The 2021 MLS season is less than a week away, and as part of our preparations we’re pleased to reveal our new feature ‘The Away End’. In it, we’ll look to preview our upcoming opponent by speaking to someone connected to the club and get the low down on how their season is unfolding.
First up is D.C. United, and to tell us more about the Black & Red it is the Washington Post’s resident soccer writer Steven Goff.
Hi Steven, thanks so much for speaking with us, how long have you been covering D.C. United?
I have covered D.C. United and MLS since Day One in 1996. A lot of nights dodging wildlife in the RFK Stadium tunnels.
What’s been your favorite moment covering the team?
The championship years stand out: 1996, ’97, ’99, and ’04. Freddy Adu’s debut season. Wayne Rooney’s brief stay. Covering all but three MLS Cups over the years. Watching the growth of the league.
Looking at the 2021 season, there has been a big change for D.C. United in the dugout with Ben Olsen being replaced by Hernán Losada after 10 years in charge. How has the team changed since Losada’s appointment?
Losada promises to play a more aggressive, higher-tempo style. The transition period will stretch into the summer. The roster, though, remains largely the same. A few new additions, including a player or two Losada was familiar with in his Belgian days, will bring some freshness. For the most part, though, he is relying on players from the Olsen era.
It has been reported that Losada has been heavily influenced by Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa. Have you seen that in evidence with D.C. in preseason?
Losada admires Bielsa and wants to play in that style. Whether he has the proper personnel to do it remains to be seen. Because of many absences in preseason, I don’t think he has been able to fully implement his plans. The framework, though, is in place.
What strengths should Ronny Deila and his team be wary of heading into the game?
There is a fresh energy and focus in the D.C. squad, so the pure enthusiasm and attitude will carry United in these early matches. Edison Flores, the Peruvian World Cup midfielder, didn’t do much last year but could settle into the league this season and bring some danger into the attack.
Are there any weaknesses you think NYCFC can exploit?
United is adjusting to a new system, so the team might be vulnerable in situations where organization and communication are called upon. Losada has also said publicly his team is not at peak fitness to play his demanding style.
There’s a familiar face in the D.C. ranks with Frédéric Brillant, how has he performed since joining the club?
Fred is a veteran presence on the backline. The past few years, he has paired with Steven Birnbaum in central defense. However, with a likely switch to a three-man backline and Birnbaum sidelined for a few months with an ankle injury, Brillant will carry the burden of anchoring the defensive effort.
If you were to identify the team’s danger-man, who would that be?
With new players arriving, no one stands out at the moment. Certainly Ola Kamara and Yamil Asad have threatening qualities. Julian Gressel as a likely wing back will seek to influence the game.
Watch New York City FC kick off their 2021 season away at D.C. United from Audi Field this coming Saturday, April 17 at 8:00PM ET on the YES Network.