D.C. United comes into town on Thursday, August 18 to take on the Chicago Fire at 8:00 PM CST. In order to get some insider perspective on the current edition of this long-time rival, we exchanged three questions with Martin Shatzer of Black and Red United. His answer to my first question is below and the rest of the five questions in the exchange are after the break.
1. Has D.C. United become consistent enough to pose a deep threat in the MLS Cup playoffs?
Yeah, I think so. The Dwayne De Rosario trade couldn't have worked out better for United, and he's scoring goals in bunches. Perhaps more importantly though, the defense has suddenly emerged as one of the best in MLS. Outside of a certain meeting with Toronto FC in which United played the entire match down a man with a cluelessly timid referee, D.C. has given up just one goal in its last five matches. That's a playoff team, my friend.
2. Chicago currently sits in the basement of the Eastern Conference and D.C. wasn't there too long ago themselves. Has this been a total turn around from 2010 to 2011 or were there seeds planted last year that are barring fruit?
There were a few seeds planted in previous years - Chris Pontius and Dejan Jakovic are having their best seasons so far, and Bill Hamid is starting to look like an elite goalkeeper - but for the most part, this is a totally different team. Newcomer Brandon McDonald and rookie Perry Kitchen have played a critical role in turning around the defense, while De Rosario, Charlie Davies, and Josh Wolff have D.C. as one of the highest scoring teams in the league.
3. No Jaime Moreno for D.C. United. No C.J. Brown for the Chicago Fire. What has MLS come to? Do you see any player on the current D.C. United squad that could go down as a club legend on the same level as Moreno?
This is a league I don't know. The next thing you'll tell me is that there are MLS teams in the Pacific northwest that actually have fans. Psha!
The only player on United's roster with the potential for Morenoesque greatness is Andy Najar, but unfortunately the 2010 Rookie Of The Year probably isn't long for MLS. He'll be serving up crosses and taking on defenders in Europe in no time. Najar got off to a slow start this year, but he's found his rhythm and is quickly becoming one of the best right wingers in the league.
Black and Red United asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. We've heard some rumors about Marco Pappa receiving interest from foreign clubs, and rightfully so. How much longer will he be in Chicago?
Rumors have been popping up all year that teams are interested in Marco Pappa but nothing has seemed all that concrete. Pappa is signed with Chicago through 2012 and all conversations centered around Marco leaving have been predicated with ‘but not until after the 2012 season’. Things picked up this week when chatter on both sides of the Atlantic had Dutch club FC Twente looking to purchase Pappa’s contract immediately. It’s far from a done deal and Pappa and Frank Klopas are denying they have even had any contact with FC Twente.
However, the bottom line is Pappa is very interested in giving Europe a shot and several European teams are interested in having him. If it doesn’t happen before the summer transfer window closes, I expect the rumors to persist when the winter transfer window opens and should Pappa still be with the Fire next summer, well you get the idea. It’s unfortunate because Pappa is a fan favorite and is a big part of the team when he is giving his full effort. These kind of things are inevitable and if Pappa is interested in taking off, I think the Fire would be wise to collect a modest transfer fee. I think the chances of Marco Pappa being on the Chicago Fire in 2013 are 0.001% at this point, slightly higher for 2012.
2. The Fire's schedule is ridiculously congested this month. How do you see the team managing minutes? Will they be sending 9 reserve players, a couple of youth coaches, and some orange cones to their Open Cup match against the Richmond Kickers like the Red Bulls did?
I love the knock on Red Bulls but the Chicago Fire not taking a U.S. Open Cup Semi-Final seriously? The Chicago Fire not take a U.S. Open Cup Semi-Final seriously when they are essentially eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs? You must be joking.
Thursday’s game kicks off 4 home games in 14 days but this squad runs deep if not high with elite stars. The Fire are undefeated with a 6-0-2 record in U.S. Open Cup and Reserves League games. Many of the regular season draws this season were obtained with current backup players like Baggio Husidic, Michael Videira, Cristian Nazarit, Josip Mikulic, and Daniel Paladini in the starting lineup so I’m not too worried. If anything this condensed schedule should open a starting opportunity for 19 year-old Orr Barouch who is 4th on the team in appearances with 20 but only has 2 starts this year. Since D.C. is at the beginning of the run, an old rival, and a more talented team than Sunday’s opponent, Toronto FC, I expect you’ll be seeing the strongest Chicago Fire lineup though. #cf97 will be amped to play spoiler for D.C.’s playoff run.
3. With the Fire in last place in the Eastern Conference and a long way out of the playoffs, I can only assume that the team is going to pursue the record for most ties in a single season. What will they have to do to get a win on Thursday night?
The Fire only have two wins on the season, so I can only assume that Chicago would be willing to hire anyone who can accurately answer that question to a position no lower than special assistant to the team. I think this squad justs need more time. A recent HTIOT study suggests there are few quick fixes if any at all in Major League Soccer. I think D.C. United fans learned that the hard way last year. There’s a lot of talent here as demonstrated by the all the ties and the lack of blowout losses but time is the only medicine to heal Chicago’s woes. October 15th is not a good time for D.C. to have the Fire on their home schedule but you’ll probably pull away at least a point on August 18th.