Continuing the SB Nation tradition of exchanging three questions with the lead blogger covering our week's opponents, I had the following questions for Once A Metro, and he had the following answers.
1. The Red Bulls have done well this year at beating up on lesser opponents (which is more than I can say for D.C. United), but they haven't defeated a team with a winning record since mid-April. Do you expect the team to remain near the top of the Eastern Conference when the schedule gets tougher in August and September?
I think at this point the Red Bulls are finally jelling as a team. The defense substition of Carlos Mendes for Mike Petke and adding Tony Tchani at midfield for Dane Richards have fixed issues we had at both positions. Mike Petke, while our heart and soul, has lost a step and Dane Richards just never really fit into the system that Hans Backe has been running. I think August and September will be very telling but removing Salou Ibrahim and adding Thierry Henry to the line up should give the Red Bulls the strongest attack in the league which should help maintain their position as a legitimate threat going into the playoffs.
2. Am I missing something with Tim Ream? I mean it's great and all that he's anchoring New York's backline as a rookie, but I don't see him yet as one of the top defenders in the league. Yet I keep hearing his name mentioned for rookie of the year and the All Star game. Does he deserve national attention?
Tim Ream has been playing incredibly well this year minus the own goal versus New England while on the road. I think people are crowning him a little too early but he definitely has the potential to develop into a National Team-esque talent. He's shown a ton of upside but it could be like what happened to Jozy Altidore, where he has a great couple of years and then his development gets smashed because of poor career planning and going to the EPL too soon. I don't think he's ready for the All Star game but he is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year. The second half of the season will say a lot about where he is currently when the Red Bulls play the stronger teams in the MLS.
3. What Red Bulls player has impressed you the most so far, besides the obvious Juan Pablo Angel and Joel Lindpere? Is there someone flying under the radar that we should be concerned about?
This may surprise you but in my opinion, the most impressive player has been Sinisa Ubiparipovic. While Juan Pablo Angel has finally started to hit his stride and put the ball in the back of the net and Joel Lindpere has proven to be a legitimate international talent, Ubiparipovic has skated under the radar. He doesn't have the stats that pop out but he has the consistent style of play that is very difficult to plan for. He's our most under rated player who could be the decider in the game on Saturday.
For my own answers to Once A Metro's questions, read on.
1. This game decides who takes home the Atlantic Cup this year. The first game ended with the Red Bulls winning 2-0 with DC missing a bunch of scoring opportunities while giving up two goals due to defensive gaffs. What adjustments must DC make to keep this game competitive?D.C. United was a different team on May 1st. They were in the midst of a disgusting 1-8 start, they didn't know what formation to use, they didn't know where their best players should be playing. That's been sorted out now, to some degree, and while United don't quite look like championship contenders yet, they now look destined for somewhere in the middle of the pack, which is where they've finished the past two years. United has already made several adjustments since our first match against the Red Bulls. Now they just need to finish consistently.
2. DC seems to have turned a corner from the beginning of the season. The loss to Columbus showed the DC team is finally playing together and the recent tie against a tough San Jose team has to feel good. What is the biggest difference in the DC team now than the team at the start of the season and do you think this momentum will carry over to the game at Red Bull Arena?
United has made several major changes to their starting lineup since those early struggles. Our lineup was very weak in April and May due partially to injuries, and partially to a coaching staff that had not yet identified the best positions and style for its players. Rather than starting two central defensive backs with a combined age of 70 (Juan Manuel Pena and Carey Talley), our regular starters are now both under the age of 27 (Dejan Jakovic and Julius James). We've also seen United's two most talented attackers (Santino Quaranta and Chris Pontius) begin to find themselves, although they've still struggled to find the back of the net. Lastly, the addition of Stephen King has very quietly smoothed things out in the middle of the park.
3. DC recently released Christian Castillo who was very underwhelming at midfield and picked up a dangerous striker in Pablo Hernandez, what are the realistic expectations for Hernandez? Christian Castillo had a pretty decent game against the Red Bulls, will he be missed in the line up? Is Hernandez a big enough name to help with DC's attendance issues?
Castillo missed in the lineup? Nah. United didn't start playing well until after he was removed from the lineup. Castillo failed to adapt to the speed and physicality of MLS. He wasn't used to having only a split second of time on the ball before getting challenged. Pontius has been lining up at Castillo's old left midfield position, and has given us much more of a spark. As for United's two most recent acquisitions Pablo Hernandez and Branko Boskovic, the expectations don't seem to be extraordinarily high quite yet. This front office has had far too many failures when it comes to foreign acquisitions in the past three years that fans are no longer setting their hopes very high. Boskovic though could be our very own Joel Lindpere.