This weekend's matchup is almost enough to really make you wish MLS gave out participation trophies. D.C. United travels up the Great White North to face Toronto FC for the third and final time this season. To get ready for this
massive miniscule battle, I swapped a few questions with my counterpart at Waking the Red, SB Nation's site covering all things TFC. You probably remember Duncan Fletcher from other installments in our Behind Enemy Lines series and from a Very Sad Episode of our Filibuster podcast a couple months ago. Here's what Duncan and I had to say about the game.
Questions for Waking the Red
1. Happy Relegation Bowl the Third! Since we last spoke, TFC parted ways with longtime United president/everything Kevin Payne. What happened to the long-term rebuilding and patience he was promised when he came on last winter?
The same thing that happened to Paul Mariner, and to Aron Winter, and Preki and so on and so on, forever and ever, Amen. TFC happened.
Less facetiously Tim Leiweke happened. Payne had always talked (so so much talking) about how TFC wasn't ready for one or two players to come in and make a difference, how they had to take their time, do it right, build around a young core, ideally finding some bargains in South and Central America. His record in doing that was spotty, but it looked like he was trying to follow through on that plan, Matias Laba's great and he got Max Urruti as well, that might work out, worth a shot at least. When Leiweke arrived, he made it clear that Beckham-esque superstar DP's were the way to go, so when the summer window ended with Urruti rather than Diego Forlan, well that clearly didn't go over all that well. The Urruti deal was very convoluted as to whether he counted as a DP or not and the fact that he was shipped off to Portland right after Payne got canned suggest there's a very good story to be dug up around that deal.
Payne certainly had his critics, but had done some good things, clearing out a lot of cap space, bringing in Laba for example. People were definitely not convinced though when he was still here, with plenty of people suggesting he'd be better with a strong coach who was clearly in charge leaving Payne just to do the behind the scenes work in bringing players in. His replacement? Tim Bezbatchenko, who as MLS contracts guy with TFC as one of the clubs he oversaw must have had his fingers in whatever drama there is in the Urruti deal, is being touted as a capologist, a numbers guy who'll be leaving most of the talent evaluation and decisions to Ryan Nelsen. Which sounds like exactly the kind of role Payne supposedly thrives in. And oh, between Bezbatchenko and Nelsen, they have less than one year of experience in their roles. Fun.
2. Word on the street is that Ryan Nelsen and his top assistant will be missing from BMO Field this weekend as they serve suspensions stemming from dissent in last weekend's 1-2 home loss to the Sporks. Who will be manning the technical area for the Reds, and will Nelsen's absence make any difference?
Nelsen and Fran O'Leary did indeed get sent off at the end of the last game, the dissent was very well deserved, the ref was horrible, and oh look we're getting another very inexperienced ref again this week. Lab rats!
His replacement? Well it doesn't really matter for this game does it, but it does very nicely expose a problem, which is the lack of experience in TFC's coaching ranks (but that's ok, the head guy has all the experience needed to teach them well right? eh? oh!). I don't know who's considered the most senior, but we've got Duncan Oughton, brought in this season from Columbus, with no real coaching experience, Jim Brennan who's bounced around a bunch of different roles with TFC since retiring and convinces pretty much no-one. Also Jason Bent who's into his 3rd season as assistant coach after spending some time coaching the academy. If I had to guess at one of them being in ultimate charge, it'd probably be Bent.
Will Nelsen's absence make a difference? I doubt it, I don't think Nelsen's substitutions and in game adaptations have really made a massive difference this season, hopefully at least the post game press conference will have a little less of the usual eye rollingly bad 'we deserved better from this one' schtick we've heard way too much this season.
3. I assume that you're treating the rest of this year as Preseason 2014. Who looks to be the core of the Reds going forward, who needs to be upgraded, and who on your roster could buy Toronto some value in a trade?
Preseason 2014? Pah! Lieweke keeps talking about these 2 big DP's and it seems likely that at least one if not both won't be showing up until after the World Cup, so we're already in Preseason 2015 thank you very much.
Core going forward? Well to answer that question, we have to ignore TFC's history and presume that we'll have some continuity and won't be getting some new guy in who'll want to make his own changes. Even if we do that, it's a very difficult question to answer, but here goes.
Joe Bendik's a decent average MLS goalie on a decent wage, he'll still be around. Steven Caldwell has been a surprisingly good addition who's really helped the defence. He's probably only got a couple of years left in him, but for now, he's very much a lock. Matias Laba is a fantastic player to build the midfield around. Then of course there's these two big name DP's who are going to scare the league and guaranteed to be healthy happy and productive for years to come, oh yes.
