This Saturday, D.C. United will meet the Seattle Sounders to decide the winner of the Carolina Challenge Cup. In anticipation of this game, I exchanged some questions with Sounder At Heart editor Dave Clark, to get his take on this year's team.
Questions for Sounder at Heart
B&RU: Who is going to be able to replace to goal-scoring load that Eddie Johnson carried?
SAH: While it could be new addition Kenny Cooper (he of two 18 goal seasons) the goal scoring boost is more likely to come from a full season of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Martins exploded on the scene last year smashing in six goals in his first 10 games. Then he started showing signs of fatigue and fatigue related injuries. The lack of an offseason was clearly an issue. The club indicated during this offseason they probably should have shut him down for a couple weeks. Clint did the opposite. They forced him into action when he little preseason fitness. He only notched a goal and an assist. He did a lot of things well, but not things that show up in a box score. This season he's going to be the focus of the Seattle attack sitting just behind two forwards. But he'll be with Fulham Saturday, so watch Cooper and Martins.
B&RU: With the departure of Michael Gspurning, who is the starting goalkeeper? Does Marcus Hahnemann actually have a shot?
SAH: All indications from Sigi are that they have no idea who the starting keeper is yet. Stefan Frei and Hahnemann have been switching off starts with the First XI. Marcus has 30 more preseason minutes, but that isn't enough. Frei is a better shot stopper. Hahnemann a stronger leader. Both are capable of being an MLS average starting keeper, but that's a large drop off around these parts.
B&RU: Do you expect DeAndre Yedlin to continue his meteoric ascent, or will there be a sophomore slump?
SAH: His crossing is noticeably better at this point. Sigi Schmid said that they are working on drills to help his left foot improve. Last year his primary focus was to get better at one-on-one defense. I guess that's me saying that he's doing all the things to be back at the All Star Game, to get on that World Cup bubble and be on that short list of best ever HGPs (with Najar and Agudelo). Yedlin also has the personality that can make him the face of a team. It isn't just about his hair. He lives and breathes Seattle and while soft-spoken always speaks well. I'm kind of hoping he improves a lot, but not enough to leave yet.
Questions for Black and Red United
SAH: Who is in charge of getting Eddie Johnson the service that made his time on the field here work so well?
B&RU: Service for Eddie Johnson, at least initially, is going to have to come from Luis Silva and Nick DeLeon. Silva was on the bench for the first round of preseason games, and it was looking like he was going to be the odd player out. However, a string of good performances has pushed him back into the starting lineup. Nick DeLeon looks to be in much better shape than last year, and has proved so far this preseason. He has been cutting in from the wing, and his cross in the Houston game forced an own goal from David Horst. Of course, when he is healthy, Chris Pontius will also be expected to be a part of this mix, but he won't be available for the first game.
SAH: That's a massive defensive rebuild. How has it played in preseason action? When do you expect it to be working together?
B&RU: The new-look starting backline has only given up one goal so far this season, and that was with our backup goalkeeper flubbing and letting in a ball he shouldn't have; with Bill Hamid in goal, the back five is yet to be scored upon. It is somewhat of a shock for D.C. United fans to actually have centerbacks capable of winning the ball in the air, as it really isn't something we have for the past three years. The partnership between Jeff Parke and Bobby Boswell can only get better, and those two and Sean Franklin and Christian get to know each other, then we can see the fullbacks actually get forward and into the attack. But after the way the've gelled so far, I would think they can all be on the same page fully sometime in April.
SAH: Which young player excites United fans the most?
B&RU: I think that Michael Seaton is the young player fans by which fans are currently the most excited. In just his first year, he has gone from being signed at the age of 16, to being a first-choice starter for the Richmond Kickers as a part of the USL PRO affiliation deal, to playing with the full team at the end of 2013, to being capped by the full Jamaican national team, to spending a couple of weeks training with Inter Milan's U-23 team. While I expect him to spend a good amount of time in Richmond again this season, he will see time for United and I expect him to be challenging for playing time, if not by the end of this year, then definitely going into next season.