Ahead of this Sunday's match between D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids, we exchanged three questions with UZ of SB Nations Rapids blog Burgundy Wave. Here's the results.
B&RU: The Colorado Rapids are tied with Real Salt Lake atop the Western Conference with six points, and yet RSL are the ones getting all the hype. How long will the defending champs be able to fly under the radar?
BW: Well, we're probably going to have to wait for the team to defeat Real Salt Lake or the LA Galaxy. The schedule started fairly kind to Colorado so there's pretty much free fuel for the detractors until about April 13th when the two teams play each other. That game and the other RSL game in Colorado will probably decide the top two spots in the West if the Galaxy continue to play subpar games like they did against RSL and the Revolution.
B&RU: Conor Casey and Omar Cummings combined for 27 of the team's 44 goals in 2010. That's over 60%. Do you expect about the same to happen this year, or will other players like Quincy Amarikwa continue to step up?
BW: The system that Colorado plays is very strongly based around getting the ball to the strikers, so you can probably expect a ton of goals from them any given season just by design. The question should probably be 'are they going to get more goals from players who aren't strikers' rather than asking if Amarikwa, Kandji or Folan will be contributing since the answer to that would depend on how much Casey and Cummings are out. Jamie Smith has looked markedly better this year and Jeff Larentowicz is always a scoring threat so those two might see the score sheet more this year. You can probably count on Sanna Nyassi to help out as well since he's the most offensively talented guy they picked up.
B&RU: Last October we had the following conversation:
uzworm(7:24:39 PM): For me, next year is the real make or break season for the Rapids if they hope to get a cup.
uzworm(7:25:11 PM): Cummings and Casey will both turn 30, Mullan will probably be on his last legs,Claudio Lopez will probably want to leave if he hadn't left already, etc.
Martin Shatzer(7:26:05 PM): Why look to next year when you can win now? RSL managed to do it with fewer attacking options last season.
How much credit do I deserve for the 2010 MLS Cup?
BW: Your check is in the mail.
My answers to UZ's questions are below if you're interested.
BW: D.C. United are a tough team to read, we can tell they're a better team than last year but it looked like two different squads against Columbus and New England. Which team do you think is more representative of the 'real' D.C. United this year? The one that dismantled the weak Crew or looked less than spectacular against the Revs?
It's probably somewhere in the middle. The team definitely fed off the crowd in the home opener, which was the most celebratory and exhilarating atmosphere I've seen at RFK Stadium in years. That energy wasn't there in New England last week, and United had no real shot at recovering after going down two goals in the first 17 minutes due to two poor calls (one un-whistled hand ball, and one weak penalty) against a Revolution team that is more than happy to bunker. United is still finding itself, and with so much youth on the roster, there are bound to be good days and bad days throughout the season.
BW: In a fairly weak Eastern conference what do you think it's going to take to get this 'new look' United team into the playoffs?
I expect D.C. United to be one of the three strongest teams in the Eastern Conference at the end of the season. They've got the talent and the depth to do it. But I worry that it might take Ben Olsen a month or two to figure out his best starting lineup and how to use each player's talents effectively. I went into the season thinking that United would drop a few winnable games early in the year, but get better as 2011 grows older. So I just hope that they're not too far behind teams like the Union and Fire who seem to be surprisingly better than anticipated.
BW: With all these new faces like Charlie Davies and Josh Wolff keeping D.C. looking fresh, is there anyone less well known to look for a possible goal from?
There's a few. We're still waiting to see the Joseph Ngwenya that led United in scoring the preseason. Third-year midfielder Chris Pontius is also looking feisty and could start to break out again after missing most of 2010 due to injury. Also, watch for Uruguayan defender Rodrigo Brasesco on dead-ball opportunities. He's been known to be lethal with his head.