Aside from that, there's a few youngsters who we're all hoping can go on to become regulars in the team, much like Luis Silva, Joao Plata, Nana Attakora, Sam Cronin etc etc, whatever happened to those guys? Doneil Henry at centre back, left back Ashtone Morgan and midfielder Jonathan Osorio are all regulars right now, and have a good chance of being able to improve and justify being regulars in some far off hypothetical competent team as well
Aside from that, not including the untested younger players, what we have now are mediocre and replaceable players, or ok ones that are a bit on the expensive side, not the sort of player who I could see becoming part of a core going forward.
Who could get some value in a trade? Well given what happened to Urruti and Silva, TFC clearly doesn't believe in sacred cows, so obviously Matias Laba stands out as a valuable option. But really there's very little that I could see anybody wanting to give up assets for, maybe some of KP's allocation moneyz stockpile could get used.
Key absences: Danny Koevermans is as injured as he has been all year, Matias Laba's still out injured, and Jonathan Osorio and Steven Caldwell are both suspended. That's our 3 best players of the season (Bendik aside) and the guy who should be our best player.
Projected starting XI: Joe Bendik: Richard Eckersley, Gale Agbossoumonde, Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan; Alvaro Rey, Darel Russell, Jeremy Hall, Bobby Convey; Bright Dike, Andrew Wiedeman
Match prediction: A terrible game sees both teams gifted chances through mistakes only to waste the majority of them, TFC win 2-1.
Questions for B&RU:
1. Happy 'Good God, why isn't it over yet?' Bowl! I'll start with the obligatory ex-TFC players questions. After a very bright start, Luis Silva doesn't really seem to have improved things much results wise for DC. What's the verdict in DC after a few months. Also Dwayne de Rosario, can he still be The Man for DC to build around next year?
I think Silva came in on fire in large part because of the snub he received in Toronto. That chip on his shoulder maybe wasn't enough to sustain the goal every game streak, and the rest of United's roster just wasn't good enough to pick up the slack when it wore out. DeRo, meanwhile, has begun to look his age, which at 35, isn't what we want to see at the core of next year's squad. I think most United fans would love to see DeRo on the roster next year, but in a more limited role and for a lot less money - otherwise, there will be a lot of people hoping to see him in the Re-Entry Draft this winter.
2. This game means nothing, and there's the USOC final on Tuesday night. Is Ben Olsen even pretending he's to put out some of the first team on saturday?
Oh, not a chance. Olsen's been pretty clear that Tuesday in Salt Lake is all that matters, and Saturday represents an opportunity to blood some young talent and get some minutes for other fringe players. A lot of us are hoping to see all five Academy products currently on the roster start: GK Bill Hamid and defender Ethan White are regulars anyway, but this is exactly the type of match that begs for starts for center back Conor Shanosky, and our two teenagers - attacking midfielder Collin Martin and speedy striker Michael Seaton. Other, less "future is now" names we could see include Carlos Ruiz and Sainey Nyassi, so don't get too jealous of our young up-and-comers.
3. This season has obviously been a train wreck, is there any hope for the future over there? Is Ben Olsen likely to be around for that future?
Those are both surprisingly tough to answer, which is weird - if the first answer is anything but a resounding "yes," you would assume that the second answer would be a very clear "no," but that isn't necessarily the case. The Washington Post's Soccer Insider Steve Goff has gone on record saying he'd be very surprised if Benny isn't around next year, but with the current regime's awful record on international signings and the perception that Rich Uncle Erick Thohir isn't going to loosen the pursestrings until the new stadium is open in 2016, there's a not insignificant amount of foxhole-digging happening within the fan base. At this point, both the future of the front office and the future on the field - a roster not that dissimilar from this year's made a run to the Eastern Conference Final last year, after all - are more of a black box than usual. All that is really just a roundabout way of saying I have no earthly idea.
Predicted lineup/score: 4-3-1-2: Bill Hamid; Chris Korb, Ethan White, Conor Shanosky, Dennis Iapichino; Nick DeLeon, John Thorrington, Lewis Neal; Collin Martin; Conor Doyle, Michael Seaton. And with even less than usual on the line, I think United jumps out to an early lead before tragicomically giving it up and drawing 1-1 in a sloppy affair.
More from Black And Red United:
- United Abroad: Alumni News & Notes for September 2013
- D.C. United's new stadium inches closer to existence as the city and Akridge agree on land swap ground rules
- D.C. United versus Toronto FC lineup: How young can this team go?
- D.C. United's SuperMagic Numbers Keep Changing--for Better or Worse?
- Fantasy Focus: Carlyle Grand
- Filibuster Podcast - Week 30: A long slow descent into hell