It’s still May but there’s no escaping the fact that Orlando City (6-5-2, 20 points) must beat D.C. United and snap out of this month-long funk if the Lions are truly going to be the contender we all thought they were at the end of April. There aren’t many must-win games this early in the year but I’d certainly consider tomorrow’s meeting with D.C. United (4-6-2, 14 points) to be one.
Here to give us the scoop on D.C. as we prepare for tomorrow night’s match is Ben Bromley, a managing editor from SB Nation’s United blog, Black and Red United. I also answered Ben’s questions and you can catch those over at their place.
This certainly isn’t the start D.C. United fans envisioned for their team. What have been the biggest factors contributing to the slow start?
Ben Bromley: There are a lot of reasons that D.C. United has had such a slow start and a lot of them come down to the fact that the players who were on fire at the end of last season just haven't been performing this year. Relying on older players, such as Marcelo Sarvas, Patrick Nyarko, and Lloyd Sam across the midfield was a gamble that the team took. So far, Nyarko has been injury-prone, Sam hasn't been producing at the same level as last year, and Sarvas just looks done.
United will probably scuffle along until they can find someone this summer to replace Marcelo Sarvas and to take over for Jared Jeffrey. Once that happens, and if the rest of the team continues to improve, we may see a much better United come the second half of the season, but right now it's just not there.
Offense seems to have eluded the Black & Red this season. Why isn’t this team scoring more goals?
BB: The primary reasons are that the wing play hasn't been what it was last year and that Patrick Mullins has missed a number of goals that he would have scored last year. The avenues in which they were scoring was also a little more unsustainable than originally thought: Lamar Neagle was the team's leading scorer last year despite the fact that especially down the stretch he was coming in off the bench for the last 20 minutes. All of that is combined with the fact that the defensive midfielders can't really connect the back line to the attack in an efficient way.
Against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the defenders started to try and bypass the defensive midfield and go straight for the number eight: a guy named Ian Harkes, who had his best game for D.C. United so far. As Harkes grows he should be able to become even better and so hopefully his influence over the midfield will continue to grow.
What’s going on with the home games? It’s notoriously difficult to win on the road in MLS yet D.C. is just 2-4-1 at home. How is that even possible in this league?
BB: It is baffling so far and it is completely the opposite of how D.C. United typically performs. United has dropped winnable games and points in the early going this season and the schedule only gets harder from here. There is no one factor that has made the home losses and dropped points different than those on the road, but they just sting more because they were, in theory, easier games for United to get points.
Injuries/suspensions/projected lineup/score prediction?
BB: Jose Ortiz is likely to be suspended later today, and Nick DeLeon and Rob Vincent are still out with injuries. With another game on the weekend, Ben Olsen will likely have to do some squad rotation.
The starting lineup will likely be Bill Hamid; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Steve Birnbaum, Jalen Robinson, Taylor Kemp; Jared Jeffrey; Lloyd Sam, Ian Harkes, Luciano Acosta, Lamar Neagle; Patrick Mullins.
A 1-1 draw would be a good result for United so I will go with that.
Big thanks to Ben from Black and Red United for taking time to answer our questions.