Q: How is Alain Rochat fitting in?
A: Fantastically well. He's started both league games at left fullback since he arrived, and spent some time in central midfield late in a game, too. He's added some needed calmness and game-reading ability to the DCU defense, and he's been surprisingly adept on the ball, helping United's possession game and facilitating the attack with good short passing and with crosses.
Q: Is this season salvageable, or are fans already looking ahead to next season?
A:The season is salvageable, but our league campaign isn't. It would take a nigh impossible run of results for United to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs, and even with the team's recent form (3-1-1 in their last five across all competitions), that's too much of an ask. But the Black-and-Red are still alive in the U.S. Open Cup, beating the Revolution 3-1 on Wednesday to book their spot in the semifinals. That tournament - the chance at a 13th major trophy that it represents to D.C. United - is the last hope we have in 2013. Hell, I've already started looking at the top prospects that will be available in next year's SuperDraft.
Q: What is wrong with the club at this point? How do you go about getting back on track?
A:There was too much complacency last off-season, and there's been a hellish streak of bad luck, represented primarily by inexplicable drops in players' individual form.
Last winter, General Manager Dave Kasper and Head Coach Ben Olsen sat on their laurels, allowing talent like Andy Najar, Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi to depart while failing to bring in anybody of comparable quality (no offense to the Vancouver-developed Kyle Porter, who has arguably been United's best signing from the offseason).
Since February, though, we've seen former MVP Dwayne De Rosario go ice cold, along with 2012 MLS Bext XI selection Chris Pontius. Bill Hamid has made some mistakes that we thought had been exorcised from his game. The worst, though, has to be both members of last year's lock-down center back pairing completely forgetting how to play soccer - neither Brandon McDonald nor Dejan Jakovic is in Olsen's starting lineup at this point, despite both being on the team sheet in ink to start the year.
Q: Who are some players the Whitecaps should keep an eye on?
A:You guys are all familiar with Dwayne De Rosario, who scored midweek in Open Cup play (his fourth in two games in that tournament). You probably know about Chris Pontius, too, and he also scored (making it two consecutive games with a goal, across all competitions). I'm guessing you also remember once-capped Canadian international Kyle Porter, who United picked up from the NASL's FC Edmonton this winter, and who has scored a goal for D.C. while also acting as primary corner taker.
So I'll focus on the trio of Perry Kitchen, John Thorrington and Nick DeLeon. These are the guys who make the possession game go. Kitchen was the third overall draft pick a few years ago, and he's turned into quite the defensive midfielder, getting into tackles and recovering the ball without being called for too many fouls. Thorrington, acquired from Vancouver through the re-entry draft this winter, links the defense to the attack, finding a way to push the offense forward rather than letting it become stagnant in United's own half. Nick DeLeon can play anywhere across the midfield and can dribble out of a tight space one second and then ghost in behind the defense the next. It's the combination of the three of them, though, that have allowed guys like DeRo and Pontius to get off their own respective schneids by generating more and better scoring opportunities for the playmakers.
Q: Lineup and prediction?
A:Look for United to come out in a 4-2-3-1 in front of Bill Hamid's goal. If Ethan White is not recovered from being cold-cocked by Alan Gordon last weekend, look for him to be replaced by Conor Shanosky alongside Daniel Woolard in central defense. At fullback, it will be Chris Korb across from Alain Rochat. John Thorrington and Perry Kitchen will man central midfield, with Nick DeLeon on one side and Kyle Porter on the other (if healthy - he took a knock on Wednesday against New England - and Taylor Kemp if not).
Up top, I see little reason to think we won't see Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario reprise their partnership from Wednesday's successful outing.
United are in a good place mentally for probably the first time since the first half of the first leg of last year's Eastern Conference final. I think they keep it going to make it three straight wins in all competitions. But it'll be tough to keep that Whitecaps attack off the board, so I'll look for a 3-2 win for my boys in black.