MLS ’11 Preview : Can the Black and Red Unite Under the Fiery Olsen?
Team: DC United
Coach: Ben Olsen
Last Year’s Finish: 8th Eastern Conference, 16th Overall, 6-20-4
This year’s seemingly annual retooling of DC United carries much more weight than usual. After finishing not only the worst season in club history, but likely the worst in MLS history, United had holes to fill all over the place. But before adding pieces to a league worst everything (attack at the bottom, tons of goals against), DCU needed to decide who would attempt to lead them from the abyss. After initially claiming the United legend was not a candidate, the front office did a 180 and made Ben Olsen’s temporary job a permanent one. Though lacking experience in the position and not far removed from a brilliant playing career, the feeling is that United needed a leader with his fiery passion to motivate a team that seemed to give up on itself very early last season. In fact, virtually all the roster moves made this offseason reflect on an attempt to form the club in his image, with players who have that inherent grit and drive inside them.
Key Roster Additions: While MLS journeymen Stephen King and Kurt Morsink tried desperately to fill the shoes of the retired Olsen last year, there was decidedly something missing in the center of midfield. Enter Dax McCarty, who has been brought in to really stabilize the core of said midfield. McCarty is known as both an effective distributor and ball winner. He has the kind of motor that is a bit reminiscent of Benny’s. We all know what a hard time this club had putting the ball in the back of the net (among so many other difficulties). Enter Charlie Davies, who is trying to not only help ressurect DC United, but also his career. Davies has come full circle to the place where a car accident nearly took his life and ability to play soccer. The onus is on Charlie to find the back of the net because the amount of proven goal scorers on this team is negligible at best. Perry Kitchen was drafted as the 3rd overall pick and should shore up two very gray areas, defense and on – field leadership. Kitchen is another addition in the Olsen mold; fiery, passionate, a leader, gritty, etc. Pat Onstad has also been added as a player/coach, due to injuries. Stikers, Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolff were picked up in the Re-Entry Draft. Uruguayan defender, Rodrigo Brasesco was added to solidify the backline.
Key Roster Subtractions: Troy Perkins was supposed to be a stabilizing influence last year and he turned out to be anything but that. Perkins dropped off massively in quality compared to his previous DCU stint and was practically run out of town to make way for promising Academy signing, Bill Hamid. Rodney Wallace, who spent much of last season with a broken leg, was also sent packing. Wallace was making the transition from midfield, back to his collegiate position of left back. He began as a starter, but his progress was stunted due to injury. Concerning Luciano Emilio and Pablo Hernandez : the attack was flat out horrible, neither of these midseason acquistions did much to help the ball find it’s way into the back of the net.
Projected Starters: If healthy, Bill Hamid will definitely be the starter in goal. After a promising slate of appearances last year, Hamid like Andy Najar, showed that United’s academy must be doing something right. However, a shoulder injury that has been nagging for some time, could see Pat Onstad start the season between the posts. Though his first priority is the development of the young Hamid, Onstad is still darn good at 43 and so valuable in both his roles.
Last year it was pick your scapegoat for the Black and Red. With the attack and defense being equally horrible, a dramatic sea change was on the horizon. The backline suprisingly doesn’t appear to be too much different. Jed Zayner will certainly occupy one of the starting fullback positions. It appears that Dejan Jakovic and Perry Kitchen, will start in the center and potentially be a very formidable duo. The other fullback position looks wide open. Though Marc Burch seems the likely candidate … perhaps Brasesco will get a look there. He is considered a more central defender but has potential to play on the flanks.
When we get to the midfield and striking corps, the big question is what formation first – year coach Ben Olsen will utilize. Midfield is definitely where the largest amount of talent and depth coalesces. Add that to the fact that the striking line is improved, but still somewhat barren, and it seems that going to five in the middle makes sense. A couple of things seem to be certain: rookie of the year, Andy Najar, will be on one wing. Expect to see McCarty and Clyde Simms forming a tough, gritty core in the center of midfield. Beyond that, depending on the formation … Santino Quaranta, Branko Boskovic and Chris Pontius appear set to fill out a wing spot and potentially an attacking midfielder or supporting striker’s role.
Up top, we all know who the man is gonna be, Charlie Davies. He should be on the pitch regardless of the formation. If Olsen goes with two strikers, then we could see Joseph Ngwenya paired with Davies or perhaps Quaranta / Pontius in a support role.
Player to Watch: Could it be more obvious here … Charlie Davies. Though they didn’t score much last year, the club did display the ability to pass and link up well. They often fluidly moved the ball into scoring positions, only to either finish poorly or even more concerning … simply be afraid/hesitant to shoot. Though the entire scoring load isn’t Charlie’s responsibility, the club’s success will in large part depend on the midfield moving the ball well and Davies finishing opportunities provided.
Predictions: This team is drastically improved from a roster standpoint this year. There is a lot more depth and Olsen has many more options at his disposal. Based on the way last year finished, the club can only go up. Add to the fact that this is a league of parity and quick turnarounds; and factoring in a weak Eastern Conference, there is reason for some guarded hope. Despite all the additions though, this is a team with a lot of questions to answer. The least of which is not, whether Ben Olsen is ready to take the reins full time. Then there’s the whole Charlie Davies factor. If he can’t be an inkling of his former self, where do the goals come from? How drastically will a healthy Jakovic, as well as Kitchen, improve the league’s worst defense? Despite a solid offseason, the expectations should be muted due to so many unanswered variables. Still in this league, a turnaround and playoffs are never out of the question.
Best Case Scenario: Olsen completely transposes his heart and determination onto the team. They fight with heart week in and week out, managing to secure a wildcard playoff spot. Charlie Davies proves to be a goalscoring machine. Kitchen and Jakovic hold down the fort, leading a much improved backline.
Worst Case Scenario: Olsen bombs out with the job. The club repeats last year’s travesty, with a continued inability to score goals (much less stop them). Olsen loses out on a dream job because he might have gone for it too early. Yet another offseason rebuild would likely follow in such a situation.