From time to time we get the opportunity to talk with one of the other MLS blogs in the SB Nation world and get each other's perspective about an upcoming match. Luckily for me, Adam at Black and Red United, D.C. United's SB Nation site, asked me to do a "Behind Enemy Lines" Q&A for Saturday's game.
In addition to our exchange of three questions, I also was invited to talk with the guys on the Filibuster Podcast about the upcoming match. It's nice to be able to get the perspective from the other team's insiders and the Black and Red United guys are top notch.
We hope you enjoy all the great information exchanged. I'd recommend heading over the B&RU for more coverage of this weekend's kickoff to the 2013 season.
Questions for B&RU
1. What would you consider to be the biggest move D.C. United made this offseason? Aside from that, what else has DC done to position themselves as a contender again in 2013? Obviously they had a successful 2012, but fell to Houston in playoffs. Are these moves enough to push them to the top of the East?
A big theme this off-season for the whole United organization has been youth development. The club announced affiliation agreements with two area youth powerhouse clubs, including the clubs that produced Bill Hamid and new homegrown signing Michael Seaton. They just announced that the U-23 team, coached by Jaime Moreno, will play as part of the NPSL this summer. That all goes into the club's biggest acquisition this offseason, bringing in 20-year-old designated player Rafael Teixeira de Souza (we're taking bets on whether he'll wear "Rafael" or his nickname "Gladiador" over his #9). He's a big, skilled banger of a forward who has seen some first team action in Brazil's Serie A. But he wasn't brought in to contribute right away, so don't expect to see much of him this weekend. He's a guy with a ton of upside that Ben Olsen & Co. can develop into somebody who can be an elite forward in MLS over the next year or so. If he develops as quickly as we all hope, he could be the missing piece that helps United take the next step and getting into MLS Cup this fall. If not, then at least he wasn't as expensive a mistake as Hamdi Salihi or Marcelo Gallardo.
All of that said, United's truly biggest move this offseason - and this should sound familiar to Houston fans - was keeping the young core together, save for Andy Najar. Bill Hamid, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon are all back and will have another year of experience - playoff experience, at that - under their belts.
2. Carlos Ruiz has made his return to MLS and ended up with DCU. There seems to be mixed reactions on what his impact will be with the club. From a scoring threat standpoint, is Ruiz going to make an impact in DC, or do you see him falling out of grace quickly? From a locker room perspective, could his antics essentially disrupt what Ben Olsen has created in DC?
"Mixed reactions" doesn't begin to describe it! Ruiz did what we previously thought was impossible, replacing Lionard Pajoy as the most polarizing player to the D.C. fan base. Whether he'll produce is an open question - United has a lot of forwards on the roster, from the likely First Kick starter Pajoy to new DP Rafael to former Chivas USAdraft pick Casey Townsend. And, oh yeah, Dwayne De Rosario. If Ruiz manages to fight his way onto the field, though, I wouldn't bet against him finding his way to a good strike rate. The locker room question, though, should be a non-issue. For all his dramatics on the field and his history butting heads with coaches, Ruiz has never had a rap as a disruptive presence among his teammates. Even if he doesn't gel immediately, though, Ben Olsen and team leaders like De Rosario and Brandon McDonald have created a very tight locker room, and they'll survive whatever antics Ruiz might bring along with him.
3. Dwayne De Rosario has been the spark for DCU since 2011 when he was the MLS MVP. We love DeRo in Houston, but can't help wonder if last year's injury will impact his performance and if he'll begin to decline a bit. What's your take on DeRo's role this year, and if he was to be taken out of the midfield, who would step up in his place?
