D.C. United won't be playing for a whole lot on Friday night against Sporting Kansas City. Sure, individual players will be fighting for roster spots or presumed starting roles going into next season, and the team is looking to upset the Sporks to avoid going winless on the road in league play. But really, for the Black-and-Red, there's essentially nothing on the line other than pride when they go into Sporting Park. So my questions for Ben Gartland, from The Dailly Wiz, centered less on the tactics his team uses on the field and more on general questions of strategy and form.
Questions for The Daily Wiz
1. In something that will sound distantly familiar to D.C. United fans who have been around for a while, Sporting Kansas City are competing on three fronts at this late date in the season - they've got a shot at a Supporters' Shield, they've locked up a berth in the MLS Cup playoffs, and they have the CONCACAF Champions League as well. With Friday night's affair followed by a must-win ConcaChamps game and then the regular season finale, how will Peter Vermes prioritize the late-season fixture congestion? What effects will it have once the playoffs roll around?
Sporting Kansas City really worked on their depth in the offseason and have put together a team that can be stretched in competitions. I feel that Peter Vermes will put out full strength lineups in both MLS matches with more of the reserves filling in on Wednesday. That match isn't necessarily a "must-win" but rather a "can't-lose." A draw will send them through but it will put them at the bottom of the seeding, which would put them against a strong team early in the knockout round. The CCL knockout round is more attainable than the Supporters Shield so I feel Vermes will prioritize the league matches trying to chase the Shield.
The good news for Sporting is that they will not likely be playing in the 4th seed vs. 5th seed match starting the MLS Cup playoffs, which gives them some time to recuperate heading into the playoffs.
2. The Sporks have won four of their last six since the end of August (and lost only one of those), following a run where they lost four of five in league play. What caused that late summer dip in form, and has it been corrected - or is a similar bogeyman waiting around the corner to give KC's season an inauspicious end?
Sporting KC has been a very streaky team the past few years, going on huge winning runs or huge losing runs over a few weeks. The late summer dip can be contributed to a combination of national team duty, injuries, strength of schedule and overall poor form from the team. I feel this has been corrected with the emergence of Soony Saad as a good winger and the stability of Benny Feilhaber in the midfield and I'm hoping that Sporting KC is hitting their usual end of season winning streak at a time where it can carry them through the playoffs and to the MLS Cup finals.
3. What's the overall mood of the fan base with respect to Peter Vermes? He's built one of the more recognizable and distinct systems of play in the league, and his teams in KC have become synonymous with athletic, high-pressure teams that seek first to frustrate and turn over opponents. But even with the second-best league record in 2011 and 2012 (and Eastern Conference top seeds both years), it hasn't led to any real success in the playoffs. Are fans out there getting restless, or will Vermes still have some slack, even if the Sporks go without silverware this year?
The fan base certainly respects him as a coach and technical director when looking at the team he has built and the success that they have had since the opening of Sporting Park in 2011. However there are some instances where the fans can get frustrated with him, such as his stubbornness with the 4-3-3 and his resistance to modify it when the situation calls for it. Questionable subs and random losing streaks will also lead to frustration. I feel that Sporting needs to win some silverware this year before a head-hunt is formed towards Vermes out of restlessness but he has earned some slack with the Eastern Conference titles the past two years and the US Open Cup victory last year.
Questions for B&RU
1. Ben Olsen has been fooling around with formations the past couple of games (at least according to MLSsoccer.com), what should we expect to see against Sporting KC?
Probably a pretty vanilla 4-4-2 - or maybe 4-4-1-1 if you prefer. Even the supposed 3-man back line the league website listed United as using last week was really a flat 4-4-2 that paired Perry Kitchen, usually a midfielder, with Daniel Woolard, a converted fullback, in central defense. Olsen has said that he'll play with formations, but he hasn't really strayed at all from the same system he's been using for most of the year, with two holding midfielders behind at least one withdrawn forward. Ironically, the Open Cup marked the end of Olsen's experiment pairing two false nines in Luis Silva and Dwayne De Rosario together instead of one of them with a more traditional forward. Starting then, it's been one of those two paired with either Chris Pontius or Conor Doyle. My protestations to try an RSL-style diamond midfield notwithstanding, Benny is likely to stick with the usual look on Friday night.
2. How does DC United go into the offseason with the expectation to 1. Improve and 2. Prepare for CCL? Essentially, what is DC United's biggest need and what should their offseason strategy be?
Well, I think your #1 is a necessary part of #2. United need top-line talent at critical positions as well as depth everywhere. So, basically, the biggest need is "everything." Luckily, they're going to have more salary cap flexibility than anybody else in the league, as they get a parity bonus of allocation money for finishing outside of the playoffs as well as the increased salary cap that comes from qualifying for international competition. (Thanks, Open Cup!) They'll still need to shed or reduce a couple of outlandish salaries like Dwayne De Rosario's DP-level deal and Dejan Jakovic's big contract. Both should be welcomed back to the team under restructured deals, but neither is worth their current cost. As far as acquisitions, the top priorities are a goal-scoring center forward and an organizing center back. After that, adding somebody who can compete for starting minutes at every position the team can has to be the stated goal; adding depth, as the team set out to do last offseason, is clearly insufficient and a recipe for failure. Instead, the front office should take a "no sacred cows" approach to acquiring players and get the best talent they can irrespective of who currently is starting.
3. Is Ben Olsen still manager come Opening Day 2014? Did the US Open Cup victory help his cause or would he have stayed anyways?
He is, and Dave Kasper is still the GM, for better or worse. All indications are that both would be returning no matter what happened out in Utah on October 1. What's not clear is how much leeway the ownership will give them in the new year. Another start like the one endured in 2013 could see one or both of them hitting the bricks by Memorial Day. For now, though, their midseason switch to acquiring young American pieces like attacking midfielder Luis Silva, striker Conor Doyle and midfielder Jared Jeffrey seems to have placated the owners enough to give Olsen and Kasper one (hopefully) last chance.
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- D.C. United versus Sporting Kansas City lineup: Finding details in despair
- Fantasy Focus: Manneh on Fire
- Filibuster Podcast Episode 52: Joker versus Bane
- Who Should Be In Charge Of Rebuilding D.C. United? Hint: Not Dave Kasper
- Former D.C. United player Christian Castillo banned for life by FIFA for match fixing; Rodolfo Zelaya's status still unknown