One of the perks of writing for an SB Nation team site like this one is access to guys like Jon Szekeres. He's the managing editor over at 86 Forever, SB Nation's Vancouver Whitecaps blog, and like other writers we've talked to recently - Robert Jonas of Quake Rattle and Goal, Steve Stoehr of The Bent Musket, Duncan Fletcher of Waking the Red, etc., etc., etc. - he's an awesome resource when it comes to his favored team. So, like we do almost every week here at B&RU, we exchanged a few questions with him in advance of Saturday night's game, which will see D.C. United host Jon's 'Caps at RFK Stadium (7 pm, Comcast SportsNet and MLS Live). While we've got your attention, be sure to check out the latest episode of our podcast Filibuster, in which we talk with Jon to cover some of the other aspects of this weekend's matchup.
Questions for 86 Forever
B&RU: Between John Thorrington and Alain Rochat, two of United's best recent acquisitions have come from the Whitecaps. Anybody else you guys are thinking of letting go for less than market price?
86F: You guys could always go the alumni route and try to snag Tommy Soehn. (Ha.) Or, you could take Daigo Kobayashi off our hands, just give back that Rochat guy. We all don't like him here anyways (Please for the love of God, give him back). I'm still incredibly butt-hurt over the Rochat trade, but waiving Thorrington needed to happen from the 'Caps perspective. He was making way too much money, was injured tons and wasn't producing when he was healthy.
B&RU: Martin Rennie is developing a reputation for blowing up his teams midseason, for good or ill. Is that deserved, and what do you make of his penchant for big in-season roster moves?
86F: It's only really happened last season, so I'm not sure if it's fair to say it's his 'style' per-se, but Rennie strikes me as a guy not afraid to mix things up. However, this year he seems to have learned that roster tweaks can be more effective than roster shakeups. He's bringing in a goalkeeper to compete for the starting job, and he may look at bringing in another defender, but otherwise this is probably going to be the team going forward, and 'Caps fans don't have a problem with that.
B&RU: Whitecaps games seem to have a lot of goals in them, going both directions. Vancouver is only 3 goals off of league-leading Portland's goal-scoring pace, but they've also allowed the fourth highest number of goals in MLS this year. Is this a result of a wide open style, or is Vancouvers attack really that good and defense really that poor?
86F: Here's the thing; when this club started the season, the back four was YP Lee, Jay Demerit, Andy O'Brien and Alain Rochat, which makes them as good as any backline in MLS. However, Rochat's been traded, Lee hasn't looked as effective as last season, Demerit has had a career-threatening injury, and O'Brien has had a hamstring problem recently. If this group could've played a full season together, who knows how good they could've been. Unfortunately, the soccer gods are cruel sometimes (most times for 'Caps fans), and we've had to watch bodies fly in and out of the lineup. Johnny Leveron is a depth guy that could be very good for this club one day, but players like Carlyle Mitchell and Brad Rusin look like depth guys and nothing more to me. So, I guess the short answer is yes, the defense has been bad, but you can't really blame anyone other than injuries and the players themselves.
B&RU: Tell us a little about the 'Caps' biggest game-changers and who D.C. fans should be on the look-out for come Saturday.
86F: You guys know all about Camilo, Russell Teibert and Kenny Miller, so let's talk Kekuta Manneh. He's incredibly raw, but his potential is limitless. Fast and creative with plenty of finish, the 18 year old has been a second half sub favorite for Martin Rennie. He's the type of guy that only needs a second to do serious damage.
B&RU: And how about a lineup projection and game prediction?
86F: Lineup: Brad Knighton, Nigel Reo-Coker, Johnny Leveron, Andy O'Brien, Jordan Harvey, Brad Rusin, Daigo Kobayashi, Matt Watson, Russell Teibert, Camilo Sanvezzo, Kenny Miller.
Prediction: 'Caps attack makes up for the makeshift D and scores three, enough to eke out a win.
Questions for Black and Red United
86F: How is Alain Rochat fitting in?
