DC United has probably been one of the most surprising teams of the season. But not because they've been doing well -- that would have been expected -- rather because they've done so poorly. Let's all remember just a few months ago, last November, the club came very close to being in the MLS Cup Final, having lost out to the Houston Dynamo. Really, this seemed like a club who was finally getting back on solid standing. Perhaps not the world-beater it once was, but at least respectable.
Honestly, I'm not really sure what's happening with the DC team. So, to help me figure them out, I spoke with Adam Taylor of SB Nation's DC United site Black and Red United:
So what's going on with D.C. United? After an impressive run last year, I don't think anybody expected this. How is Ben Olsen handling this struggling side?
A lot of people certainly had pegged United to make some noise in the Eastern Conference and contend for the top spot. Some thought that was over ambitious even after last season's late run into the playoffs. But the degree to which this team stinks is beyond surprising. Olsen has tried changing out the strikers - going from Lionard Pajoy to Rafael to Casey Townsend. He's played with the formation - going from a double-pivot lone striker set up to a diamond midfield to a Kansas City-lite 4-1-4-1 and back again. He's pulled starters and then pulled the backups. He's yelled and screamed in the locker room and used the press to motivate his guys. For the past two months, nothing seemed to be working. But a competent performance in the loss at Dallas and the the home draw against "Team We Never Beat" Sporting Kansas City that followed it are hopefully the first steps out of the abyss for the Black-and-Red.
What's going on with Dwayne DeRosario? The Former MLS MVP seems to be unable to contribute this year so far, why is that?
DeRo started out slowly last year, too, going several games before finding the net for his first tally of the season. But this year is different. In 2012, he was creating goals for teammates and racking up assists, but not so much this season. His 1v1 take-ons aren't coming off this year. His slashing runs aren't being found by teammates as often, and when they are, his touch or his speed is letting him down. Referees aren't giving him the calls on niggling fouls that he might have gotten in years past. Basically, some of it appears to be that he's lost a half a step since his injury that put him on the sideline late last year, and he hasn't fully adjusted to it yet. Some of the rest is down to bad luck, and De Rosario probably has had more shots cleared off the goal line than almost anybody in the league this year. If he can adjust his game that little bit to compensate - and with his soccer IQ, there's little reason to think he won't be able to - we should see his production increase, even if not to his 2011 MVP levels.
Who are some of DCU's impact players than Timbers fans might not know of? Who are they? What kind of damage can we expect them to create?
Impact players? What are those? United have scored six goals in 11 games this year. Six. A number so small, the style guide requires me to write it out. Impact players are something we could use more of.
That said, United's brightest stars are both defensively minded: U.S. international goalkeeper Bill Hamid and his Olympic qualifying teammate Perry Kitchen, a young defensive midfielder who decided to become a BAMF over the winter.
Going forward, the best guy you haven't heard of is Kyle Porter, who scored United's equalizer last weekend against the Sporks. He's a Canadian winger with one cap for his national team. On a D.C. side lacking in aggression and full of guys who haven't wanted to take defenders on or bear responsibility for scoring, the former Edmonton FC player has stepped up: he combines will with teammates, looks to take players on and always has scoring a goal on his mind.
Predicted starting lineup?
It's tough to predict Olsen's lineup because there are players who have no business starting after recent performances but nevertheless might because of a lack of depth; there are also players coming back from injury who might slot into a spot we thought was locked down. I think we'll see a 4-2-3-1, though:
Bill Hamid; Chris Korb, Ethan White, Dejan Jakovic, Taylor Kemp (R); Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon; Kyle Porter, Dwayne De Rosario (C), Chris Pontius; Casey Townsend. That said, don't be surprised if Raphael Augusto starts in the middle, pushing DeLeon wide and Pontius up top.
Big thanks to Adam for taking time out of his day to answer my questions. You can read more about DC United at Black and Red United.
What do you think of this DC United team?