As I’m unlikely tomorrow to have time to do a full write-up before the game, I figure I’d give a little taste to hopefully get you prepared for the upcoming season.
First, just to get you in the mood, watch this 2011 teaser for DC United. Featuring dramatic music and lots of staring at the camera. Oh, and a few highlights as well. Continue reading after the jump for more from me.
So last year ended in a complete debacle. Actually, it started in a debacle as well. It has to be the most forgettable season by a team in Black & Red that I can (not) recall. The team couldn’t score, couldn’t prevent the other team from scoring, had off the field drama, injuries to key and not so key players, and we STILL don’t have a stadium. Performances of guys who “should” have done better, that we counted on going into the season, faltered and failed. The front office failed to show results or even imagination in filling out the roster properly. I was only half joking when saying the biggest off-season need is “everything”.
But all was not lost. We saw the emergence of some young guns that will hopefully help us far into the future in teenagers Bill Hamid and Andy Najar. Both of these guys are young, talented, fearless, and looked poised to continue again this year.
We also saw former player Ben Olsen land the head coaching job. It remains to be seen whether or not he can shift from being on the field and “doing” to being on the sidelines and getting others to “do”. It is a pretty big change from just doing it yourself and getting someone else to see the things you see, understand what you see, and react to what you see in the same way you do. Many great players have struggled in this transition, while others have flourished. We’ll see what side Olsen lands on. One thing is for sure though… the players believe and the players will definitely give their all for him. There is no quit in this team.
So then what is new? Well, we’ve added a ton of speed up front in Joseph Ngwenya and Charlie Davies. That is something we haven’t had since Roy Lassiter. Having somebody able to consistently get behind the defense should give everybody a little more room since defenses can no longer play a high line and compress everyone into the midfield. This change alone may have the single biggest effect across the entire field of play. Josh Wolff makes a solid player off the bench who can provide some leadership to the young guys, and still has a few gallons left in the tank. We shall also see if guys like Chris Pontius and Santino Quaranta return to their natural positions up front. Even though they’d likely be reserves I think they are really good weapons to bring off the bench, or alternate starts, as a change of pace giving the frontline a completely different look.
The second biggest difference is in the midfield. I’ll say upfront that, with rare exception, I have really disliked having wingers on the “wrong” side of the field (a lefty playing on the right and a righty playing on the left). And for some strange reason, we’ve done this for the past 4 or 5 years. This year, we may actually get to have a pair of outside midfielders on the “right” side of the field. And that makes me happy. I’m going to assume that Najar (a righty) will start on the right side. Excellent. And I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Branko Boskovic, playing in his natural position at left midfield and NOT in central midfield, will have a great year. He will have better support centrally with Dax McCarty and WAY better targets up front in any combination of Ngwenya, Davies, Pontius, Quaranta, and Wolff. Poor guy was all alone last year and outside of his natural position. I may be wrong, but I believe he said he’d never played centrally until arriving at DC United (way to go front office…).
Looking centrally, McCarty is a huge upgrade over Morsink and King from last year. Both of those guys gave excellent effort, but really were just overmatched any which way you cut it. Clyde Simms had a sub-par year, but a lot of that could be attributable to the hodge-podge mess of lego bricks posing as midfielders that surrounded him. If the starters line up like I think they will, he’ll have excellent support offensively and defensively. Offensively, generally the less you ask of Simms the better. Not necessarily because he’s bad going forward (well, let’s be frank. he’s not great), but rather because he can then focus on what he does best which is defend. His best seasons have come when he had a strong offensive midfielder in front of him.
The biggest question mark for me is the defense. Last year it wasn’t so much that they played poorly, although sometimes they certainly did, but more often they would play a great game only to have a momentary lapse of judgment cost them a goal at a crucial time. Every. Single. Game. And the lapses weren’t confined to rookies or poor players. Nay… all of the players on defense succumbed to this weird infection at one time or another. I don’t know how you can fix it since you can’t single out a single player or tactic and correct the problem. The team made a few changes including cutting Julius James, adding young Uruguayan defender Rodrigo Brasesco and drafting Perry Kitchen from the University of Akron. I have no idea how these changes will pan out.
Last year had a horrible start at the goalkeeper position. 2010 saw the return of Troy Perkins to DC United from a stint overseas. Unfortunately, his talent did not return with him. I was one of those that thought we paid too much to get him and paid him too much in salary. I always thought he was a very good, but nowhere near great, goalie. And we paid for him like he was a great goalie. So between the expectations, and the bad defending in front of him, and the cost we paid to get him, it was inevitable that we’d blame him for picking the ball out of the net as often as he did. Even when it wasn’t his fault.
This year, goalkeeping is a question at the start, but obviously the starting spot belongs to Bill Hamid over the long term. He is a huge, physically gifted keeper. And he also positions himself well, which is something you don’t see from keepers that age, making all the saves look easy. However, to start the season, he is injured and so is his backup in Steve Cronin. Who will start tomorrow? I don’t know. Possibly 43 year old player/coach Pat Onstad will start the season between the pipes.
Overall, I’m looking forward to this year. I think the players under Ben Olsen will play hard. I think we’ve added enough dangerous pieces to be competitive against other teams. And that’s more than I can say about the team the last two years.
Viva DC United.