B&RU: Fantastically well. He's started both league games at left fullback since he arrived, and spent some time in central midfield late in a game, too. He's added some needed calmness and game-reading ability to the DCU defense, and he's been surprisingly adept on the ball, helping United's possession game and facilitating the attack with good short passing and with crosses.
86F: Is this season salvageable, or are fans already looking ahead to next season?
B&RU: The season is salvageable, but our league campaign isn't. It would take a nigh impossible run of results for United to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs, and even with the team's recent form (3-1-1 in their last five across all competitions), that's too much of an ask. But the Black-and-Red are still alive in the U.S. Open Cup, beating the Revolution 3-1 on Wednesday to book their spot in the semifinals. That tournament - the chance at a 13th major trophy that it represents to D.C. United - is the last hope we have in 2013. Hell, I've already started looking at the top prospects that will be available in next year's SuperDraft.
86F: What is wrong with the club at this point? How do you go about getting back on track?
B&RU: There was too much complacency last off-season, and there's been a hellish streak of bad luck, represented primarily by inexplicable drops in players' individual form.
Last winter, General Manager Dave Kasper and Head Coach Ben Olsen sat on their laurels, allowing talent like Andy Najar, Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi to depart while failing to bring in anybody of comparable quality (no offense to the Vancouver-developed Kyle Porter, who has arguably been United's best signing from the offseason). Since February, though, we've seen former MVP Dwayne De Rosario go ice cold, along with 2012 MLS Bext XI selection Chris Pontius. Bill Hamid has made some mistakes that we thought had been exorcised from his game. The worst, though, has to be both members of last year's lock-down center back pairing completely forgetting how to play soccer - neither Brandon McDonald nor Dejan Jakovic is in Olsen's starting lineup at this point, despite both being on the team sheet in ink to start the year.
86F: Who are some players the Whitecaps should keep an eye on?
B&RU: You guys are all familiar with Dwayne De Rosario, who scored midweek in Open Cup play (his fourth in two games in that tournament). You probably know about Chris Pontius, too, and he also scored (making it two consecutive games with a goal, across all competitions). I'm guessing you also remember once-capped Canadian international Kyle Porter, who United picked up from the NASL's FC Edmonton this winter, and who has scored a goal for D.C. while also acting as primary corner taker.
So I'll focus on the trio of Perry Kitchen, John Thorrington and Nick DeLeon. These are the guys who make the possession game go. Kitchen was the third overall draft pick a few years ago, and he's turned into quite the defensive midfielder, getting into tackles and recovering the ball without being called for too many fouls. Thorrington, acquired from Vancouver through the re-entry draft this winter, links the defense to the attack, finding a way to push the offense forward rather than letting it become stagnant in United's own half. Nick DeLeon can play anywhere across the midfield and can dribble out of a tight space one second and then ghost in behind the defense the next. It's the combination of the three of them, though, that have allowed guys like DeRo and Pontius to get off their own respective schneids by generating more and better scoring opportunities for the playmakers.
86F: Lineup and prediction?
B&RU: Look for United to come out in a 4-2-3-1 in front of Bill Hamid's goal. If Ethan White is not recovered from being cold-cocked by Alan Gordon last weekend, look for him to be replaced by Conor Shanosky alongside Daniel Woolard in central defense. At fullback, it will be Chris Korb across from Alain Rochat. John Thorrington and Perry Kitchen will man central midfield, with Nick DeLeon on one side and Kyle Porter on the other (if healthy - he took a knock on Wednesday against New England - and Taylor Kemp if not). Up top, I see little reason to think we won't see Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario reprise their partnership from Wednesday's successful outing.
United are in a good place mentally for probably the first time since the first half of the first leg of last year's Eastern Conference final. I think they keep it going to make it three straight wins in all competitions. But it'll be tough to keep that Whitecaps attack off the board, so I'll look for a 3-2 win for my boys in black.
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Make sure you click over to 86 Forever before the game to do your own scouting and see what the rest of their staff have to say about the Whitecaps. Share your thoughts on the matchup here in the comments.