We talked with Black and Red United's manager Adam Taylor about the upcoming match between Sporting Kansas City and DC United.
1) What was once such a promising season has quickly gone downhill for D.C. What's been the biggest reason why?
I think most of us have come to realize that the underperformance so far this year by D.C. United is in large part a case of over-expectations. After the seven-match undefeated run to finish the regular season last year and the playoff win over New York, this looked like a team that had a solid spine that would only improve on the offensive end with the return from injury of Dwayne De Rosario. So the offseason was less eventful than it probably should have been, with no true fulltime starters being brought into the fold, even as Andy Najar departed for Belgium. I won't go so far as to call last year's run a mirage, but Ben Olsen's tactics haven't worked nearly as well in 2013, partly due to regression to the mean, but also in large part because his charges, from role-players like fullback Daniel Woolard to former MLS Best XI guys like DeRo or Chris Pontius, haven't lived up to individual expectations.
2) There's been talk of a management shakeup soon, are you in favor of this or not?
At this point, I am all for a new general manager to replace Dave Kasper. Kasper, who was Kevin Payne's No. 2 for a long time before KP's removal and relocation to Toronto this winter, is incredibly good at navigating the various MLS salary mechanisms - understanding and taking advantage the alchemy of allocation and the various flavors of designated player - but he is less accomplished at player evaluation and obtaining/retaining players, especially starters, at salaries that will leave the team flexibility to make new acquisitions without resorting to the various accounting tricks to make everything fit under the salary cap.
I'm less eager to see Olsen let go, honestly. Though I'm sure he did have a hand in player acquisition, and it's his job to get them ready to perform from the start of each game - and they really haven't been in the right mindset from the start of any of their games this year - I'm not convinced that firing him will do anything to make the team better, either now or next year. Until a new GM is in place, a coaching change (other than an Alex Ferguson or a Jogi Loew, of course) won't amount to much more than shuffling deck chairs.
3) Last time Sporting and D.C. played it was a very physical game that frustrated both sides. Will we see the same on Sunday?
I've got to think yes. Over the last few years, when Peter Vermes and Ben Olsen meet, no matter each team's usual M.O., both sides look for the physical battles and try to frustrate the other in the middle. It was against the Sporks at the end of 2011 that Olsen first started experimenting with the 4-2-3-1 that eventually became his base system in the second half of 2012. He's started to move on from that system as the results haven't come this year, but whatever formation he runs out, I'd expect another battle on Sunday.