Questions for Burgundy Wave
B&RU: After a good start, the Colorado Rapids have hit a rough patch; what has happened to the team?
BW: As it usually seems to be in situations like this, it's a combination of a few factors. Pablo Mastroeni's coaching -- we'll get more in depth on that in the next question -- has been a factor, but a lot of it is down to the players. The roster is not as deep as it was last season, and whenever a player or two has been missing, it has hurt way more than you would hope. The easiest example we can use at the moment is the missing Shane O'Neill, who has been replaced at center back by Marvell Wynne, notably not a very good center back. Those seven goals given up in the last three games have all come with Wynne on the field. Why is Wynne playing there? Because he's the best option, regrettably. The Rapids have two youngsters at CB (Grant van de Casteele, Gale Agbossumonde) but neither have been able to impress enough to sneak their way onto the first team, and DM/CB hybrid player Jared Watts has shown an enormous amount of growing pains in his rookie season. (Besides that, he almost always has to play DM because the depth there is even worse than it is in the defense.)
That's just one example of the depth being lacking on this roster. Last season, the secret to success was that whenever a player went down, a youngster managed to exceed expectations and make the role their own. This time around, the newer group of youngsters aren't having quite as good a time of it.
The other big reason for the recent slide is a problem that has plagued the Rapids all season long: putrid offensive production. The Rapids shot the ball over 40 times in their past two games, with a single goal to show for it (and it was a penalty!). That's a bit exaggerated, but the Rapids offense has basically been that all year. They're fantastic at creating chances for themselves, but they can never seem to find the final ball they need to turn a good chance into a great chance. When your finishing is as bad as Colorado's is -- a symptom of the youth that the team is built around, along with the fact that Danny "I'll bet you move faster than that at the buffet line, jackass" Mwanga somehow gets minutes -- they need great chances rather than good.
B&RU: Oscar Pareja left the Rapids in the lurch, and they didn't name a head coach officially until after the season started. What's your take on Pablo Mastroeni so far?
BW: Pablo's been a first-year head coach, with all of the usual foibles and tidbits that go along with that. His first season hasn't been nearly as disastrous as Oscar Pareja's first season was, but there have still been some quirks. His biggest issue so far has been with squad rotation, and an overuse of it. The Rapids have dropped several results this season because Pablo played incredibly weak line-ups in midweek matches. In fact, they've yet to win a single midweek game this year. Past that, he's toyed around with formations and odd positional moves as you'd expect a former player who's a new kid on the coaching block to do. As with any first-year guy, it's impossible to tell how he'll turn out as a coach in the long run.
B&RU: Shane O'Neill, Chris Klute, and DeShorn Brown are a part of Colorado's young core; how is the young core performing this year?
BW: There are a few mixed results with the RapKids core. Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers, the two Rookie of the Year candidates from last year, both have gotten better from rookie to sophomore year, and both look likely to break their point totals from 2013. Past those two, it varies. Klute has been an immense disappointment because while he hasn't been bad by any stretch of the imagination, he's lacked a bit of the attacking verve that characterized his game last year and netted him seven assists. Part of that may be a bit by design, since Mastroeni's system seems to call for much less fullback attacking, but it's still been a very noticeable difference. As for Shane O'Neill, he's gotten better. His positioning and soccer IQ are still top notch, and he seems to be morphing into a bigger Micheal Parkhurst-type of defender (oh please oh please) though he does still occasionally struggle with keeping his marks and winning aerial battles.
Questions for Black and Red United
BW: I'll be honest and say that I, along with most of the people I know, were baffled when Eddie Johnson was given a DP contract by DCU this off-season. Current suspension aside, how has he been for the Black & Red, and has he earned that paycheck?
B&RU: Eddie Johnson has been a frustrating player, both on and off the field. He has not been the elite goalscorer that he was in Seattle, but he does have four goals and two assists so far this season. His holdup play has been fairly good, and he does draw opposing defenses out of position just due to the fact that he is Eddie Johnson. However, when you give a player a designated player contract, you expect bigger production than this. He has given up on plays, and expressed frustration on the field towards teammates. This is his second suspension from the Disciplinary Committee this year, and they also fined him early in the season. And finally, the must recent Twitter dustup, in which we told a D.C. United fan that "I'm not here to please your city, buddy" has really soured a large chunk of the fanbase on him. All that said, there is still time in the rest of the season for him to change all of that. If he goes on a goalscoring run through the balance of the season and then into the playoffs, people will come back around on him. At his current rate, however, it is a disappointment.
BW: What's been the biggest change from last year to this year to cause such a big turnaround in the standings?
B&RU: The biggest turnaround may sound kind of obvious, but it was that the front office acquired proven MLS talent in the offseason. Players like Fabian Espindola, Davy Arnaud, Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke, Sean Franklin, and Chris Rolfe are not flashy names, but when you put all of those veterans around Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon it actually produces a MLS team capable of winning games. Between 2012 and 2013, the team made no real signings and thought that a team one non-call away from MLS Cup could repeat in the following year. In a league that is improving as quickly as MLS, that is just not possible.
BW: With an Open Cup and now a decent-looking record in 2014, how has the perception of Ben Olsen changed among DC fans? Is there still a tentative feel to it, or do you think he's finally caught on to being an MLS head coach?
B&RU: While many fans wanted Ben Olsen to be fired after the 2013 season, there were just as many fans (if not more) who wanted to see him given another chance this season. His teams are not like Real Salt Lake; they more mirror the way that Olsen was as a player. The aforementioned offseason after 2012 was the first in which Kevin Payne did not lead the player acquisitions, and so Olsen and general manager Dave Kasper had to grow into new roles. He is already D.C. United's longest serving manager, and I still think that he has room to grow.