We're always eager to find the scoop on other teams in MLS, particularly when our boys in black will be playing them. In that spirit, we exchanged a few questions with Geoff Gibson in advance of D.C. United's match this Saturday against the Portland Timbers. He's the managing editor at SB Nation's beyond excellent Timbers site, Stumptown Footy. My answers to his questions about the Black-and-Red are below, but first, his answers to mine.
Questions for Stumptown Footy
1. As you might know, D.C. United made a run at Caleb Porter a few years ago before settling on Curt Onalfo, which led to a season we don't like to talk about around these parts. How are you liking the new coach and his system out there?
He's very popular so far here in Portland. While his first season hasn't been perfect, a 10 game unbeaten streak is certainly nothing to scoff at. Most of all, however, I think most fans just enjoy his style of soccer. High possession, high passing, high pressure style formations and games are just fun to watch. I think, most of all, that's what people want. They want to be entertained. A winning team is good as well, but if they're not playing games that are exciting to watch and people aren't enjoying them then does it really make sense for a club as a whole? I'm not sure.
I would say it's almost a shame that D.C. United didn't get Porter back then, but I also don't know if he would really be the same kind of coach he is today. Staying at Akron and working with the USMNT U-23s probably allowed him to hone his style a bit more before coming to MLS.
2. Unless I've been reading things incorrectly the last couple weeks, it sounds an awful lot like the Timbers are using former D.C. United and University of Maryland fullback/midfielder Rodney Wallace as an outside forward. What gives?
He is apparently really good at it. As is well known by this point, John Spencer traded Dax McCarty to DC United for Rodney Wallace and slotted him in the left back position where we all thought he was able to play best. That was apparently way off. Upon taking over the team, Porter put him in the left attacking forward position and he's been a revelation. He's getting goals. He's getting assists. He's generally causing havoc and mayhem down that left side. It would appear that few right backs are actually capable of dealing with him effectively. I'm hesitant to say it's 100% going to happen, but at this pace, if he's able to keep it up, in a couple years I can certainly see Wallace becoming one of the best left wingers in the league.
3. Where do PTFC's goals usually come from? It seems like the last several opponents United have faced have thrived on one of the Black-and-Red's biggest weaknesses: set piece defense. Will we finally get a break on that front?
All over really. This isn't a team built around a target striker or a single person. Instead, you have the entire team playing a high possession, high passing game as they work their way up the field. Ryan Johnson, Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace all have 3+ goals to their names so far. I think it helps that there are no gloryhogs. Ryan Johnson, while he plays as a traditional forward, is more likely to pass it off if he sees another player with a better chance than he has at the moment. I think that's important and it's something that the Timbers have never had before.
Questions for B&RU
1. So what's going on with D.C. United? After an impressive run last year, I don't think anybody expected this. How is Ben Olsen handling this struggling side?
A lot of people certainly had pegged United to make some noise in the Eastern Conference and contend for the top spot. Some thought that was overambitious even after last season's late run into the playoffs. But the degree to which this team stinks is beyond surprising. Olsen has tried changing out the strikers - going from Lionard Pajoy to Rafael to Casey Townsend. He's played with the formation - going from a double-pivot lone striker setup to a diamond midfield to a Kansas City-lite 4-1-4-1 and back again. He's pulled starters and then pulled the backups. He's yelled and screamed in the locker room and used the press to motivate his guys. For the past two months, nothing seemed to be working. But a competent performance in the loss at Dallas and the the home draw against "Team We Never Beat" Sporting Kansas City that followed it are hopefully the first steps out of the abyss for the Black-and-Red.
2. What's going on with Dwayne DeRosario? The Former MLS MVP seems to be unable to contribute this year so far, why is that?
DeRo started out slowly last year, too, going several games before finding the net for his first tally of the season. But this year is different. In 2012, he was creating goals for teammates and racking up assists, but not so much this season. His 1v1 take-ons aren't coming off this year. His slashing runs aren't being found by teammates as often, and when they are, his touch or his speed is letting him down. Referees aren't giving him the calls on niggling fouls that he might have gotten in years past. Basically, some of it appears to be that he's lost a half a step since his injury that put him on the sideline late last year, and he hasn't fully adjusted to it yet. Some of the rest is down to bad luck, and De Rosario probably has had more shots cleared off the goal line than almost anybody in the league this year. If he can adjust his game that little bit to compensate - and with his soccer IQ, there's little reason to think he won't be able to - we should see his production increase, even if not to his 2011 MVP levels.
3. Who are some of DCU's impact players than Timbers fans might not know of? Who are they? What kind of damage can we expect them to create?
Impact players? What are those? United have scored six goals in 11 games this year. Six. A number so small, the style guide requires me to write it out. Impact players are something we could use more of.
That said, United's brightest stars are both defensively minded: U.S. international goalkeeper Bill Hamid and his Olympic qualifying teammate Perry Kitchen, a young defensive midfielder who decided to become a BAMF over the winter. Going forward, the best guy you haven't heard of is Kyle Porter, who scored United's equalizer last weekend against the Sporks. He's a Canadian winger with one cap for his national team. On a D.C. side lacking in aggression and full of guys who haven't wanted to take defenders on or bear responsibility for scoring, the former Edmonton FC player has stepped up: he combines well with teammates, looks to take players on and always has scoring a goal on his mind.