New York City Football Club host D.C. United at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
Hi, thanks for speaking with us. How long have you been covering DC United?
I started with Black and Red United (RIP) back in 2011 and hosted the Filibuster podcast from 2012 until last year. The District Press launched last month to fill the void left by SB Nation shutting down most of its American soccer blogs, and that's where I'm writing now.
What's been your highlight in that time?
D.C. United has been so up and down over the last decade-plus, it seems like even a lot of the highlights are connected to lows, as well. Take 2013, when the Black-and-Red won the US Open Cup and the Wooden Spoon in the same year. I watched the USOC final at a place called Lucky Bar here in DC, and it was a fantastic party. I watched the rest of that season from the stands in RFK, which was a very different kind of party!
The back-half of the 2018 season was something special, though. The opening of Audi Field, meaning that lingering worry that the team could be ripped away if it didn't find a stadium solution was gone, was already occasion enough. But then Lucho Acosta and Wayne Rooney combined to give us the Buzzard Beater against Orlando, and that team was off to the races. It ended with a first-round playoff loss, but that was a lot of fun to experience.
How would you evaluate the team's 2022 season?
D.C. United and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season. Last year broke a lot of fans. We came into it with such hope after seeing a lot of progress implementing Hernan Losada's Maximum Overdrive system in 2021. But then Paul Arriola forced a trade, the team lost four of six to start the year, and never looked convincing in that time, and Losada was let go. That was disappointing enough, but then the circumstances surrounding his sacking slowly dribbled out, and, it was not fun.
After an extended interim period with Chad Ashton in charge, Wayne Rooney returned as manager. While the results didn't really improve, we did see the beginnings of the style of play and principals he wants to see in the team, essentially an extended preseason, which hopefully pays dividends this season.
What are your hopes for the 2023 season?
Results-wise, a playoff berth is the stated goal, and with the expanded format this year, that's got to be the floor.
As a fan and nerd, though, I want to see a team that's fun to watch. I want to see them embrace an identity and a style of play that's entertaining and successful, and I want to see the players both know their roles and have ideas of their own in the final third. Rooney was always fun to watch as a player, and I want to see that translate through to his charges.
If you were to identify the team's dangerman who would that be?
This team runs through Christian Benteke. His holdup play is pivotal to United's build-up, especially against a press, and his ability to get into dangerous spots in the box is what has always made him elite. What he does when his teammates find him in those situations has also defined his career on both sides of the Atlantic. He had several opportunities against Orlando last week, but he wasn't able to find the net on any of them. He'll convert a fair number of them, eventually, but his ability to bring others into the play as the team enters the final third and then to get on the end of chances is one of the defining aspects of D.C.'s attack.
What do you think will be the deciding factor in Saturday's game?
I think it will actually be on the other end of the field. If United's center backs and midfield (and sweeper-keeper!) can maintain possession and progress the ball against NYC's press without major glaring mistakes, then we could actually see their first ever win in the Bronx. (Recall, United's win last year was across the river in New Jersey.) It's a lot to ask, though, especially with the success you all had pressing Miami last week. If it goes wrong, though... well, Yankee Stadium has been a house of horrors for us for a reason.
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