Our fearless leader Martin Shatzer is normally the man for this job, but the Shatzer family just welcomed a new daughter to the world - congratulate him in the comments if you're not a heartless jerk - so I'm substituting. Keep paper airplane-throwing and general insolence to a minimum, and I'll put on a movie like every sub you ever had in high school.
In preparation for tomorrow afternoon's game against the red-hot Montreal Impact, we traded questions with Gio Sardo of SB Nation's Montreal Impact blog, Mount Royal Soccer. Thankfully, the questions were submitted in English, as my French is limited to "Je suis un ananas," which is not even a true statement. Martin had written our questions beforehand, while I'll be answering the questions Gio submitted after the jump.
B&RU: I've been very impressed with Marco Di Vaio since he joined MLS. His stat line of two goals and two assists in just nine starts is no joke. But at 36 years old, can the Italian keep it up?
Marco Di Vaio has been a model of hard work and determination his entire career. He is very dedicated to his craft. Since being acquitted (twice) from the betting scandal in Italy, he is hungry. He will take out all that frustration of these recent difficult times on the pitch against the opponents. He will be a menace and I wouldn't be surprised to see him be one of the MLS' top forwards for the rest of this year. I think he has another 2 seasons left in him. In today's day and age, it's all about you take care of yourself. Marco always keeps himself in top physical form. He'll be just fine.
B&RU: Montreal is sitting just four points out of the playoffs in its first year in action. Is this about what you expected, or is the team overachieving a bit?
This is a very popular question and if you ask 10 different people, you will get 10 different answers.
As we've kept on adding talent (Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta, Bernardo Corradi - although currently injured) and have had other guys getting healthy (Nelson Rivas, Matteo Ferrari, Andrew Wenger) and now the addition of new keeper Troy Perkins, we are finally able to see what this team is capable of doing and it is downright scary. Owner Joey Saputo and Sporting Director Nick De Santis have done an amazing job of putting this team together. Sadly, with the unbalanced schedule that has had us play so many games early in the season, we need a lot of help to make the playoffs.
Either way, it is a successful season, however, in my opinion, this is right where the team should be this year. Next season? No doubt we will be part of the show!
B&RU: The Impact seem to be far better at home than they are on the road, which is something that D.C. United fans are very familiar with. Stade Saputo has seen the Impact beat three straight teams by two goals. Do you expect that to continue on Saturday night?
Ever since ownership has lowered prices, the Stade Saputo has been playing at near capacity. By this weekend, the final touches will be put on the stadium boosting our attendance capacity to over 20,000. With that many screaming fans and despite missing Rivas (headbutt suspension) and Hassoun Camara (attempted karate chop suspension), we fully expect our winning ways to continue as I'm predicting a 3-1 win for the home team.
Keep reading for my answers to Gio's questions:
Currently, the Eastern Conference standings are wide open. Anything can happen in the final stretch. DC United currently holds the final playoff spot with 40 points after 24 games. Saturday will be the 3rd of 5 games that will be played in a 14 game span. Then, you get 2 weeks off before playing another 4 games in 14 days. Do you think that DCU has what it takes to survive such a tough schedule? How will Ben Olsen approach these two stretches with a lot of games on little rest? What must DCU do to make sure they are invited to the postseason dance?
Normally the MLS rule of thumb is to look at any stretch of midweek-weekend-midweek-weekend games as a horror that will end in misery. However, the 2012 version of United actually seems far stronger on short rest than it is after an extended break. Stunningly, United is 6W-1T-0L in all competitions when playing on only 3-4 days rest. We talked about this on our podcast and everyone agreed that we're generally better, but until researching that figure for this response, I had no idea how much better.
So how will Olsen approach the relentless stream of games? Typically, that has meant giving starts to 2-3 normal subs and asking them to give some extra for their less-fresh teammates. With the fluctuating lineup we've had all season, these reserves are players that were starters at some point this season, which means that if anything Olsen ends up with hyper-motivated guys who are only just outside the starting eleven at the moment.
