Photo by ISIphotos.com
By TRAVIS CLARK
At the end of the past two seasons, D.C. United have found themselves in a unusual place — out of the playoffs. Prior to 2008, the club had qualified for the postseason five years running, and had gotten used to success. However, the past two years of failure has triggered a busy offseason in the nation's capital.
Dramatic changes were expected after missing out in 2009, and United duly delivered — coach Tom Soehn left the club, and players like Luciano Emilio and Fred moved on. Five new acquisitions have already signed on as preseason draws closer.
With players set to report for training camp next week, and a new coach in place, 2010 will be a crucial year for United. Curt Onalfo faces the pressure of high expectations, not only from the team's loyal fan base, but also the front office.
Onalfo's appointment was a logical pick, when you consider his ties to the area and ability to speak Spanish — a plus for a club with a history of bringing in successful Hispanic talent. Added to that was his ability to transform Kansas City into a playoff team during 2007 and 2008. He'll have his hands full trying to orchestrate a similar turnaround this season.
Roster-wise, General Manager Kasper shook things up early, adding an exciting talent in El Salvadoran international Christian Castillo. Fred was dealt to Philadelphia to move up in the allocation order and bring back Troy Perkins.
After the trade to get Perkins, the draft became more of an afterthought, as United sent their first round pick, along with Fred and some allocation dollars to swap spots with Philly. Shoring up their depth in goal was certainly important, but it came at a high cost.
Left with just one pick in the fourth round, D.C. took local academy product Jordan Graye out of the University of North Carolina. Graye is an athletic defender, but some have questioned his technical ability and how that will translate to MLS level. He'll certainly have a chance to make the final roster.
Up front, with Emilio signing in Brazil, adding a quality striker was a high priority. That came in the form of Danny Allsopp, a 31-year-old Australian who last played in Qatar. Allsopp also played in the A-League, and is a physical forward who could succeed in the rigors of MLS. He's a bit of a risk at the same time, as he'll become the first Australian to play in MLS.
Floribert N'Galula became United's latest signing this week. He boasts a solid pedigree, having spent time with Manchester United, but he's also reminiscent of a 2009 bust: Ange N'Silu. The unknown forward was also Congolese, signed from a mid-level European league, but struggled to adjust to D.C. and was phased out by season's end.
If N'Galula can contrast N'Silu's stint from last season, United will have added a valuable and versatile player, as N'Galula plays in the midfield and defense. But with the season still two months away, questions about how effective he will be won't be answered until March.
United's success won't entirely rely on these new acquisitions. The future of two veterans is still being sorted out. Christian Gomez is still being considered for this season, but at 34 his best years seem behind him. The club's other elder statesman, Jaime Moreno provides a leadership element that will be needed after Ben Olsen's retirement. He's out of contract but in negotiations to stay on for 2010.
The organization's past means anything short of a playoff berth this year will equal a disappointment. Players like Allsopp, N'Galula, Perkins and Castillo aren't feeling the pressure now — but come September, if D.C. is still in the playoff hunt, they will be relied upon to deliver if United hopes to break the playoff drought.