Chicago v. D.C. United - MLS # 31 - Fireside Chat

Gene Sweeney Jr.

Hot Time In Old Town exchanges questions with Black and Red United.

It seems like every game since late July has been a must win for the Chicago Fire, and  Friday night's showdown in the District of Columbia s going to be no different. Chicago is going to need to snag all three points to stay relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Ahead of Friday's fixture, we reached out to Adam Taylor, Managing Editor of Black and Red United, with some questions about the recently crowned USOC Champions. Adam also had some really good questions for us which can be found over here.

Congrats on the USOC win, does the cup win feel a little like what Wigan was able to do in the FA Cup this past season? How will it feel to be one of the worst MLS teams record wise and to be in the region's premier competition? (via Adam Merges)

Not gonna lie - in a year without any other semblances of joy, it feels pretty effing great. Hopefully the front office learns its lesson from last offseason and doesn't rest on its (wilted, decaying) laurels this winter. If they can keep the young core of the team together, renegotiate a few out-of-proportion salaries and finally hit the mark on an international signing, we could actually be something other than a curiosity next season. Remember, this is a team that, just about 11 months ago, had the third-best record in the league and was essentially one blown red card away from booking its ticket to MLS Cup. Things can change very quickly, and the team has... just about 11 months to get things on track before ConcaChamps play starts. I love symmetry.

Has winning the Cup taken some of the sting out of such a poor league campaign? Is Olsen's job safe? (via John Jenzeh)

It's definitely been somewhat of a soothing balm - more IcyHot than morphine - at least in the one day since we hoisted our 13th trophy. I mean, if you can't bask in the glow of a championship - whatever the other on-field circumstances - for at least a little while, than you're depriving yourself of the whole reason people love sports. Eventually - probably around the 12th minute or so on Friday - the glow will wear off and we'll remember that United is wholly incompetent in league play this year.

A lot of people will tell you that the win on Tuesday night saved Ben Olsen's job, and I don't doubt that if any of the people saying that were in Managing Partner Jason Levien or General Manager Dave Kasper's shoes, that would be the case. But I'm not convinced that he wouldn't be returning next year no matter the result in Sandy. Based on quotes from Olsen and Kasper over the last week or so, it sounds like their futures were decided a few weeks back after meetings with players and with Levien. My hunch is - and this may be reading more into the quotes than is prudent (but given rumors unearthed by Brian Straus and Charlie Boehm before the game on Tuesday that Kasper would be given a multi-year extension, maybe not) - that the midseason retooling that stopped the bleeding and brought in young, reasonably priced American talent like Jared Jeffrey, Conor Doyle and Luis Silva is the first plank of a new platform that Olsen and Kasper plan to build the team on going forward. Time will tell whether that's the right route, but it appears that, despite all the bad that could counterbalance the good from winning the Open Cup, Olsen and Kasper will be back in 2014.

The injury bug has not been kind to D.C. How much better do you think United would be if they had been able to stay healthy this season? Could a healthy D.C. United team be a playoff contender with everyone else not named Toronto FC? (via Mark O'Rourke)

It's honestly kind of tough to say. United let a lot of good pieces go over the last off-season, and it's easy to say with hindsight that the plan to replace them, both on the personnel side and the tactical side, was fatally flawed from the start. But it's pretty clear after watching the team both with and without guys like Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon that United are much better when their best players are actually on the field. Whether they'd be in contention for the playoffs or even on par with TFC is another, entirely less obvious question to answer.

Do you feel D.C. has a good core of players to work with for next year? Where does Ben Olsen need to make upgrades this off-season? Also, what does Dwayne De Rosario's future at D.C. look like? (via Mark O'Rourke)

I alluded to this above, but yeah, I do think United has a solid core to build around for the future. Young but established talents - Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon - are holdovers from last year's playoff run, and they're domestic players to boot. Add in the industry and underrated skill of Jared Jeffrey and Conor Doyle and the creativity of Luis Silva, and you've got yourself a good starting point. What the team needs to go to the next level, and quickly, is star quality at striker and center back, and depth. The 2012 version of D.C. United had substitutes and spot starters who made major contributions. The lack of goals scored and deluge of goals against testify to the former point. As to the latter: Due to injuries and poor roster choices, though, that's not nearly as true in 2013.

I think DeRo's situation is still open ended at this point. The team holds an option for next season, but given his age and declining ability as well as his DP-level salary, they'd be pretty crazy to exercise it. So the question becomes whether he'll agree to a lower salary to come back next year or whether he'll test the MLS Re-Entry Draft waters. I really don't know what's going to happen, but I wouldn't be surprised by any result up to and including DeRo becoming the highest paid NASL player, captaining the New York Cosmos next year.

Predict D.C.'s lineup for Friday.

This one is actually tricky. Will Olsen try to win as many of the last four, meaningless games as he can, or will he run out a more experimental lineup, trying to see what - and who - could work for next year? I think he probably goes with a bit of both, building on the system he used in the Open Cup final (which is really just a reprise of the system that helped United to an unbeaten run at the end of last season).

4-4-2: Bill Hamid; Chris Korb, Ethan White, Dejan Jakovic, Dennis Iapichino; Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Jared Jeffrey, Chris Pontius; Luis Silva, Conor Doyle.

Gracias, Adam!

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