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SBI MLS Season Preview: D.C. United

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Entering the 2013 Major League Soccer season, some fans, experts and pundits pegged D.C. United as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. Others saw them as legitimate contenders and some just saw them as a team that would be competitive.

Few, if any, predicted the absolute collapse D.C. United would endure on the way to a three-win season in 2013, the lowest win total in MLS history.

They were not competitive and certainly not regarded as contenders. It was a long fall for a team that had won 17 games just the season before.

There was one bright spot for this team though, as somehow they were able to make a run in the U.S. Open Cup and add another trophy to their overflowing case as they beat Real Salt Lake, 1-0, in the final. The trophy relieved some of the pain from the abysmal season, and (probably) saved head coach Ben Olsen’s job.

Olsen kept his job and in the offseason the front office began to douse the dumpster fire that was the previous season by reshaping nearly the entire roster. United retained about four starters with Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon surviving the roster rebuild, while famous faces like former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario were sent packing.

This season, the Black and Red bring in an almost a brand new back line with the additions of Jeff Parke, Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and a man with La Liga experience, Cristian Fernández. For depth, United also drafted highly touted center back Steve Birnbaum from the University of California with the second overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft.

Improvement up top was needed too, so D.C. United acquired the likes of Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola to help in the goal scoring department for a team that scored just 22 times in 2013, the second fewest in league history.

With a mix of old and new faces, along with young and veteran talent, D.C. United is in position to improve on last year’s dismal campaign.

Here is a closer look at D.C. United heading into the 2014 season:


2013 FINISH: 3-24-7, 16 points (Last in the Eastern Conference)

KEY ACQUISITIONS: F Eddie Johnson, F Fabian Espindola, D Bobby Boswell, D Sean Franklin, D Cristian Fernández, D Jeff Parke, M Davy Arnaud, D Steve Birnbaum, Alex Caskey

KEY LOSSES: M Dwayne De Rosario, D Ethan White, D Dejan Jakovic, M John Thorrington, F Lionard Pajoy

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Cristian Fernández. The easy choice here would have been Johnson or Espindola, who people should still keep an eye on, but it will interesting to see what type of impact someone with La Liga experience will have on United’s already veteran-filled defense.

THE PRESSURE IS ON: Chris Pontius. There are two pressures for the fan-favorite; to stay healthy and to score goals.  He did neither last season on a consistent basis, scoring just twice in 18 appearances in MLS and Open Cup matches. Just two seasons ago Pontius appeared in 34 games and scored 12 goals, but for a guy that is club’s longest tenured and highest paid player (until Johnson signs his new DP deal) some United fans feel that 2012 was a lifetime ago for Pontius. He has to justify his salary by staying healthy and scoring; if he doesn’t, he’ll likely appear to most fans as just a walking cap figure.

OUTLOOK: With a new sponsor, a new jersey and new players, it’s almost a guarantee that the Black-and-Red will win more than three games this year. But with the roster improvements is there potential for more than just “better than last season?”

Olsen seems to think so, saying, “We have the right mix of individuals between youth, experience, guys that have been around and guys that have held trophies. I’m excited about the talent of this team. But the trick is to make them a team.”

Olsen is right, team chemistry isn’t something that develops overnight. With multiple new faces in each area of the field it’s hard to project how this team will finish in 2014.

A glass half-empty perspective says this team doesn’t click, and if they do it will have been too late to make a playoff run.

A glass half-full perspective says that Olsen is named coach of the year, Pontius stays healthy and scores goals, and all the new guys fit and fill their new roles perfectly; the team will find it’s groove just in time and make a run that puts them in thick of the playoffs in November.

Or at least, that’s the hope.


Probable formation: 4-4-2


    • He’s just pointing out that it’s a completely new team…the sponsor and shirt is an illustration of that. Literal much?

    • I mean, if it meant raising and then spending more money than I could say there was a connection. However, except for paying EJ — and it looks like he’ll sign for slightly more than DeRo made last year. Other than that. the team is sticking to the salary cap and isn’t spending anything in any other area that might improve the team (such as training facilities, etc. — or, maybe a a more sophisticated head coach).

      • There will be no significant spending until they have a stadium deal. It is a little crazy to write an article about DC United and not mention just how vital that is.

      • If it sounds like I’m being harsh, it’s because I’m disappointed in what the front office did this offseason. They had opportunities to really do something to improve the team, but other than trading for EJ, they opted for safer, or less expensive options. They didn’t lo abroad to get any real talent, except to bring in Fernandez. Moreover, they squandered the position htey were in with the top slot in the allocation order and the top odds in the lottery. They could have had a still young national teamer in Edu, and an up-and-coming, future national team talent in Joya, Instead, they dealt the Edu slot to bring in an aging CB in Parke, and they filled what would have been Joya’s roster slot with the recent trade for Alex Caskey.

