It's really a shame that the Washington Derby takes place only once this year. Similar to the Dynamo, D.C. United and Seattle had a fierce year contesting a trophy between upstart state of Washington and classic MLS 1.0 city of Washington. For this site it also meant early debates between here and MLS team blog number 3 on SBN Black and Red United.
Saturday's 4:30 PM match will see two teams that are quite different. While the Seattle Sounders have stayed near the top United are in a rebuilding pattern, one that resurrects their classic formation. The diamond is back and at the #10 is one of the best players in league history - Dwayne De Rosario. They've made some improvements to their young backline and should compete for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. You'll notice that this match's three questions is a little more playful than usual, but that comes from being two of the oldest on the network, and isn't a long term change.
SaH: Olsen seems to be getting settled in as the head coach. What is he doing differently this year?
B&RU: For the first time since he took over for Curt Onalfo late in 2010, a few fans had started to question Olsen's coaching chops following our loss to the LA Galaxy in Week 2. Boy he erased those doubts quickly. You see, right or wrong, Olsen had elected to treat the first three matches of the season a bit like an extension of the preseason. Since United never really had the chance to play its full best 11 as a team during preseason, Olsen rotated a couple different lineups against Sporting Kansas City, the Galaxy, and the Vancouver Whitecaps. This team started to come together in Vancouver, shutting out a pretty potent attack. And then it exploded the following week back home at RFK against FC Dallas.
It's all about chemistry with this group. It was chemistry that was missing in LA, and chemistry that was found against FCD. Olsen played a big role in helping his team find it
SaH: In some ways the offensive power of the current United roster reminds me of the great United sides in the past with its offensive focus and style. Is this structure legacy within the organization or something forced by an analyst from outside?
B&RU: The United roster has Ben Olsen's name written all over it. "Olsen's Army" isn't just a slogan some marketing guy came up with, its how this team is built. Olsen and General Manager Dave Kasper have assembled a collection of players in the image of the coach and legendary player. Aggressive, intelligent, hard-working, knowing your role and sticking to it. These traits all described Olsen, and they describe several members of the current team.
Stylistically, Olsen has stated his preference to play with a midfield diamond, similar to those United teams of old. Those teams are the reason that our jerseys have four stars on them. Four more than Seattle by the way. In the past few years, we didn't really have the weapons to play as a diamond effectively. But now, with Perry Kitchen behind Dwayne De Rosario in the middle, and Nick DeLeon and Danny Cruz running nonstop up and down the wings, things are starting to click.
SaH: Is there a defensive hole in the roster, or are the defenders just overshadowed by the stars on offense?
B&RU: There might be. Our back line doesn't have a whole lot of depth, as demonstrated by what happened in LA when Chris Korb started in Daniel Woolard's place at left back. That reminds me. It's worth taking a brief moment of pause to note that Olsen still preferred to keep Korb over Marc Burch.
Anyway, since the inclusion of Argentine veteran and former Defender Of the Year from the top Swiss league Emiliano Dudar, United's defense has been solid. Dudar's slip-up against Dallas was a minor aberration, and he'll have to show that he can do as well playing with Dejan Jakovic on Saturday as he's done playing with the suspended Brandon McDonald, but D.C. should be closer to the bottom than the top in goals allowed this year.
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B&RU: David Estrada and Alvaro Fernandez went off against Toronto FC and the Houston Dynamo, but couldn't get on the board when the San Jose Earthquakes visited last week. Is that a cause for concern? Or just a minor blip on a quest for multiple Cups?
SaH: When you're Seattle you already know you're going to win the Open Cup, so a one game offensive swoon isn't an issue. It's just a case of bad luck. The Samurai and the Skinny will be right back there winning headers against larger men while making them look silly for not covering them. Plus it's the Quakes, they have an actual veteran keeper, it's not like that's happening this weekend!
Seriously, if there's a worry on the offense it's the propensity to use passes in the air to try and create scoring opportunities, particularly with Mauro Rosales out. Another complication when Mauro doesn't play is it forces Fredy Montero to drop even deeper on average. That shift essentially turns Estrada into a lone forward. While he's fast, decent with the ball at his feet and makes good runs, he can't be counted on to win headers in contested areas. Sigi Schmid though will be getting one-time phenom Eddie Johnson into the 18, so the offense should improve just from overall health. Also back will be Brad Evans.
B&RU: Give us an update on who's in and who's out for Saturday. Will Mauro Rosales travel with the team? Is Eddie Johnson ready for his first MLS minutes since 2007? When will Steve Zakuani return?
SaH: Good teams win even through injuries. Especially when they give their "second team" plenty of valuable playing time in Open Cups and Champions Leagues. Injury status isn't a big deal. Look at all the trophies that Roger Levesque and Zach Scott have won!
Rosales may travel, but that is because they will travel 20. He's on the outside of the bubble. Eddie Johsnon, Brad Evans and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado should all be available with at least Evans starting. With Ianni and Parke both playing well I expect Hurtado to be the bench CB just to heal a bit more. Zakuani hasn't played a real Reserve game yet, so there's still several weeks. Adam Johansson, the Swedish right back, seems unlikely, but also should travel.
B&RU: Has March Burch ever watched Marc Burch play soccer?
SaH: Burch watches Burch soccer every single day. How could you not? He's got the crossing ability of Beckham, the defense of Marcelo and the scoring ability of Bale.
He's a suitable left back in a four back set when a coach wants a more offensive version of the player. His crossing is actually pretty good, though it doesn't translate to dead ball situations. He can slow down an attack against him enough that the rest of the defense can get into their shape. It's Seattle's second year with a choice between better defense and better offense at left back. If Burch makes or breaks this game it would be a stunner. He supplements, rather than becomes the emphasis of any match.