW: D.C. is a very injured team right now, unfortunately. Of all the guys who are out right now, who would you say is the most key injury for the team's success as a whole?
B&RU: If he was out, then I'd say Perry Kitchen, but D.C. United received some fantastic news today that what we thought was a torn ligament on Saturday turned out to be no severe damage. Kitchen might not wind up playing Wednesday night, but he won't be out nearly as long as we feared. So instead, the answer to your question is Emiliano Dudar, the fearless and savvy 6'-4" Argentine center back that had been a big reason for United's seven-game undefeated streak that ended in San Jose, and his departure was a big reason for that loss to the Earthquakes, and last week to the Dynamo.
Colorado has a rookie of the year candidate in Tony Cascio, but even more impressive than Tony is DC's Nick DeLeon. What's been the key to his early success as a player in his ROY campaign run?
It may sound insignificant or small, but Nick DeLeon's first touch is incredible. Always exactly where he wants it to go. If he's receiving the ball in traffic, he pushes it away from danger to keep possession. If he's got space, he uses it and advances the ball quickly up the field. DeLeon is huge for United in transition. He's quick, a good finisher, and a better crosser. When a rookie is taking your corners and some free kicks on a team that also includes Dwayne De Rosario, you know he's something special. Unfortunately though, DeLeon has missed the last couple matches with a hamstring strain, and could miss Wednesday's match too, although Andy Najar filled in quite well on his left flank against the Houston Dynamo.
We all know the Pontius', the DeRo's, the Santos' etc. but who's a guy we might not have heard of that could hurt the Rapids in the attack on Wednesday?
Ah yes, the man you are describing is Hamdi Salihi. The Albanian Bomber came to MLS with a ridiculous strike rate on his record from Rapid Vienna, but he started the season with nine straight games without a goal. That streak ended in San Jose, and he started a new one, scoring against Toronto FC as well. Salihi isn't the type of player to create his own goal, and his physical strength won't intimidate anyone in the vein of Conor Casey, but he can finish. Oh can he finish. Salihi will take a difficult chance in which most players wouldn't even think about shooting, and he'll score while making it look easy.