        This rebuild was done on the cheap and with an utter lack of ambition for future years. It was a front office team that did what they could do field a winning team this year at the lowest cost possible. Maybe, they hope they will have more money to spend in future years when there’s a stadium in place, but they blew the chance to add some key pieces that would be strong contributors then.

      • Te be fair, it’s not like going abroad has worked out well for them lately, but in general I agree with you. They’ll spend as little as possible..just enough to avoid embarrassing the organization again, but not as cent more until they have a stadium.

      • as fischy points out

        you dont need $$$ to use (or trade) your allocation spot wisely

        FO shouldve done better

      • I think this is really unfounded criticism. They rebuilt this year to be competitive in MLS, not to build a dynasty that would destroy Man United (or whatever your favorite big club is). The team played to their strengths bringing in guys they know could play now, and not relying on their extremely poor scouting department. 2 solid CBs, veteran leaders experienced in MLS, and an entirely new striker corps (as opposed to last year’s striker corpse)…

        I’m a bit curious as to why you are so high on Fernandez (in the 3:20 PM message). We haven’t really seen what he can do yet. Pre-season suggests he’s a heck of a ball-crosser, but it also suggests we need to see him pay attention to his defensive responsibilities. Seems to me that the best we could say about him right now was that he was great in the Spanish 2nd div the year before last. Right? (That said, he’s replacing Woolard, so…)

        It would have been awesome to see a big name player come to DC, but so what? In the meantime, this team will be a huge upgrade from last year, defense and offense will both be vastly improved, and hey-there’s no Pajoy which by itself makes us automatically better.

      • See, I don’t totally agree with this. I think the rebuild was done with an eye to creating a team for the future, laying the foundation. Sure, edu is great, but on the MLS pay scale, is he a million dollars better than the six years younger perry kitchen? Especially in a year? I’m a bit concerned with the speed of Boswell/parke, to be sure. And depth remains an issue, but this is a mostly young team that if it gels, can compete at least, which is a heck of an upgrade from last year. And has the space (probably) to go get a foreign signing in the summer window (when such folks are available after the World Cup) yes, it’s building on the relative cheap, but it’s how small market teams do it. This is a core that has the potential to build together for a few years, RSL, SKC, Houston style. I’m not saying it’ll work, but it’s what they’re going to do, not throw money at it Seattle/LA/ny style. It’ll be interesting to watch at least, and potentially makes the team more attractive to potential foreign signings.

  1. Rule number one: the season’s success is inversely related to the number of new players on the roster. It will take at least a half season for all the pieces to fall into place, if they ever do.

    Rule number two: value players on what they will do not on what they have done. Boswell, Parke and company all have nice resumes (and that counts for something) but none of them are young and their best years are behind them. It probably helps that DCU is not paying any of them a king’s ransom.

    Rule number three: goal scorers are inconsistent from year to year. I like Eddie Johnson, but expecting a goal scorer to produce at the same level year after year is foolish (except maybe if he is Kevin Phillips)

    Rule number four: Older players get hurt and stay hurt. Again Boswell, Parke and the boys are at that age where players get hurt and stay hurt for long periods.

  2. C’mon, guys. Relying on Pontius is a VERY bad bet. He’s done. He had his best year EVER in 2012. We will never see anything close to that from him again. Can anyone say Santino Quaranta? Same goes for DeLeon. Arnaud? 58,000 years old. Next! We’ll probably win more than 3 games, but the playoffs are a dream.

    • “Can anyone say Santino Quaranta?”

      Can anyone say “Jaime Moreno” or “Eddie Johnson,” or “Ben Olsen?” There are players who return from career lulls better than ever just as there are players who never regain 100% form. We don’t know what it’ll be with Pontius. He’s young enough to heal up and put all the pieces together like the aforementioned players.

    • + 1

      We improved by losing some of those guys and everything else is, as they say, gravy. Here’s looking to a new and better season.


  3. That’s a line-up that scream “middle of the pack”. Until they get a stadium, we won’t see them spend the money necessary to really compete. Still, better than nothing.

    • The only average players I see are either on the backline or in the center of the park with Arnaud. DeLeon, Pontius, Espindola & EJ are all quality players.

      • Sure, but every team had a half dozen quality players…which is why I’m thinking middle of the pack. I’m a big DC fan, but there’s a massive amount of questions that need to be answered that are fairly pointed out above. IF everything falls perfectly…Pontius and DeLeon recovering their form, team meshes in a reasonable amount of time, EJ handling the pressure of being the highest paid player, Olsen shows some vague competence as coach…then they might end up in the top third or so, but you’d have to be a real homer to expect anything better.

    • Arnaud and Franklin pick up knocks at the end of preseason as well. Pontius is still at least two games out, and Korb is out for a month.


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