Entering this last weekend in March, the Chicago Fire and DC United find themselves as funhouse-mirror distortions of one another - DC stood pat with its front office and head coach while Chicago cleaned house; United dealt for a massive infusion of experience (added to the promising youth already in evidence) while the Fire kept a bit of experience but added mostly youthful exuberance in the offseason. It's still so early; how will this go?
We ask, they answer
HTIOT: Obviously, 2013 was unkind to the Black and Red, and the front office went to town spending that massive stack of allocation money to build a whole new roster. Still, the team looks wobbly and hasn't scored a goal through two games. How close are DC supporters to panicking?
BRU: There is a sizable group of D.C. United supporters, at least on Black and Red United, that are already panicking and calling for Ben Olsen to be fired. My personal opinion is that Olsen deserves some more time after rebuilding the roster in the offseason; they could have fired him then, but to fire him after two games seems rash. But if we get to the eight to ten game mark and United's points-per-game is still under 1, the calls we be loud and hard to ignore.
HTIOT: How is the Espindola/Johnson partnership shaping up?
BRU: We haven't been able to see much of the partnership between Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola yet, because the midfield can't really get them the ball. Also, Espindola has been pulling wide left, and EJ pulling wide right; being so far away from each other doesn't lead to a good partnership. I would like to see Espindola play a little more underneath Johnson, which might allow them to interact more.
HTIOT: If Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson had a titanic keeper cage match, who would emerge triumphant?
BRU: I know I'm biased, but I would have to think it is Bill Hamid. While he has reduced their frequency greatly, Hamid does have a proclivity for hot-headed red cards, and his reaction in the tunnel after his red card against the Red Bulls in the 2012 playoffs shows his passion.
BRU's predicted DC United XI: Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke, Christian Fernandez; Perry Kitchen; Kyle Porter, Luis Silva, Nick DeLeon; Fabian Espindola, Eddie Johnson.
BRU game prediction: I'm hoping, more than thinking, that United can get back on track with a 2-1 win over the Fire. If not, things will be dark in Black and Red land.
They ask, we answer
BRU: After years of Frank Klopas, how has Frank Yallop changed the team to make it his own so far?
HTIOT: Both Franks are avuncular, and both have strong reputations as being coaches guys want to play for. Under Yallop, though, the biggest change under is an almost palpable sense of accountability on the technical side. Klopas was loyal like a rescued mutt is loyal; Yallop has shown that he's not going to get clowned by players who don't produce.
BRU: Austin Berry was a key part of the Fire's defense, winning Rookie of the Year two years ago. Why did the team get rid of him, who's his replacement, and what do you think of the move so far?
HTIOT: Piecing together a series of half-answers over the last month, it sounds like a couple of things were going on with Austin. He simply wasn't rated as highly by Yallop (and, in all likelihood, C.J. Brown) as the other guys on the roster. Berry is a classic American stopper - athletic, aggressive, and supremely uncomfortable with the ball at his feet when under any pressure; not a great fit for a team that wants to press high up the pitch. In the end, he was the number four center back coming out of camp, and the club needed cap relief.
Berry's place has been taken by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who has been fantastic so far. Hurtado's game meshes with Soumare's much more naturally - the former always stepping off the line, looking to cover, the latter stepping up aggressively.
BRU: Are you-all unaware of the rest of the league's opinion on the Fi-yur chant, or do you keep doing it just to spite us?
HTIOT: Our methods and modes of thought control are subtle. Our guys find it comforting, their guys find it irritating; what's not to love? FIIIIYERRRRRR, FIIIYERRRRRR ... I feel better already.
HTIOT predicted Fire XI: Sean Johnson; Matt Watson, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Bakary Soumare, Gonzalo Segares; Jeff Larentowicz; Patrick Nyarko, Alex, Mike Magee, Harrison Shipp; Quincy Amarikwa.
HTIOT game prediction: 2-0 Fire. Chicago's defensive cohesion offers DC little purchase in the attacking third, Magee breaks his 2014 duck, and CF97 send the Capitol district spinning into an apoplexy of pain and rage.