HTiOT: The last time the Fire and United met, just three weeks ago, the Men in Red found out how important Fabian Espindola can be. But that seems to be the rule rather than the exception for DC - someone steps up, whether it's Espindola, or Chris Rolfe, or Nick DeLeon, or freakin' Davy freakin' Arnaud. How much of this 'pick your poison' feeling is down to DC's remarkable roster balance, and how much can be attributed to a culture of winning fostered by Ben Olsen and his staff? Are there other factors?
B&RU: In the wake of the 2013 season, Ben Olsen rebuilt his roster with a bevy of proven MLS veterans who knew how to do whatever it took to win games. In that sense, Olsen did remake the roster in his own image, as many of the veterans and young players fall into the same general vibe as Olsen himself: hard-working, tenacious, and passionate. Sometimes the passion boils over and the teams doesn't play as well as they should, but more often than it it means that the sum of the parts is greater than what these players might be by themselves.
Another hallmark of the best Ben Olsen teams has been when there has been competition at every position, which is something he has again this year. Olsen has never been afraid to bench high profile players if he doesn't think that they are performing up to his standard, and that keeps players striving to do their best to keep their spots on the team.
HT: What one player does DC miss the most in his absence? Whose absence would demand the greatest tactical shift to accommodate?
BRU: Fabian Espindola has played less than half of D.C. United's games so far, due to injury and suspension, and the team lacks a certain creativity and unpredictability when he is not available. We saw, especially in his most recent absence, that without him the team can become stagnant, especially if Chris Rolfe is having an off night. Despite all of that, Ben Olsen doesn't really shift tactics that much; he plugs in a new player and then goes from there. Even if Perry Kitchen were to be absent, the team now has Markus Halsti to fill that spot as well as to spell Davy Arnaud (and hopefully supplant him sometime this year).
HT: This game comes in a particularly brutal stretch of fixture congestion for DC - a weekend match in soul-meltingly hot Orlando, midweek at Pittsburgh, then home in a scorcher, now on the road in Chicago, then Saturday in Toronto,next Tuesday in Philadelphia, and finally ending Friday, July 3 in Seattle. How much rotation should we expect, and how well-drilled would you expect United to be in the fourth of a seven-game run like that?
BRU: I think this game against Chicago will feature the most squad rotation, so that Olsen can keep key players fresh and get them ready for the second half of this ridiculous spread. That means, however, that a lot of the players that start this game will be trying to make their case to Ben Olsen that they should be members of the full-strength starting XI, so that could go a myriad of different ways.
HT: Chris Rolfe. Chris Rolfe. Chris Rolfe. Chris Rolfe. Chris Rolfe.
BRU: Yeah, thanks for that! He has had a great season so far, and has played great for United ever since he got here (12 goals, 9 assists). He provides the creative counterbalances to Fabian Espindola, and his goal from Fabi's cross showed just that. He has instantly become a fan favorite here in the District, and will hopefully continue to play at this high level for the next couple years.
Predicted lineup: As I said above, this is probably a rotation day. So let's go with Bill Hamid; Jalen Robinson, Kofi Opare, Steve Birnbaum, Chris Korb; Miguel Aguilar, Markus Halsti, Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon; Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva
Score prediction: I think United wins 2-1, with goals from Fabian Espindola and a late goal by Chris Rolfe.