D.C. United travels up to BMO Field in Toronto tomorrow night to take on the Reds of Toronto FC. To preview the match, we got together with Duncan Fletcher of Waking the Red, SB Nation's TFC flavored blog.
Questions for Waking the Red
B&RU: Here in D.C., we are well acquainted with failed designated players. How is Gilberto doing so far this season, and do you think that Ol' Gil can turn it around?
WtR: Well that's one of the two big questions and doubts hanging over and clouding what should be a time of relative giddiness for TFC fans, the other being whether Ryan Nelsen is or isn't in over his head when it comes to being take this improved squad as far as it should go. Gilberto's not terrible by any means, he's done a lot of good things, he's creative, hard working, seems to work quite well with Jermain Defoe (though having 2 DP strikers does somewhat limit Nelsen's ability to drop down to 1 striker should he want to) and if you take the goalscoring thing out of there, it's all going quite well and everyone's happy to have him, the Ol Gil' or GilBarretto teasing he's received so far is all very gentle and friendly.
Of course, all that talk may well just be TFC fans talking big, reciting articles of faith to convince themselves that the club hasn't signed a dud. Another such article of faith is that now he's scored one goal, there'll be no stopping him and he'll become a consistent scorer. I'd like to believe, I really would, but as with any faith, until there's proper evidence I can't fully buy into it, that one goal has merely moved him up to Rafael territory, the wolf is very much still at Ol' Gil's door. If he can add goals to what he's provided so far, then he'll be a very good signing, but will he? My gut instinct is that he won't do enough, if he were to play all season I could see him getting somewhere between 5 and 7 goals and in the off season management will somehow find a way to take away his blazer and the walls of his cubicle and find themselves another DP. I hope I'm wrong.
B&RU: After seeing how Michael Bradley plays for the USMNT, how does he play for Toronto? And there's no chance he plays on Saturday, right?
WtR: I'd be surprised to see him play on Saturday, but he and the club are talking big about the possibility of it, maybe it's just mindgames, maybe he'll come off the bench, who knows really.
How does he play for Toronto, well we all knew he was a US international and almost a Roma first teamer, so theoretically we expected good things, but few TFC fans had really seen him play a lot. That left a lot of room for shock and awe as in his first few games he was incredible. A tackling and interception machine in midfield and with the vision and skill to very quickly launch counter attacks, and able to score goals as well, it was a magnificent first month. He then missed a game after what was mysteriously called a 'procedure' on his foot, and in the few league and Voyageurs Cup games he played after that he was back down to the levels of mere mortal. He was still good, with occasional moments of really good, but it was similar to how he played at the world cup, rather than the dominating player we saw at the start. Question is, what's the outlier? Is he just too good for MLS and when at full fitness he'll go back to what we saw at the start, or was that a blip and expectations should be lowered. One thing that will help is that we finally have a proper defensive midfielder in Collen Warner to play alongside him in the middle which should help him get forward and influence play more without having to worry as much about the defensive side of things. Despite the fact TFC have gone on a 6 game unbeaten streak since he left (9 points in 7 games while he was here, 12 points in 6 without him) I'm excited to have him back.
B&RU: TFC and the LA Galaxy are currently tied for the least games played in MLS; Are you worried about schedule congestion coming down the stretch?
WtR: It could well be a problem as TFC are still very much rebuilding the squad after years of mismanagement. Their top few players are better than most in MLS, and the bottom 10 of the roster is the usual MLS mix of young prospects and not quite good enough journeymen, but there's a lack of quality in the middle of that, those that make up the game day 18 around the stars. An injury to the wrong player (especially Jermain Defoe) and a promising season could go horribly wrong faster than Montreal's did last year. The busier schedule won't help with that, especially as that lack of depth means rotation is going to be difficult to pull off without a big dropoff in quality. It's not so much down the stretch really as we make up the vast majority of the backlog in July, from June 27th to August 3rd, there's 10 games (including a useless friendly against Tottenham that we'll no doubt all be told is the most amazing greatest thing ever), so expect an exhausted side to visit on July 30th. After that there's only a couple of double week games so if we can get through July unscathed, we'll be in good shape.
WtR: Julio Cesar is still world cupping, Bradley probably won't be in the lineup. Gilberto's injured and Luke Moore is suspended after a harsh red card on Wednesday. Bright Dike and Dan Lovitz are also out.
B&RU: Projected lineup?
WtR: With Gilberto and Moore out, what happens up front should be very interesting, it could well be the return of Dwayne de Rosario to the starting lineup. Also, given most of the first team played a full 90 minutes with ten men against Chicago on Wednesday, there may be tiredness based rotation to take into account as well. So this is more of a random stab in the dark than usual, I'll go with the following, in a 4-4-2, right to left.
Joe Bendik; Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell, Nick Hagglund, Justin Morrow; Dominic Oduro, Collen Warner, Jonathan Osorio, Jackson; Jermain Defoe, Dwayne de Rosario
Questions for Black and Red United
WtR: A lot of MLS veterans came into DC at the start of the season. How big a part have they played in the turnaround so far?
B&RU: The new veterans have played a massive part in D.C. United reversal of fortune. Players like Bobby Boswell, Fabian Espindola, Jeff Parke, Davy Arnaud, and Chris Rolfe all came to United this offseason (or, in the case of Rolfe, shortly after the season started), and they are probably five of the six most important players on the team right now. The only returning player who can make such a claim is defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen. However, with Parke and Espindola both hurt right now, D.C. United's depth is being tested.
WtR: Espindola's the obvious big success story out of those veterans, what's he doing to be so effective? What's the plan without him?. Can DC do more than just hang in there until he gets back?
B&RU: Fabian Espindola was just on one of his famous hot streaks, which he would have a couple times a year in Salt Lake City and which were nonexistant in New York. The change of scenery has done him well, and he has either scored or assisted on well over half of United's goals this year. In his absence, some one needs to step up, and all eyes are turning to Eddie Johnson. When Espindola was in the lineup and playing so well, the poor play of EJ was a curiosity and a disappointment; now, it threatens to undermine the team's entire season. Players like former TFC man Luis Silva and D.C. United homegrown player Collin Martin are the prime candidates to sub in for Espindola, but both are more attacking midfielders than strikers.
WtR: How's Luis Silva doing? Is he going to be a big part of the future for DC?
B&RU: Luis Silva is a curious case, as I am sure you are aware. He started the first three games of the season at the top of D.C. United's diamond midfield, and played poorly before getting injured. With his injury, Davy Arnaud was shifted to central midfield in a flat 4-4-2, and that combined with the arrival of Chris Rolfe is what turned United's season around. In the game in which Espindola was injured, Eddie Johnson was suspended and Silva started on the front line, getting a hat trick off of two Espindola assists and a penalty kick. I wish that he could turn into that support striker or attacking midfield who could contribute ever week, but I just don't think that he is there yet; these next few weeks will prove crucial into showing whether he is part of D.C. United's plans or whether he will be exposed in the expansion draft this offseason.
WtR: Injuries/absences/projected lineup?
B&RU: Chris Pontius and Fabian Espindola are both out, and Jeff Parke seems doubtful. Given that, here is the projected lineup: