It seems like once a month, I'm reaching out to Ben Bromley of Black & Red United to talk about an upcoming D.C. United and Columbus Crew match. No, we are not recycling the same piece over again and if you're sick of our chats, this is likely the last one. Maybe...
The Crew come into this game, the third in a week, on the back of a 1-1 home draw with Real Salt Lake. The visitors took the lead early in the second half. Columbus saved it until late, but grabbed an equalizer courtesy of red hot Ethan Finlay, who received a ball from Ben Speas in behind the Real defense and chipped the keeper.
United took advantage of a depleted Sporting Kansas City team in their last outing, riding a 28th minute goal from Fabian Espindola to a 1-0 win. This was after losing 2-1 on the road to the New England Revolution in the previous match.
D.C. find themselves right in the thick of things with 21 points, good for second in the Eastern Conference. Both teams are looking to add to their point total, so Ben and I agreed to swap questions for the third time this season.
Questions for Black & Red United
Massive Report: Fabian Espindola has been fantastic for D.C. this season. What has he done to excel and what has kept Eddie Johnson from doing the same?
Black & Red United: Fabian Espindola has just been on a tear so far this season. He is working harder than the defenders who are trying to cover him, and has the skill to pull it off. He is also happier than he was in New York; he will probably never say that publicly, but you can tell from his body language (and performance) in each place that he needed a fresh start.
Eddie Johnson has been the complete opposite. After finally getting the designated player contract that he deserved based on his performance with the [Seattle Sounders,] he has dropped into a slump; what's worse is that he seems like he is not even interested at times. While United might not have the top of the league talent like the Sounders, his early-season criticism of the team falls flat in the face of the performance of people like Fabian Espindola and Chris Rolfe. However, if he gets it together, adding a hot Eddie Johnson to this team would make them a contender to be reckoned with.
MR: It's been a fairly good run of form for United since these two teams last met going 4-2-1. What has been working for the Black and Red to help move them to second in the Eastern Conference?
B&RU: Two things: the success of their offseason (and mid-season) acquisitions and the performance of the defense. United had the worst defense in the league last season, and this Saturday's team will feature four completely new starters. Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke in particular have brought a calm to the back line that we haven't seen in years; even in 2012, no one completely trusted Dejan Jakovic, for example. On the other side, Chris Rolfe, Fabian Espindola, and Davy Arnaud have been key players for this team: Rolfe and Espindola in scoring and assisting goals, and Arnaud in disrupting the opposing teams' midfield. It will be interesting to see how United lines up, however, without Arnaud's usual midfield partner, as Perry Kitchen is suspended on yellow card accumulation.
MR: Despite his struggles, how surprised were the D.C. fans that Eddie Johnson was not selected to Jurgen Klinsmann's initial 30-man roster for the World Cup?
B&RU: We were pretty shocked. Despite his poor performance in the early MLS season, we thought that he had built up enough goodwill through qualifiers to at least make the 30-man roster, with him having to battle in camp to try and make the 23. However, given Klinsmann's final roster selections, it is clear he pretty much had his mind made up, so at least he didn't make Johnson miss any games for United without a chance to make the roster. Hopefully he can be inspired, as Landon Donovan has been so far, to use the snub and take his anger out on the league.
Questions for Massive Report
Black & Red United: After a torrid start, the Crew have gone ice cold with only one win since March. What's happened?
Massive Report: I think a few things happened. First, I think the start was a bit of a fluke. The win over D.C. was against a newly formed team that wasn't put together yet. The 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union saw the opponent make a furious comeback in the second half that could have resulted in a tie, or worse. Against the Seattle Sounders, the Crew won a PK that resulted in a red card and scored a stoppage time goal to win.
Second. I think teams have figured out Columbus' style a bit. When United came in last time, the team sat back and countered to create offense. This has been a blueprint, especially if the opposition can score first. The Crew's finishing hasn't been good so that is hurting them as well.
Third, this is very early on in the process. Gregg Berhalter wasn't brought in to win this year. If he ends up successful this year, that would be a bonus, but he has a three year plan and the team is five or six months into that. Fans don't like to hear that, but the players and the coaching staff preach development and looking at how they play more than the result at times. Also, Berhalter doesn't have his players yet. He's had one transfer window and the players he did bring in - Michael Parkhurst, Waylon Francis, Steve Clark, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Hector Jimenez - have all been successful so far this year.
B&RU: Wil Trapp has been a key in the center of midfield for the team. Will he play on Saturday and what does it mean if he doesn't?
MR: Trapp's injury has been a mystery in Columbus. He left training early last Thursday, but Berhalter said it was a scheduled departure. On Friday he reaffirmed that it was nothing to worry about, but the lineup comes out on Saturday and he doesn't play. Evidently he trained Monday and Tuesday, but didn't make the 18 for Wednesday night's game against Real Salt Lake.
From what we've been told, he has a "knee knock" and it's nothing serious, but he's missed two games, albeit in one week. With Federico Higuain likely now out for Saturday, I would think the medical staff would do everything in their power to get Trapp on the field, but if he can't go, he has three weeks to heal after that.
If he's not in there, the answer has been Agustin Viana. Viana has been good in the midfield but he simply isn't Trapp. Trapp understands the system so well - having played it at Akron - and just does so many little things that go unnoticed. The Toronto FC game looked rather disjointed without Trapp or Higuain and while the Real Salt Lake game was better, it was apparent the team was missing their central midfielder.
B&RU: Do the Crew relay too much on Federico Higuain?
MR: That's an interesting question based on what we saw on Wednesday. Higuain started grabbing his hamstring halfway through the first half and it was apparent he was going to need to come out. Ben Speas came in for him and actually played really well. This is a kid who hasn't had much of a shot since becoming a pro - just 22 appearances in three years - but won two national titles in college and has impressed in training.
I think it's hard not to rely on a player like Higuain when you're a "small market team." This isn't the New York Red Bulls who can deal with the loss of Tim Cahill because they have Thierry Henry. At this point in time, Higuain is hands down the best player and when he's not on the field, the Crew have to play a bit differently. With that said, they've now scored three goals without him in just over a game and a half.
This is a big chance for Speas to demonstrate that he's the obvious backup to Federico (he did not start Saturday's game) and really show that there's a viable second option behind the maestro.