To get into the playoffs, United must continue to play with the inspiration they had in the second half against the Philadelphia Union - never mind the chaos at the end - and for most of the night against the Chicago Fire, who we frankly ran off the field. A big key for us all season has been getting narrow in the midfield when we don't have the ball. When we do that well, we get results like Wednesday's 4-2 win or the 4-1 thrashings of FC Dallas and the ugly cretins that are the New York Red Bulls. When we don't, we end up with results like Houston hammering us, or the enormously flattering 2-1 loss at Sporting Kansas City.
It is no secret that Stade Saputo has become one of the most difficult stadiums to play in lately. What will be Ben Olsen's game plan heading into Saturday's showdown? Who will be relied upon (other than De Rosario of course) to help DCU try and run away from Montreal with 3 points?
As I said above, getting narrow defensively and compressing the space in central midfield has been crucial for United all season long. Against a strong Impact central midfield, that won't change. If our wide players can help out in the middle while still making trouble in the attack, we should be alright. I would expect a slightly more conservative outlook than the all-out attack we used against the Fire, both due to Montreal's strength at home and the fact that this is a road game on short rest.
Beyond our obvious talisman De Ro, United will need big performances from Chris Pontius and Perry Kitchen. Pontius is our top scorer but was arguably our least impressive attacker against Chicago (he still played well, but not quite as well as De Ro, Lionard Pajoy, or Nick DeLeon). Kitchen, meanwhile, will need to be at his best against Felipe, Patrice Bernier, and Collen Warner in the Montreal engine room in order for our makeshift back four to be shielded adequately.
Which players on the Impact do you think strike the most fear in the hearts of the DCU management staff and why?
The central midfield trio I just mentioned in reference to Kitchen's importance. United has had issues with teams playing 433 and 4231, particularly Houston and KC. If United's wide men can't help our central midfielders out - and there's an open question there, as Olsen has to choose between Saragosa following an impressive display or normal starter Branko Boskovic, who probably would have started against Chicago if not for a red card against the Union - Felipe and Bernier will be allowed to pick United apart with their passing and intelligent movement.
PLAYOFF BONUS QUESTION: There are 7 teams still in the hunt for the 5 playoff spots. Without citing a specific order, which 5 teams do you see making the playoffs? Please explain why you think the Impact will or won't make it.
KC, NYRB (unfortunately), Houston, United, and Chicago. This will be unpopular with your readers, but I see Montreal ending up in 7th behind a rejuvenated Columbus side. Unfortunately for the Impact, their worst form of the season came when under a barrage of fixtures, and with only seven games left they're in an extraordinarily difficult position. Their hot streak of late means they're not out, but realistically they'll have to win four or five (particularly if United is truly back in form and if Chicago's performance at RFK was just a blip).
It's been a strong debut season for the Impact, but I think it's more likely to end with the playoffs just out of reach.
TRADE REVIEW: Recently, DC United traded Danny Cruz to Philadelphia in exchange for Leonard Pajoy. What led to the trade and what impact has Pajoy had on the team since his arrival?
Essentially, two separate things happened at the same time: Cruz found himself behind Pontius, DeLeon, and Andy Najar in the hunt for time on the wings, and the only player below him - Lewis Neal - was cheaper and more versatile (he can play left back and central midfield as well, though to be fair he's more of an emergency option in both spots).
Elsewhere on our roster, Hamdi Salihi doesn't provide the hold-up play Olsen wants out of his target man, while Maicon Santos is both injured and out of form. Olsen has shown a fearlessness when he feels like it's time to make a move, and apparently this deal came together in a very short time span.
Pajoy's play has been mixed. He is a true target forward, which Olsen will be happy about, but obviously he needs time to understand the runs De Ro and Pontius will make off of him. Pajoy does already have a goal - and a key goal, at that - but he's also missed four or five really good chances in that time as well. He should become more useful as he figures out his new teammates, but I expect the real positive from this move to be in the numbers of our other attackers, rather than for Pajoy to light up the scoreboard.