My first encounter with DC United came in 2004. The arrival of Freddy Adu onto the world stage gained his club extra publicity. A year later Ryan Nelsen joined Blackburn Rovers from the Washington club, and at the time I questioned if someone from MLS could cut in England especially as he joined Rovers as a 28 year old.
As time went on I watched the league intermittently and would always root for DC if they were playing. I admired the story of Jaime Moreno a player who had gained iconic status at the club for his continued years of service. Jumping forward to October 2010 and I was at RFK stadium finally taking in a game. I was eagerly anticipating the chance to watch the aforementioned Moreno and former Benfica midfielder Geovanni who was playing for San Jose Earthquakes at the time.
This excitement was abruptly destroyed when Moreno received a red card seven minutes into the game. The night would end with a 2-0 defeat for DC and a performance that left me rather underwhelmed. What left me most disappointed was the attacking options, they had chances to score that night despite Moreno’s absence. Pablo Hernandez in particular spurned a host of chances due to a mix of poor composure and wanting too much time.
The whole team had a lethargic feel to it, like they were just going through the motions of another season, had it been any other league relegation would have been a certainty. That’s why when the club announced Ben Olsen as the permanent coach I was pleased. An interim manager only has so much power, being given full control allows the 33 year old full expression, and as a former DC United midfielder he brings a passion for the club he once represented.
That news came just days after the announcement that 23 year old USMNT midfielder Dax McCarty had joined the club from the Portland Timbers, in my opinion another fantastic move. Having watched him in the play offs I liked what I saw. A diminutive bundle of energy who had an intense desire to win. To the cynic he’s a serial moaner, to a coach he’s the man that grabs the game by the scruff of the neck when needed and drives a team on.
Add to that some fairly astute draft picks in particular Blake Brettschneider who looks a very strong finisher and there’s real potential coming together. Remember the squad Olsen inherited was not bereft of talent. The back line seemed strong with Clyde Simms deputizing at centre back. Santino Quaranta may benefit from playing in the middle of the park or just off new target man Josh Wolff. The decision to let Jordan Graye go was an unfortunate one, his pace from fullback had potential but Uruguayan Rodrigo Brasesco comes with a wealth of experience in South America.
All this and we haven’t even mentioned Andy Najar. At 17 years old quick comparisons to Freddy Adu would be too easy and wide of the mark. Najar plays with a confidence and football brain of a player 10 years his senior and offers the defensive side Adu never mastered. He’s an exciting prospect and the chance to grow around more experienced players can only benefit him.
News that the aforementioned Adu is now also a free agent may tempt Olsen into repeating history, after all the former Benfica, Monaco and more recently Aris midfielder is still only 21. The chance to regress to a happier time in his career may cause him to flourish. He’d also be fantastic for Najar to have around, someone who has lived the situation the Honduran may find himself in if the Rookie of the year continues to impress.
A lot of the media attention has been put at the door of LA Galaxy and their recruitment of Juan Pablo Angel from NY Redbulls. In theory the reduced spotlight will do Olsen a favor as it allows him less pressure and hyperbole with which to work under. It may take a few seasons for the side to gel correctly, but don’t be surprised to see DC United challenging for honours in the coming seasons.