RSL Soapbox: Obviously Fabian Espindola was a huge part of Real Salt Lake's success over the past few years until he went to New York then D.C. United. How important has he been to D.C. United's success this year?
Black & Red United: In the beginning part of the season, Espindola was D.C. United's entire offense, scoring seven goals and tallying eight assists in the first 15 games. When he got injured, most D.C. United fans thought that the team would fall apart; however, players like Luis Silva, Chris Rolfe, Nick DeLeon, and Eddie Johnson all stepped up. His return comes at a key time, with a number of D.C. United players injured; if he can get on a hot streak even half as good as the one early this season, he will still be one of the best players on the team.
RSL Soapbox: There is a lot of talk about Eddie Johnson being a problem in the locker room and in the media. What is the United fans' perspective of this?
Black & Red United: I think that this perception is overblown. Especially since Fabian Espindola got injured, Eddie Johnson has played quite well, scoring some goals and providing good holdup play to get the rest of the team involved in the attack. Some frustration from fans has come from the fact that he sometimes seems to give up on plays where could might have been able to do something had he continued. But this team is full of veteran players, and I haven't seen any evidence of them being affected by Johnson's personality.
In the media, there was the comment early in the season about the differences between Seattle Sounders and D.C. United that some took as a slight, but I didn't really have any concern over it. The most recent thing has been his beef with Brian Ching, but that's been just more funny than anything else.
RSL Soapbox: If D.C. could steal one player from Real Salt Lake, who would it be and why?
Black & Red United: The easy answer would be Javier Morales. He is the number ten that D.C. United (and most teams in the league) lack, and he is the type of player that many United fans have been pinning after for years. However, while still great, he is now 34 and a decline is likely at some point in the next year or two. So I will be a slight contrarian and say Joao Plata: his pace and skill on the ball are unmatched, and he could play almost anywhere across the attack.
**Questions from Black and Red United to RSL Soapbox**
Black & Red United: This is the first season without Jason Kreis and with Jeff Cassar. How has the transition gone and how different is the new administration from the old?
RSL Soapbox: The main thing that Cassar has done to keep RSL competitive and among the league's best is not to rock the boat. Part of why he got the head coaching job is because he argued that he would be the most logical choice given how long he was under the tutelage of Jason Kreis. Cassar knew that the RSL system was not broken and had no intention of fixing it, rather, he knew that the best was yet to come as evidenced by a lot of the young players just coming into their own over the last season and the beginning of the current one. I personally give credit to his assistant coach picks as well. RSL has position coaches much like the NFL does with a quarterback coach, a running back coach, and so on.
Black & Red United: Luis Gil is a player with a lot of potential, and seemed to take the next step last year; however, this year he has only started half of the games. What is his role this season and how is he performing?
RSL Soapbox: Luis Gil does have a lot of potential and still could be a very special player. His biggest obstacle is that he has been inconsistent from game to game. He will have one game where he really shines and then another where he went missing. What we tend to forget is how young he is and that when he is with the US team, he really is the leader and stands out as one of the best if not the best on the field.
The reason, or I should say reasons, that he has not started as much this year is because he was dealing with a nagging ankle injury and that Luke Mulholland has come on the scene and really shown that he deserves a starting spot.
Going forward, one of two things is likely to happen with Gil. Either RSL will sell him for a good amount of money which could fund their academy for years to come or he will take over the top of the diamond once Javier Morales hangs up the cleats. The possibility that he is traded within MLS has been thrown around, but I think the first two scenarios are much more likely.
Black & Red United: Without Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran, who will Cassar start at fullback? How important have those two been this season?
RSL Soapbox: That is the million dollar question. Well, probably not "million," but it's a good question. My guess would be that Salcedo will play in the center back position and Schuler will move out wide. Abdoulie Mansally will almost surely start on the other side. Wingert and Beltran have been linchpins for Real Salt Lake for years now. It seems as though Wingert has taken a step back this year, but he is still very important to the team. Beltran, however, is still young and is still improving. He could be called in to the U.S. Men's National Team a bit more over the next year or two for a good, long evaluation.