To preview Sunday's match between the LA Galaxy and DC United, I exchanged three questions with Martin Shatzer of SB Nation DC United Blog Black and Red United. His answers to my questions come first, then my answers are after the jump. Thus, the prematch buildup officially begins!
1. DC United used to be the toast of the East, now it's overshadowed by Philadelphia's supporters culture, Kansas City's stadium, and New York's star appeal. Still, DC and Columbus are the only East teams to win a cup in the last ten years. How close is DC to returning to form and making the East coast winners again?
1. Its not beyond the realm of possibility that United will return to greatness this season, but if true, its no less than several months away at least. The loss on Saturday proves that Sporting Kansas City is absolutely still the class of the Eastern Conference. The 1-0 final score was not indicative of the game, as the Sporks dominated in possession and in chances created, with United goalkeeper Bill Hamid being the only reason the score line was so low.
A lot will have to go right along the way for United to return to where they should be - tops in the East. Our designated players Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi will have to live up to their potential, with Boskovic dictating play and Salihi matching the strike rate he's shown in Europe throughout his career. But maybe more importantly, the back line will have to come together and improve significantly on last year's performance. With the additions of MLS veteran Robbie Russell and Argentine center back Emiliano Dudar (who once earned Defender Of The Year honors in Switzerland), United has a chance to do that.
2. Give us a sit rep on the stadium situation. I know a lease was just signed, what does that entail? And what options are DC United weighing to get a place of their own?
2. Your question comes with great timing because just yesterday the team announced a deal (http://www.blackandredunited.com/2012/3/15/2874197/dc-united-stadium-news-update-events-dc-rfk-stadium) that will keep United at RFK Stadium through the 2013 season. That might not sound like good news, but it is. It means that the Stadium will be made more soccer-friendly, with the upper deck being covered to limit capacity to around 20,000 (instead of 45,000). It also means that the financials of the deal will be more favorable for United - they won't be losing a million dollars a year anymore, as had previously been reported.
The ultimate goal is still to have our own soccer-specific stadium though. On that front, United is speaking with developers about two potential sites in D.C. (one near Nationals Park sounds really exciting) and also seeking outside financing. Meanwhile, the City of Baltimore is conducting a feasibility study to confirm the economics of locating an MLS team in their Inner Harbor, but we'd rather not talk about that.
3. Do you expect Dwayne DeRosario to repeat his MVP performance of last year, now that he'll have a full season with the club? Or is there fear he'll regress to the player many clubs found expendable?
3. Somewhere in between. Last year, he was the only focal point of United's offense in the second half of the season, and the stats are proof. This year, the team has more weapons. He won't have to do it all himself. De Rosario is fit and motivated to return to the playoffs. I think he will, and he'll have somewhere around 10 goals and 10 assists to show for it. We definitely don't expect De Rosario to win the MVP again though. No, Salihi will be winning that instead.
1. On a scale of "Meh, we'll still be fine" to "Riots worse than 4/26/92", how big of a crisis is the start to this season?
1. I'm gonna be all over the map on this one, that loss last night still stings. Remember the 2010-11 Champions League knockout stage? The Galaxy were eliminated in the play in round, and then just before the 2011 MLS season kicked off RSL and the Columbus Crew played a nil-nil draw to kick of the knockout stages that looked more like a preseason match than it did a knockout round opener. At a luncheon to kickoff the season, I asked Bruce Arena if the timing of the CCL put MLS teams at a disadvantage. He was quite clear that in the case of RSL and Columbus that year, the teams were on an even playing field playing against each other, and had no excuses as the competition picked up again.
The difference between RSL last year, Toronto this year, and the Galaxy this year is rest, plain and simple. Last year RSL and Columbus started Quarterfinal play in February, while MLS didn't kick off until mid-March. This year, Toronto and Seattle got the weekend off between Quarterfinal matches (not that it helped Seattle). Bruce Arena and the Galaxy, meanwhile, tried to play through like it was the MLS Cup playoffs.
There's no doubt in my mind that the opening match loss to Salt Lake was a result of hitting a wall. There's also no doubt in my mind that the Galaxy outplayed Toronto last night. The Galaxy have looked like an All-Star team thus far, the talent is obvious but there's no connection. The Galaxy's first practice as a full unit, was the Friday before the home opener. The two weeks off after the DC match on Sunday will go a long way. Lets be perfectly clear, in 2011 Tim Leiweke said to Grant Wahl that the Galaxy turned down loan opportunities so they could focus on winning a MLS title in Beckham's last contract year. If the Galaxy really wanted to win Champions League, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Omar Gonzalez wouldn't have gone on loan.
2. Most of the Galaxy's starters have now played three games in less than two weeks. Who do you expect to be rested from the starting 11 on Sunday?
2. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Three days of rest. The party line on twitter has been that the Galaxy need to throw a reserve team out to face DC United, and an academy squad on Monday for the reserve league match. Not only do the Galaxy have three days of rest, but they'll have two weeks off afterward. It's also the ring ceremony, where the players will be given their MLS Cup rings. The Galaxy will go with a regular starting lineup, for the same reason they foolishly went with a regular starting lineup last Saturday. There is an element of pomp and circumstance after winning a championship, and so long as legs haven't fallen off things carry on. Plus that group hasn't won a match yet and has shown signs of infighting. Not sure if benching all of them is what cures the wounds.
3. Obviously LA is stacked with quality attackers, but how is the team dealing with the loss of Omar Gonzalez?
3. Omar Gonzalez is a brilliant defender, and his height gave the team a real advantage in the box. So far the Galaxy have rotated through Andrew Boyens who was ridiculed and Tommy Meyer who was in college this time last year. The Galaxy have a top drawer defender in Leonardo who should be available in May. When Leonardo returns, the Galaxy will look much better in defense. For now it's it's plugging holes. It's not just on that back four though, the communication between the center mids and center backs has left something to be desired.
I've been told that the Galaxy held a memorial service to collectively grieve the loss of Omar Gonzalez. Mama Odi who does Voodoo down on the bayou was involved, she was unable to return Omar Gonzalez to the team. The Shadow Man was considered, but the team is terribly afraid of being transmogrified into DC United.