D.C. United's game on Sunday against Chivas USA caps off this week's soccer action, and it should actually be a good game. To preview it, we asked some questions of Alicia Rodriguez, managing editor of SB Nation's Chivas USA blog, The Goat Parade.
Questions for The Goat Parade
B&RU: Chivas USA had wholesale front-office changes this offseason, with Wilmer Cabrera becoming the head coach as well as with MLS purchasing the team and installing Nelson Rodriguez as team president. How have each done so far this season?
TGP: I'll start with Rodriguez, since his job is arguably more cut-and-dried -- hand the team off in better position than how he found it when taking over. There is a chance he'll continue past this year, of course, but to me, he's in a stewardship position, trying to keep the ship afloat before the next regime comes in. In that way, the standards are pretty low, but he's doing fine, being much more open with the media than previous management, and trying to generate some buzz for the team despite still not having any real budget to do it.
Cabrera has clearly taken the lead in on-field matters, as he's gradually stocking the roster with "his guys," either players who he worked with in Colorado, where he was assistant coach under Oscar Pareja, or players with whom he worked when he was coach of the USMNT U-17 team. Though the team started the first month out pretty well, the bottom fell out after that until the World Cup break. Somewhat remarkably, however, the core group of players who see action on the field has been trimmed, and the team has gotten on the same page, as they are playing better as a collective, and have won the last four games. If they then lose the next 16 games, or a large proportion of those games, then this stretch was a blip, but it looks like Cabrera may have turned a corner with this team and he may have the stuff to really make it as an MLS coach.
B&RU: The four game winning streak has brought Chivas USA out of the basement of the West into general striking distance of the playoffs. Do you think the team has a chance to pass teams like FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps and get into the playoffs?
TGP: Sure, they certainly have a chance. Are fans getting their playoff ticket deposits ready? Not yet. It's been so long since Chivas USA last made the postseason (2009) that many people associated with the team, including the few players who have been with the team for any real stretch of time knows that form can fluctuate so rapidly in MLS that counting on making up a deficit in the standings and jumping into the playoff places, let alone staying in them through October.
My attitude at the moment is to ride out this run, see how long it lasts, and break it down if/when it comes to an end. I get the feeling most CUSA partisans are doing the same. The playoffs would be great, as the Goats have the second-longest playoff drought streak in the league, but we're not getting ahead of ourselves, as there's still a lot of season yet to be played.
B&RU: Cubo Torres gets all the headlines, but Chivas' defense has been stout of late, allowing only two goals in the past five games. What's working there, and to whom should D.C. United fans pay attention?
TGP: It seems Cabrera's insistence on playing a high line finally took root, and the team can actually execute an offside trap now. Additionally, 2-3 starters on the backline are new to the team and haven't played in MLS for some time, if ever, so there was an adjustment period, apparently.
The center backs on Sunday will most likely be Carlos Bocanegra, who's been the steady leader of the defense this season, paired with youngster Eriq Zavaleta, on loan from Seattle and getting a fair number of minutes this season with the Goats. On the flanks is veteran Tony Lochhead, who played with New England back in the day but is back in MLS after playing in his native New Zealand for several years, and another youngster, Donny Toia, a converted midfielder who has shown an aptitude in playing at both fullback spots this season. Between this group, there are still many ways to break down these defenders, individually and as a group, particularly if opposing attacks use speed, but again, they've played well since the start of June, and may have ironed out many of the issues that plagued them in previous months, meaning it may be harder to break them down than one may expect.
B&RU: Projected lineup and prediction for the game?
Prediction: Another good test for Chivas USA, and I think this one will end in a 1-1 draw.
Questions for Black and Red United
TGP: Last season, D.C. United were firmly rooted to the bottom of the standings. This season, however, they are near the top of the Eastern Conference. What has changed this year to power the turnaround?
B&RU: The main reason for D.C. United's turnaround this season was the fact that they brought in proven MLS veterans in the offseason to pair with their young core. Players like Davy Arnaud, Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke, Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe, and Sean Franklin have all been key for D.C. United this season. And even though he has not yet lived up to his designated player contract, Eddie Johnson has been important for this team as well (with still plenty of room to improve). Adding those players to D.C. United's young core of Bill Hamid, Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Luis Silva, and others has allowed the team to take off. Early in the season, the team struggled as it was trying to figure itself out; however, once Davy Arnaud was moved into the center of midfield, alongside Perry Kitchen, the team started to play well.
TGP: I believe Fabian Espindola is set to miss this game as he recovers from a knee injury. Which players are most likely to step up in this game in the attack in his absence?
B&RU: Ben Olsen has kept the same formation in the absence of Fabian Espindola, who returned to practice this week but is still very unlikely to see any time. In place of Espindola, he has started Luis Silva, who had lost his starting spot in the midfield due to injury and then the good play of Davy Arnaud; Silva is now starting as a forward, alongside Eddie Johnson. In addition to Silva, Nick DeLeon and Chris Rolfe have both stepped up their games in Espindola's absence. DeLeon's improvement especially is heartening, as he followed-up a disappointing 2013 season with a disappointing start to 2014; he is now looking more like the DeLeon of his rookie season.
TGP: Chivas USA fans may be curious to know about the situation concerning a new stadium for D.C. United. Please give us the quick overview of what's going on regarding the team's efforts to build a soccer specific stadium.
B&RU: The long and tortured process is further than it has ever been, but there is still plenty of opportunity for it to fall apart. Mayor Vincent Gray has unveiled the proposed legislation that would build the stadium. However, this being DC, it is more complicated than most places: the proposed deal involves giving a city-owned building in a prime location to a development company in exchange for the land upon which they hope to build the stadium. The DC Council now looks likely to hire a consultant to study the proposed deal, and the report of that consultant could determine the fate of stadium deal. And all of this is complicated again by the fact that Mayor Gray lost his bid for re-nomination, and the position of the new Democratic nominee for mayor, Muriel Bowser, is much less enthusiastic.
TGP: Prediction for this game?
B&RU: Projected lineup: Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Chris Korb; Nick DeLeon, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, Chris Rolfe; Luis Silva, Eddie Johnson
Prediction: While Chivas USA is on a hot streak, they are flying across the country to take on an almost as hot team. I will go with a 2-1 victory for United.