In this week's intelligence report, it's time to get to know a little more about the defending Eastern Conference champions, D.C. United. Here to help us get ready for Saturday night is Ben Bromley, a managing editor from Black and Red United, our fellow SB Nation blog.
Who are three DC United players (expected to play this weekend) that Orlando City fans should know about?
Ben Bromley: Bill Hamid is always the first one, and with good reason. He has gone from the team's first ever homegrown signing to MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and a USMNT player, and with good reason. He is big and athletic, which can't be taught, but his positioning and distribution have improved by leaps and bounds over the past two years.
Moving up the spine of the team, Bobby Boswell is the team's captain in his second stint with D.C. United, and he brought a calmness to the back line that didn't exist in 2013. His partnership with Steve Birnbaum made them one of the best defenses in the league last year, and Kofi Opare was able to step in seamlessly last week when Birnbaum got injured.
Finally, Davy Arnaud's move to the center of midfield last season sparked the team, and he has played a key role in every game this year so far. His pass freed Nick DeLeon to beat Robbie Rogers and get the ball for Chris Pontius to head home.
What is the team's preferred style of play and formation?
BB: Ben Olsen's teams have played a narrow 4-4-2 since last season, with both Nick DeLeon and Chris Rolfe cutting inside from their wing positions. On the attacking side, this means that they try and work the ball through the middle, and rely on Taylor Kemp and Sean Franklin to provide width; on the defensive side, that means they try and keep the opposing attackers wide and invite crosses for Boswell and Opare to head away or for Hamid to gobble up. Olsen also likes for them to be aggressive and tough, with Boswell, Arnaud, and Perry Kitchen all fitting that bill.
What have you learned about United through the first few MLS games this season?
BB: The thing that I have learned about the team so far this season has been its ability to grind out results without its best players. The top three goal scorers from last year, Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva, and Eddie Johnson, have yet to play a minute between them. In a typical year, D.C. United will start slow before finally clicking in April; this year, they already have six points from three games.
What are the major strengths and weaknesses of the team at this point?
BB: The strength of this team is always in its goalkeeping, as long as Bill Hamid is on the team. He gives the team chances to win games that it never otherwise would, and supports the normally-solid defense when they have off games. Their weakness right now is goal scoring, but that's what happens when your top scorer is suspended and the next two are injured. Luis Silva, however, will hopefully make the bench for the first time this season.
What are the fans' expectations for the club, both realistic and unrealistic?
BB: I mean, deep down many D.C. United fans expect to win MLS Cup every year; its what happens when your team wins three of the first four. A more realistic expectation, though, is to get a top three spot in the Eastern Conference, and challenging for the top of the East; that should be well within the team's grasp.
What do you expect the starting XI to look like on Friday and what is your score prediction?
BB: Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Opare, Taylor Kemp; Nick DeLeon, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, Chris Rolfe; Jairo Arrieta, Chris Pontius.
2-1, D.C. United.
Big thanks to Ben for helping us get to know more about our new foes.