For the last season or so, Ben Olsen's vision for Dwayne De Rosario has been to play him primarily as a withdrawn forward. It was the lack of effective possession that forced Olsen to move DeRo back into midfield more often last year. With the switch to a double pivot in central midfield, though, De Rosario has been allowed a free role playing off of target man Lionard Pajoy. Sometimes he'll defend as a forward in a 4-4-2, other times as a midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, but in the attack, he's everywhere, and he's vital to the attack. We saw last year how United's attack stagnated without him in the lineup - even though that DeRo-less squad managed to run off nine games unbeaten to close out the regular season. (In fact, the Dynamo are the only team to beat D.C. United in a competitive match since September 1.) Hopefully, the lineup will be able to keep their scoring punch when DeRo is out for Gold Cup duty or injury or whatever. Midfielder Raphael Augusto, once he returns from a leg injury suffered the first day of preseason, seems a likely bet to replace DeRo. Another young Brazilian, Augusto made his MLS debut in that playoff game in Houston last year, replacing the injured Marcelo Saragosa and making a couple very good plays but acting as a liability defensively. Chris Pontius is another option, now that United are signing some depth on the wings; he could slide into that second forward position, putting him closer to goal but removing any real playmaker from the team sheet. It's a tough call, honestly - DeRo's one of a kind - and it will largely depend on the opponent and what tactics Olsen chooses. Just do us a favor and don't hurt our DeRo, 'kay?
Prediction for Saturday?
As much as I want to see a first half red card against Andre Hainault start to bring karmic justice to the world, I think United's bad luck in Houston is likely to continue. Brad Davis has a knack for scoring ridiculous goals against the Black-and-Red, and Will Bruin has our number for some reason. I figure they each get one past Bill Hamid, and United drops the match 2-1.
Questions for Dynamo Theory
1. Let's just get this out of the way - I can't not ask it - you agree that it should have been a red card against Andre Hainault, right?
With such a short preseason, I'm sure that is still on DC fans' minds. Well, I said this last year and I'll say it again. We live in a time where countless instant replays and camera angles help us critique sports more than in years past. I was at the game and as it happened, I didn't feel it was a red. From the referee's point of view, I think he felt it was the right call too. After the game, after seeing the reply, I can certainly see where a red could have been given. But that doesn't mean the ref got it wrong, you have to remember its angling and embellishment is a big part of the game too. At the time, he thought he got it right.
1a. Back to the present. Houston seems to have had a relatively quiet offseason, especially compared to other Eastern Conference playoff teams, all of which have made splashes of one kind or another. How do you rate the Dynamo's offseason moves, or lack thereof?
In all honesty, "relatively quiet" is typical Houston. When you're runner up to the MLS Cup, unless you lose key players, you're real offseason focus is keeping the core together and addressing any needs. I think with the Dynamo additions, they did exactly just that. The Omar Cummings trade could be a huge deal if he recaptures 2010 form with Houston's midfield behind him. I think that's the most exciting move of the offseason. The recent acquisition of Andrew Driver could be a game changer too, especially in CCL play. He has been healthy for more than a year now and appears to be showing signs of his pre-injury form. The majority of their other moves address depth issues and overall I think they had a great offseason.
2. The Orange switched between Dom Kinnear's classic 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 last season as he worked Boniek Garcia and Giles Barnes into the lineup. How will the Dynamo play in 2013, and who looks to be the biggest danger man for the group?
The interesting thing about 2013 is with all players in good health, Kinnear has unique options to adjust his formation to match up with an opponent tactically. My best bet would be Houston starting off in the traditional 4-4-2. I think with a full year with his teammates, Boniek Garcia could be headed for an MVP type season. One thing I've talked about in the offseason has been the stellar form of Giles Barnes. With spending an entire preseason with Houston, I fully expect him to be the surprise of the year.
3. D.C. United have always been a bit snakebit playing in Houston and have never won down there. If you were writing up a game plan to take on the Dynamo, how would you go at them?
Don't worry, not very many teams have success in Houston. I'm not sure what it is - the heat gets thrown out there a lot, but even the Dynamo players don't seem comfortable playing in it at times. I think the opponents that come into Houston tend to put everything they have into the early stages of the match and are gassed by the 70th minute. Houston has a tendency to know how to play this to their advantage and frequently seem to have more life than opponents late in matches. Opponents have to realize there are 90 minutes in a match and Houston surely knows that.
And how about a quick prediction?
Last year's opener will be hard to top, but I think the overall result will be similar. I'm picking Houston with a 2-1 win over DCU. As for the goals, I think we'll see Bruin bag both. He has a thing for scoring on the Black-and-Red and I think he'll add to it on Saturday.