The Black and Gold go on the road for the first time in two weeks. It was a successful home stand for Columbus, who won both games, over Orlando City SC and the Philadelphia Union, by a combined score of 7-1.
United have just one loss on the season and are unbeaten in their last five games. Most recently, the Black and Red went across the country to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps and came away with a victory in a tough place to play. D.C. got their star forward Fabian Espindola back from suspension in that game, but the hot man is Chris Rolfe with two goals in the last two games.
Two teams on a roll. Which side can keep it going? I went to Ben Bromley, managing editor of Black and Red United, to get some answers.
Questions for Black and Red United
Massive Report: Injuries and suspensions have plagued United in the early portion of the season, yet there D.C. is tied for first in the East. What has allowed the club to excel without some key guys this year?
Black and Red United: D.C. United, unlike the 2012-2013 offseason, continued to improve their depth this past offseason, and that is why they have been able to bank points while missing important players. Jairo Arrieta and Michael Farfan have proved to be key new players for United, and Kofi Opare has stepped up after being traded for in the middle of last season. Chris Pontius missed almost all of last season with various injuries, and is just now getting back into full fitness (and is still not yet sharp). When the team gets fully healthy, players like Arrieta, Pontius, Davy Arnaud, or Nick DeLeon could be on the bench, which makes this one of the deepest United teams in years.
MR: Jairo Arrieta was loved in Columbus for what he did on the field and the smile that hardly left his face. He's had some solid playing time with Fabian Espindola suspended. How has our old friend done at the start of his United career?
BRU: Arrieta has been a key part of United's success at the beginning of this season, and the team would not be at the top of the Eastern Conference had they not acquired him from Orlando City for a bag of balls. He has one goal in league play so far, and it was the game winner in United's first game of the season. He has also been solid at hold-up play, and helped pressure opposing back lines and create space for other players. He will be a key sub for United now that Fabian Espindola is back, and I am excited to have him run at tired defenses late in games.
MR: D.C. has managed to climb up the MLS table while only scoring eight goals and conceding six. Is United just doing enough to get by at this point? Will the returning players make a difference or is this how the Black and Red will be this season?
BRU: United had one of the best defenses in the league last year, tying the LA Galaxy for the least number of goals allowed through the entire season. That said, they scored at a better clip last year as well, so the early reliance on late goals and one goal wins is not (and was never supposed to be) sustainable. Getting Fabian Espindola back unlocks United's attack in a way that other players cannot, and so the team should start to score more with him just on the field. Their big international signing, midfielder Markus Halsti, still hasn't seen the field yet due to a preseason injury (though he may make the bench this Saturday), and Steve Birnbaum is working back from injury as well. With that depth, I think they can rotate the squad enough to keep everyone fresh and keep the attack going and the defense strong.
Questions for Massive Report
Black and Red United: How much has the return of Kei Kamara meant to the success of Crew SC so far this season?
Massive Report: Kamara has been huge to start the season, better than I expected to be honest. The obvious impact has been his goals - five so far, which is tied for the league lead - but that is not all he brought in his return.
Questions were raised about how Kamara would fit as a lone striker in Gregg Berhalter's system since his time with Sporting Kansas City saw him play mostly on the right win, but that's actually been a blessing in disguise. Kamara and wingers Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram ( who both came into the league as forwards) can interchange positions, making this attack much more difficult to defend than it was a year. It's almost as if Berhalter knew what he was doing.
After a slow start scoring goals this season, the Black and Gold have been in great form the last several games offensively. Between those three and Federico Higuain, the team is tops in the league in goals. It will be interesting to see them take this show on the road and if the side can have success outside of the friendly confines of MAPFRE Stadium.
BRU: We're at the beginning of season 2 of Gregg Berhalter; how would you and how would fans evaluate him so far?
MR: To the best of my knowledge, fans are very happy with how things have gone under Berhalter. Last season's return to the playoffs was a success and the form they entered on made people believe the club is moving in the right direction. It was a disappointing way to go out, losing 7-3 on aggregate to the New England Revolution, but most believe the Revs were the only team that could have stopped Crew SC on the way to the final.
Obviously there have been a couple of hiccups to start this season, but I think many would blame that more on MLS' inability to schedule consistently rather than a true reflection of the team. Since the Black and Gold began playing a more traditional week-to-week schedule, they got a draw in New England and two big wins over Orlando City SC and the Philadelphia Union at home.
Once again, a game at United will be a bit of measuring stick to see where this team really is and if Berhalter has them humming like it appears.
BRU: Who is an under the radar player of whom United will need to be aware?
MR: Mohammed Saeid. The Swede was brought in over the offseason to provide depth in the center of the midfield and has already exceeded what anyone could have imagined. With usual defensive midfielder Wil Trapp out the last few games with concussion symptoms, Saeid has slid into his role and not missed a beat.
Trapp's role is not easy to learn; he is what holds the style of play together. As the outside backs push forward, as they must do to provide the team's width, Trapp drops into the center of the defense, making a three-back line with Michael Parkhurst and Emanuel Pogatetz. He then must step out to slow any counterattack, while also being a vital part of the possession game.
Saeid and Trapp aren't the same player, but Saeid's adapted to this new style of play very quickly. Along with Tony Tcahni, the Black and Gold controlled the midfield in nearly every game they've played.
I would advise D.C. fans at the game to keep an eye on Saeid's movements. His name likely won't show up on the stat sheet, but it's the things he does off the ball, the simple passes he makes, or the way he tracks or tackles. He's a physical player, despite his small stature and created a good problem to have for the coaching staff when Trapp is healthy once again with his play.