After facing the best team in MLS on Wednesday night, D.C. United now pays a visit to the worst team in MLS. Toronto FC has yet to earn a single point this year, leaving them desperate and hungry. To prepare for the match, we exchanged questions with SB Nation's TFC blogger Duncan Fletcher from Waking The Red.
B&RU: Is Toronto FC aware that they need to score at least as many goals as their opponents in order to gain points in the standings? Have they been trying to figure out other ways to gain points in the standings since they've been unable to score at least as many goals as their opponents so far in 2012?
WTR: You North Americans have no idea. All that talk of stats, goals, points. It's sad really. Aron Winter's playing on a whole other level than you guys. Soon there'll be a bunch of Canadian teenagers talking Dutch and running rings around you all and you'll have no idea what happened. Total Football! Whoo!
Or perhaps, maybe, yet another foreign coach is slowly realizing MLS is a lot harder than they thought. Could be either one really.
Seriously though, have TFC's issues this year been mostly due to injuries or something else? When will the team be able to get back on track?
Injuries have been a factor, but it really comes down to the exact same issue that has been killing us for 5 years now, the lack of a good Centre Back. Ecuadorian international Geovanny Caicedo didn't even make it past pre season, and Chilean international Miguel Aceval, while having his good points, seems very slow and not fit enough to be able to do the job. I'm still a bit hopeful that Adrian Cann can help out as he's just come back from an ACL injury he got last season, but he certainly didn't look good either against Real Salt lake last week. We've got a whole host of average MLS level Centre Backs, but without the one really good player to organise it all, they're all floundering a bit. The problem is compounded by the fact that Winter has been chopping and changing the backline almost every game so there's not even a sense of familiarity that bumps them up from bad to mediocre.
Torsten Frings' and Danny Koevermans both picking up injuries hasn't helped things either, and Joao Plata still hasn't got close to his form from last year. Depth was never TFC's thing, so without some of our better players, we've really struggled.
Aron Winter also seems a bit lost as to whether to stick with the plan or compromise to suit his players, and that combined with often playing players out of position has led to a lot of confusion and individual mistakes that have killed us all year. Against Montreal on Wednesday, he went with 'park the bus' it wasn't good, but neither were Montreal so we got a 0-0, which is a baby step in the right direction.
I'm certainly not counting that as 'back on track' but I guess it's something, as to when it will be, I don't know, soon hopefully, but I think if we don't beat either DC or Montreal in the return leg, Winter's done as head coach.
What part of the field is the team's strength? What is its weakness? What position are you most worried about United attacking?
Strengths? Well, Milos Kocic is a good goalie, not great, but I've got no complaints, so that certainly qualifies as a strength. ugh, I'm in no state of mind to be answering this question right now, I'm very grumpy about the team. Frings is good, but may have come back from injury too soon or be trying to do too much as he hasn't looked that influential recently, but theoretically, defensive midfield should be a strength, depending on what formation we go with. The last couple of games we've gone with Frings, Julian de Guzman and terry Dunfield as our midfield 3, not an attacking midfielder among them but at least against Montreal it helped keep the goals down. Eric Avila had a very good game against Real Salt Lake at left wing, and the week before Reggie Lambe got a couple of goals from the right wing, hopefully that production can continue.
Weaknesses is easier. Pretty much the entire defence, all down to that Centre back issue I mentioned before, which has knock on effects through the whole team, stopping the full backs from going forward as much as they might like, and meaning the midfield has to be a lot more defensive as well. Up front, Danny Koevermans might be back, but won't be at full fitness, and if he can't play, it'll be Ryan Johnson. He's a good player but hasn't been able to find the net in quite a few games now and after playing every minute of the season so far and taking a lot of punishment, he looks very much in need of a rest.
As to a position I'm worried about DC attacking, how about every position? TFC still can't defend set pieces, the full backs are bound to get caught out of position at some point, and we have an offside trap playing high line that gets caught out in every game and centre backs who aren't quick enough to recover. In situations where the game is tied, so presumably both teams are trying just as hard to score, TFC has been outscored 10-1 in 181 minutes. Now pass the scotch.
WTR: After a decent end to last season, DC have had a great start to this season. What's been the key to their good start, and can they keep it going and make an impact in the playoffs?
B&RU: The difference this year has been in defense. In central defense, to be specific. Emiliano Dudar, to be more specific. The big Argentine center back has provided leadership across D.C. United's back line, and making everyone around him better. The offense is clicking too, but Dudar was easily the biggest reason for United's seven game undefeated streak that just ended in San Jose. Unfortunately though, a hamstring strain kept him out of the match against the Earthquakes on Wednesday night, and will continue to keep him out for a few more weeks, leaving a major hole on the back line that was already missing Dejan Jakovic and Ethan White.
Our long-term aspirations for United are still sky high though. This team deserves its standing at second place in the Eastern Conference, and just as soon as Dudar returns to action, a new winning streak will begin.
Seems like Maicon Santos hasn't been showing off his hopeless unbrazilian alter ego Mike Sanders yet, aside from his goals, how's he fitting into the team? Also with an eye to the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, how are Dwayne de Rosario and Dejan Jakovic looking? Also fill in the blanks, in the 2 upcoming games against TFC, De Ro will score __ goals.
We have seen Mike Sanders actually, but only briefly. Mike Sanders tragically died earlier this year when he was struck in a head by a soccer ball that he had shot out of the stadium in Vancouver, circled the earth, and against all odds returned from orbit to hit its originator. Since then, Santos' Mike Sanders alter ego has been replaced by a different alter ego that we like to call Maicon Fuckin Santos, the guy who has a powerful and accurate left foot, and that wins almost every header to set up possession for his teammates.
As for the Canadian players on our roster, TFC picked a really bad time to face the team captained by De Rosario, because he's just rounding into his 2011 MVP form for the first time in 2012. De Rosario is leading the league in assists with seven, and now has a goal in two straight games. Jakovic spent the first portion of the season competing (and mostly losing the competition) with Brandon McDonald for a starting job next to Dudar. Recently, he's been sitting out with an ankle injury, but Jakovic is listed as questionable and could return as soon as this weekend.
Based on the fact that De Rosario scored a hat trick against Toronto last year, that the Toronto defense is even worse this year, and that he's got a scoring streak going right, I'd set the over/under at 2.5 goals for De Rosario in the month of May against TFC. How would you bet?
After playing out on the West Coast on Wednesday night, will there be changes made to the team for this game? What sort of lineup and formation do you see Ben Olsen running out?
Yes there will be changes, but its difficult to predict what they will be. The only thing we do know is that United will maintain its version of the diamond 4-4-2. To get some idea of what Olsen is probably thinking, it may be appropriate to look back at the last time United played multiple games in a week. In that case, Olsen elected to rest some of his starters against the weaker opponent (Montreal Impact) while playing his best 11 against the stronger opponent (New York Red Bulls). Well our best 11 was on the field Wednesday night in San Jose, so you might expect to see a few reserves. That doesn't mean the game will be any easier for Toronto though. When I say "reserves," I just mean guys like Andy Najar, Hamdi Salihi, and Bill Hamid will probably be starting instead of being on the bench. Those are the reserves you'll be facing.