D.C. United travels to the Pacific Northwest for another edition of #DCUAfterDark, taking on the Vancouver Whitecaps in the teams' only meeting this season. To preview the game, we talked to Jon Szekeres of Eighty Six Forever to get the lowdown on all things Whitecaps.
Questions for Eight Six Forever
B&RU: The Vancouver Whitecaps seem like they have been maddeningly inconsistent this year. Do you share this impression, and what is the reason behind it?
86F: They absolutely have been, and you could blame a number of reasons for it. They can't score, they lack creativity offensively, and the backline has been weak the past few matches. Really though, this could be seen as growing pains for a young football club that desperately needs it's youth to step up to the challenge before them. Darren Mattocks, Erik Hurtado and Kekuta Manneh have all been streaky this year, and none of them are riding any kind of momentum right now. Pedro Morales has been praised for his wizardy in midfield, but he can't be as effective when his strikers aren't burying the chances he's producing. Carl Robinson and co seem to be content to let the kids sort it out though, so if the 'Caps are hoping to make a run at the post-season, it begins and ends with them snapping out of this funk.
B&RU: What is going on with the Whitecaps offense recently, having only scored 2 goals since the beginning of August?
86F: The attack has become stagnant because other teams have figured the Whitecaps out. They're a speed team, but if opposing teams can shut down long passes and keep the young 'Caps strikers in front of them, the 'Caps tend to get bottled up and frustrated. The 'Caps had been employing a lone striker formation, however it looks like Robinson may switch over to a 4-4-2. A change in the formation, as well as the continued presence of new midfielder Mauro Rosales may help the Whitecaps regain some of their swagger.
B&RU: How has the trade for Matias Laba worked for Vancouver? When he was available, D.C. United fans coveted a player with his skills.
86F: Laba has been a rock defensively, and is a clear candidate for team MVP if he keeps it up. Paired with Gershon Koffie, Laba has been dominant, and a mainstay in the Whitecaps starting 11 for the entire season. For such a young player, he's cool as a cucumber and is great at reading the play. The Whitecaps are truly fortunate to have this kid on their roster.
B&RU: Predicted Lineup and projected score?
86F: Ousted, Beitashour, O'Brien, Waston, Harvey, Laba, Teibert, Rosales, Morales, Manneh, Mattocks Prediction: 'Caps manage to score a goal and prevail 1-0
Questions for Black and Red United
86F: Okay, what the heck happened since last season? You guys are having an unreal season, what's been behind the turnaround?
B&RU: The main reason behind the turnaround is the fact that, in this past offseason, the front office decided to acquire proven MLS veterans who have a track record of success. Between the 2012 season and the 2013 season, United kept the same team together, hoping that another year of experience would get them further than the Eastern Conference Finals. However, MLS is improving to quickly for that strategy to work for any but the very best of teams. This season, however, they got players like Bobby Boswell, Eddie Johnson, Chris Rolfe, Fabian Espindola, Jeff Parke, and Sean Franklin to surround their young core. Putting those veterans around Perry Kitchen, Luis Silva, Nick DeLeon, and Bill Hamid has been the key to success.
86F: Bill Hamid recently made the shortlist for the MLS top 24 under 24. How is he finding success this season, and is he for real?
B&RU: Before this season, all of the old critiques of Bill Hamid were by and large true. He was an excellent shot stopper with freakish athleticism who was prone to rash decisions, and would usually get one or two red cards per year. This year, however, he has really taken the next step: his positioning has become excellent, his distribution is good, he is now in charge of his box and his defenders at all times, and he has somehow become and even better shot stopper. I haven't gone back and run the numbers, but I would guess that he is directly responsible for at least 10 for D.C. United's points just based on ridiculous saves that should have gone in and therefore dropped points. Tony Meola currently him as tied for first in his MLS goalkeeper power rankings, right alongside Nick Rimando. He is clearly one of the best goalies in the league, and the best young American goalkeeper right now.
86F: Will DC United be in first place in the Eastern Conference when the regular season ends?
B&RU: Yes, they will. United are on a roll right now, and while the loss of Chris Rolfe for six weeks will hurt, I think they are well positioned to win the Eastern Conference. The partnership of Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva is on fire right now, the center back pairing of Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum continues to grow stronger every week, and Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud have been (mostly) able to shut down opposing midfields. Combine that with the fact that Sporting Kansas City's first three game losing streak of the season comes at exactly the right time and I don't think that anyone can catch them. D.C. United should be back in the Concacaf Championes League against next year.
86F: Lineup prediction and score projection?
B&RU: As I said before, the loss of Chris Rolfe throws everything into a bit of a loop. However, I will go with Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp; Nick DeLeon, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, Eddie Johnson; Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva Prediction: 1-0 to D.C. United.