Happy United Day, boys and girls! This afternoon at RFK Stadium, D.C. United will host Sporting Kansas City in what we can only hope will be MLS' upset of the week. So, to get us ready for the match, we exchanged a few questions with Ben Gartland, the Managing Editor of SB Nation's Sporks site The Daily Wiz. His answers to my questions lead off, and my answers to his questions are further down.
Questions for The Daily Wiz
1. How convinced were you that Kei Kamara was as good as gone after his strong start to his time with Norwich?
I was very surprised but also understanding. At the time, Norwich was not out of the running for relegation and they certainly did not want to lock anyone up long term if they were to be relegated to the Championship. Fortunately for Kansas City, Norwich didn't want to take the risk in signing him long term.
The summer transfer window on the other hand...
1a. We don't get Andy Najar back from Anderlecht. How is it fair that you guys get Mr. Heart Shaped Hands back? And free Chipotle to boot?! /whine
At this point I can't even make fun of you guys, it's just too sad.
2. We saw Peter Vermes move pieces around in his 4-3-3 after Sporting lost engine room Roger Espinoza and acquired the smoother, if less energetic, Benny Feilhaber, shifting Graham Zusi more permanently to the wing. When do you see Kamara returning to the starting XI, and what ripple effects will that have on the rest of KC's lineup?
I think the biggest ripple we will see is that CJ Sapong will be turned into a sub, as well as Jacob Peterson. Zusi has done way too well on the wing so far this season to move him and moving him would do one of two things.
1) It would move Benny Feilhaber to the bench, something I really don't want to do.
2) It would leave Sporting without a second defensive midfielder because either Rosell or Nagamura would have to go to the bench to make room for Zusi and Feilhaber. So, essentially, there won't be too big of a ripple since Kamara will most likely only make one person move.
3. Two very important parts of the KC spine will be out on Sunday, with Oriol Rosell and Aurelien Collin both missing the match due to yellow card accumulation. Who will Vermes turn to to replace them, and how will it change the way Sporting will approach this game?
Vermes will probably choose Peterson Joseph for Rosell and Ike Opara for Collin. It really won't change the way Sporting approaches the game because both of these guys have filled in before at these positions at some point in the season and they have done very well in the same system. While Sporting may have to make a couple of minor adjustments defensively, there shouldn't be too much change.
Questions for B&RU
1. What was once such a promising season has quickly gone downhill for D.C. What's been the biggest reason why?
I think most of us have come to realize that the underperformance so far this year by D.C. United is in large part a case of over-expectations. After the seven-match undefeated run to finish the regular season last year and the playoff win over New York, this looked like a team that had a solid spine that would only improve on the offensive end with the return from injury of Dwayne De Rosario. So the offseason was less eventful than it probably should have been, with no true fulltime starters being brought into the fold, even as Andy Najar departed for Belgium. I won't go so far as to call last year's run a mirage, but Ben Olsen's tactics haven't worked nearly as well in 2013, partly due to regression to the mean, but also in large part because his charges, from role-players like fullback Daniel Woolard to former MLS Best XI guys like DeRo or Chris Pontius, haven't lived up to individual expectations.
2. There's been talk of a management shakeup soon, are you in favor of this or not?
At this point, I am all for a new general manager to replace Dave Kasper. Kasper, who was Kevin Payne's No. 2 for a long time before KP's removal and relocation to Toronto this winter, is incredibly good at navigating the various MLS salary mechanisms - understanding and taking advantage the alchemy of allocation and the various flavors of designated player - but he is less accomplished at player evaluation and obtaining/retaining players, especially starters, at salaries that will leave the team flexibility to make new acquisitions without resorting to the various accounting tricks to make everything fit under the salary cap.
I'm less eager to see Olsen let go, honestly. Though I'm sure he did have a hand in player acquisition, and it's his job to get them ready to perform from the start of each game - and they really haven't been in the right mindset from the start of any of their games this year - I'm not convinced that firing him will do anything to make the team better, either now or next year. Until a new GM is in place, a coaching change (other than an Alex Ferguson or a Jogi Loew, of course) won't amount to much more than shuffling deck chairs.
3. Last time Sporting and D.C. played it was a very physical game that frustrated both sides. Will we see the same on Sunday?
I've got to think yes. Over the last few years, when Peter Vermes and Ben Olsen meet, no matter each team's usual M.O., both sides look for the physical battles and try to frustrate the other in the middle. It was against the Sporks at the end of 2011 that Olsen first started experimenting with the 4-2-3-1 that eventually became his base system in the second half of 2012. He's started to move on from that system as the results haven't come this year, but whatever formation he runs out, I'd expect another battle on Sunday.