We're getting geared up for D.C. United's home opener this weekend, and if you're reading this, you probably are too. So read on to get an insider perspective on this week's opponent from our Real Salt Lake-focused sister blog, RSL Soapbox, and their managing editor Matt Montgomery. My questions to Matt are first, and my responses to his questions are further down the page. Do enjoy.
Questions for RSL Soapbox
1. It was quite an eventful offseason for RSL this winter, with two of the guys a lot of us outsiders strongly associated with the team's identity - Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave - now playing for the hated MetroBulls (in fact, each of them scored two goals for Jersey last weekend, Olave netting one for each side). How has Jason Kreis adapted to the loss of two major contributors?
Espindola and Olave were proven commodities with Real Salt Lake, and both were, as you said, part of the team's identity. That's felt as strongly in Salt Lake City as anywhere. As such, adapting to the loss is not a question of replacement but instead of finding new pieces and honing more effective depth. Garth Lagerwey has been definitive about this: The goal is to replace these players in the aggregate, not to replace them as individual pieces. In fact, the departure of Espindola has allowed Kreis to establish a tactic that runs through the middle of the park with two strikers - Espindola was infamously always drifting wide - which may be a better tactical move. Removing Olave from the picture is a solid long-term move, as the defensive corps is of a sufficient quality at current but with significant upside.
2. Another talisman for the Claret & Cobalt over the last several years has been trequartista Javier Morales, who missed the season-opening win at San Jose last week with an injury. What's up with Morales, and whether he plays Saturday or not, what should D.C. fans expect from the RSL midfield?
Javier Morales underwent a meniscus surgery during the preseason following some damage. He's back training, though not quite fully yet - so you folks will miss him. The midfield will undoubtedly take on a look similar to last week's victory against San Jose, with Kyle Beckerman, as ever, deep, and Khari Stephenson, Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez in a three-man rotation up top. I don't suspect Ned Grabavoy will be available, as he is unfortunately dealing with family concerns at current. Expect creativity, inventiveness, and maybe a little bit of indiscipline.
3. How thankful are you that Dwane De Rosario will be missing Saturday's tilt at RFK Stadium after the FASTEST HAT TRICK EVARRRR he dropped on RSL last time they visited the Nation's Capital?
Reasonably thankful, but I've been rather forcibly made to realize that the absence of one player isn't all that encouraging. See: Javier Morales.
Questions for B&RU
1. Nick Rimando just completed his 100th clean sheet. How's he come along since his D.C. days? Do you ever, you know ... miss him?
Miss him? Sure we miss him - Nicky's great. We miss him more than we miss that other guy went sent your way back in 2007. Rimando's turned into a great keeper, and the guy who made him expendable here thanks to his own MLS GK of the Year crown has since moved to Scandanavia, moved back, been traded to Portland and finally to Montreal. We're pretty happy with our man between the pipes nowadays, though, as Bill Hamid entered the league as D.C. United's first ever homegrown player and has turned into a USNMT-caliber player I would not recommend trying to hold back.
2. This Marcos Sanchez kid seems like a good option for your side. Here in Salt Lake City, we might better remember him as part of a Tauro FC side that gave us some troubles. Does he play on Saturday, and is he ready to make a difference?
He made his debut for United as a second-half sub in last weekend's 2-0 loss at Houston, entering as a central attacking midfielder/withdrawn forward for John Thorrington, who had been ineffective on the night. Immediately, D.C. started to come back into the game and creating some danger with his passing and movement. I think a lot of fans out here are expecting him to make the starting XI on Saturday, especially with Dwayne De Rosario out and the team in need of more creativity. The question will be whether he takes that central role again in a 4-2-3-1 or whether Ben Olsen runs out something more like a 4-4-2 with Chris Pontius partnering Lionard Pajoy up top and Sanchez playing opposite Nick DeLeon on the outside.
3. You're coming off a 2-0 loss to open the season against Houston. How will DC United respond? Are there any tactical tricks up Ben Olsen's sleeve we should be concerned about? Will the loss of De Rosario start the sounding of death knells already?
No death knells here, though there are always some who see cracks in the sky that portend doom. DeRo is undoubtedly a major part of this side - honestly, he's the guy that makes the attack go when he's in. But D.C. United finished last year on a seven-match unbeaten streak, and all of it came after DeRo's injury on Sept. 11. The trick so far has been minimizing mistakes - which didn't happen in Houston, at least not from the 80' mark on - and finding one or two goals to run out the winners. To that end, Olsen has been much more aggressive in his lineup selection at home than he has on the road, so I'd expect to see John Thorrington moved out of that attacking role - either to the bench or to replace Marcelo Saragosa deeper in midfield - for somebody with a bit more flair going forward. The biggest challenge for United tactically will be to wrest possession away from that hawking midfield RSL has and to keep Kyle Beckerman from having too much time to cycle the ball around the middle of the park. If D.C. can do that, I like our chances.