D.C. United takes on the LA Galaxy in the Landon Donovan Memorial Retirement Tour jamboree tonight, in the newest edition of #dcuafterdark. To get the lowndown on all things LA, we talked to Josie Becker of our sister site LAG Confidential.
Questions for LAG Confidential
B&RU: How surprised were you when Landon Donovan announced his retirement? Were you holding out hope that he would play a few more seasons?
LG: When Donovan announced his retirement, it came completely out of left field and honestly left me in a state of shock. For me personally, Donovan is the LA Galaxy and the national team after taking that torch from Cobi Jones, and that covers my entire conscious life.
I tried to rationalize by looking at who his contemporaries are. DaMarcus Beasley reinvented his role to a much scarcer to make another World Cup cycle, and now he’s back in MLS. Look at players drafted the year Donovan was loaned to the Earthquakes and there aren’t many household names. Ryan Nelson is coaching TFC now, Brian Ching retired, Eddie Johnson was also left off the World Cup roster, and Edson Buddle is not the no. 1 forward in Colorado.
He could have played until he could run no more, like I imagine Johnson and Buddle will do. That just hasn’t sen Donovan’s style, and more power to him spending some of his prime years with his family instead of on the road.
B&RU: We all now know what Bruce Arena's opinion is on his team's failure to secure the services of Sacha Kljestan, but what are the fans thoughts on it? Do you think they'll try and get him again in the offseason?
LC: Arena’s comments really highlighted the dichotomy of management and ownership in this league. One of the reason coaches coming in from overseas have struggled so much is that learning how to win in this specific environment isn’t easy. For most coaches, they play with the players they’re given by a middle manager, and Arena is lucky enough to get his own guys but that comes with even greater awareness of how the people with the money want to run things.
If the Galaxy had everything set up to get Kljestan and other owners worked to make sure that couldn’t happen, who is really to blame? AEG is just as complicit it putting these player acquisition structures in place, and while they’ve certainly pushed MLS spending forward it’s not like anyone in the organization has come out in favor of abolishing allocation rankings.
I think in the offseason with that designated player spot opening, Kljestan becomes too small a fish. Robbie Keane isn’t going to around forever, so LA has to start thinking now about who their next big draw is going to be.
B&RU: How has designated player Omar Gonzalez looked since returning from the World Cup? How is the defense overall?
LC: Getting the World Cup behind him has brought out some vintage Gonzalez, though we know that center back is very much a partner position.Partnered with A.J. DeLaGarza, he gets to be the guy who breaks up the attack with a partner quick enough to cover the ground he leaves unprotected.
Partnered with Leonardo, which has been a handful of times now with Robbie Rogers injured, things haven’t gone as well. The soccer diarrhea that was the Columbus performance wasn’t Leo’s fault but the start in Commerce City was.
Outside of those performances, LA was starting to get into a good defensive rhythm and it showed up again when Vancouver came to town. When Gonzalez is really controlling the back line, LA can pull off the rare feat of dominating possession and shots in a convincing winning effort.
Questions for Black and Red United
LC: DC is having its second righteous season in three years. Was 2013 just a blip? DC just play better in even years? What is going right over there in the shadow of our nation's capital?
B&RU: The 2012 season was the result of two offseasons worth of rebuilding, with players like Dwayne De Rosario, Robbie Russell, Danny Cruz, Brandon McDonald, and Josh Wolff all coming to the team and Ben Olsen developing as a coach. Both seasons were also primarily crafted by Kevin Payne, who left the team in November of 2012. In that same offseason, United decided to stand pat with the team that they had, and not make any major additions, and we all know how that went; MLS is getting better too quickly for any team but the best teams to stay the same from year to year. This past offseason, United decided to again add proven MLS veterans around their core of young American players, bringing in Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Davy Arnaud, and Chris Rolfe. With the right players for his system, and another year of experience as a head coach, Ben Olsen has stepped up his game as well this season (and Bruce Arena thinks he can still grow as a coach).
LC: DC's back line has some old Galaxy friends in Sean Franklin and Kofi Opare. How are they getting on in Washington? Will we see both starting on Wednesday?
B&RU: Sean Franklin has been a mainstay for United at right back, which has been necessary because of United's revolving door of left backs so far this season. His defense has been solid and he has been getting himself into good positions in the attacking third, though his finishing has been poor the past few games. Kofi Opare has played only one game so far for D.C. United, starting and playing well in the Concacaf Champions League win over Waterhouse FC. With the schedule congestion of August and September, he should play a few more games, but will probably start this game on the bench behind Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum; however, the idea of a Birnbaum-Opare center back pairing for years to come entices United fans.
LC: This is the only regular season matchup for these sides and a makeup game for a March rescheduling. Things have changed since then, and I don't know if you heard but Landon Donovan is retiring. If it were taking place at that red doughnut by the Anacostia River, what gift would DC management bestow up America's hero?
B&RU: Sean Franklin and Ben Olsen will actually be presenting Donovan with some sort of gift at this game; the gift was apparently provided by Events DC, the people who own and "maintain" RFK Stadium. My guess would be that the gift will be something special, such as a live raccoon, a broken chair, a wasps nest, a pile of rust, or one of the many other fine mementos that dot the stadium.
LC: If DC United were giving out an award for Best Supporting Actor, who would win? Who is the best at supporting the best?
B&RU: If Fabian Espindola is D.C. United's Best Actor, then Chris Rolfe would have to be the Best Supporting Actor. Getting Rolfe from the Chicago Fire really helped turn the season around after a slow start, alongside with the move of Davy Arnaud into central midfield. The fact that all United have to give up was allocation money made the deal even sweeter. When Fabian Espindola went out injured, it was Rolfe who gave the team the creative spark needed to continue to play well, and the return of Espindola makes them even more potent together.