Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SBNation Soccer world to get thoughts on their team from those who know them best. Know your enemy.
In the second to last game of the season, New York City FC travels to our nation's capital to face a DC United team that is still looking to book its place in the Postseason. The boys in blue have had DC's number so far this year, winning twice, most recently in dramatic fashion with a late Frank Lampard winner.
Ben Bromley, writer at Black and Red United, answers our DC United questions on the eve of the match. Ben tackles end of season expectations, Lamar Neagle's successes, and overall performance.
Q.) DC United sits in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, precariously in Playoff position for now with only two games remaining. It's been an up and down season for the club, but a trip to the Postseason would be an excellent way to close. Before that can happen, the club has this weekend's showdown with NYC FC before closing out the season in Orlando. What does DC have to do well in order to clinch their Postseason birth? If they make the Playoffs, what would propel a prolonged run towards the MLS Cup?
If they can keep playing like they have over the last two months, and not like they did in the first four, they can possibly make a run in the MLS Cup playoffs. The main difference has been the switch to a three man central midfield, which allows Argentine playmaker Luciano Acosta more time on the ball and more influence over the play. It also allows the other central midfielders to concentrate on breaking up the other team.
The other big thing they've done, like they do most every year, is make some key trades. Adding Lloyd Sam gives the team three starting caliber wingers, and Patrick Mullins gives them the lead striker they've needed for years (thanks for that!). Despite all the talk of Ben Olsen as a defensive coach, I think we're finally seeing what he wants to do offensively. Even though they look to be skating just barely into the playoffs, this DC United is probably the most dangerous in years at the moment.
Q.) Lamar Neagle has enjoyed a nice bounce back following a fairly sub-par 2015 campaign. The raw numbers look great (9 goals and 6 assists) but I'm curious as to what you're seeing on the field. He's been especially hot since the end of August, scoring six times in his last eight games. What has enabled his success at the tail end of the season as opposed to the beginning?
Lamar Neagle has been a great replacement for Chris Pontius this year. His versatility has allowed him to play at winger and at forward, and now he has been a revelation as a supersub. Lloyd Sam and Patrick Nyarko work well as starters, able to put in crosses for Mullins and create for themselves when the occasion calls.
But subbing in Neagle around the 70th minutes puts a slashing attacker with a forward's mindset in against a tired defense. That and his natural ability has made him United's leading scorer right now.
Q.) As we get towards the end of the season, it's a good time to assess the performance of the team compared to preseason projections. How do you see DC's performance over the course of the season? If they make the Postseason, is that enough to call this season a success?
After a first half of a season that was very low scoring and aimless, United finally decided on a formation and a direction. They handed the keys to Luciano Acosta and Patrick Mullins, and traded away Fabian Espindola. Especially when compared to the beginning of the season, making the playoffs makes the season a solid success.
But it looks like this year's team might have the weapons to actually win a two leg series for the first time since 2012, and that would be the real lark of success. This will be a dramatic off-season for United, making noise in the playoffs can make this postseason a success.
Bill Hamid; Nick DeLeon, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, Taylor Kemp; Rob Vincent; Patrick Nyarko, Luciano Acosta, Jared Jeffrey, Lloyd Sam; Patrick Mullins
I think United can clinch a spot in the playoffs and finally beat NYCFC this year. 2-1 United.
Thanks to Ben for answering our DC United Questions. Have your own (better) prediction for the match? Let us hear it in the comments section!