In the lost season of 2013 all was not lost for D.C. United. Despite a three-win campaign in Major League Soccer, United was able to navigate its way to its third Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy. The addition to United’s trophy case could not mask a need for change.
The change in United has not been subtle. There are eleven newcomers on the roster as United opens its season against the Columbus Crew Saturday at R.F.K. Stadium. Like United the Crew has been rebuilt in hopes of getting back to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
The ingredients for United’s success in 2012 did not come together last year. Preseason concern about depth proved to be well founded when injuries slowed the progress of key players including Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario .The result was league-low 22 goals in 34 matches.
“I certainly feel as comfortable in my skin as a head coach more now than I ever have. I am confident in my staff and what we can do. But it is also a put or shut up year. I recognize that. It looks good on paper, now we have to make it come together.”
Keys to watch:
1. Offense--When D.C. United opened preseason with two shutout losses, it was hard for supporters not to groan and feel a little anxious. Head coach Ben Olsen admitted the defense was ahead of the offense in the first couple of weeks of training, but by the Carolina Challenge tournament in Charleston South Carolina the attack started to find its rhythm. United won the Carolina Challenge with three goals over two games and it became clear the Black and Red, unlike last season, could offer variety going forward. Last season it was a struggle for United to find a strike partnership, but now with the addition of Eddie Johnson, complete with a new contract, and Fabian Espindola United has serious options. They have proven track records. Johnson has 23 goals over the last two season and Espindola 28 goals in a three-season stretch. The Johnson-Espindola combination will allow Luis Silva the freedom to focus on solidifying his role as attacking midfielder.
2. Defense—Bill Hamid is anchored in goal, but it is all change in front of him. MLS veteran Sean Franklin and Spanish signing Christian Fernandez will work from the outside with Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke in the middle. Fernandez helped Almeria in Spain earn promotion to La Liga. Franklin, Parke, and Boswell have a combined 25 years of MLS experience. The total revamp along the back should shore up a defense that leaked 59 goals last season, second only to Chivas USA.
3. The Crew---The Crew is also eager for fresh start. Robert Warzycha, whose ties to the club go all the way back to the league’s first season in 1996, is gone as head coach. Gregg Berhalter is now in charge and similar to United, the Crew is rebooting its defense. Michael Parkhurst will be on the backline with Costa Rican signings Waylon Francis and Giancarlo Gonzalez. On offense Dominic Oduro is coming off a career season with 13 goals, but much of the Crew’s success depends on the effectiveness of Frederico Higuan, 11 goals 9 assists last year.
4. The fans—In good and bad times United’s fan base has remained consistent and passionate. In last year’s home finale United supporters displayed a tifo that stretched across one side of the stadium and read, “The credit belongs to the man in the arena.” That phrase is part of longer quote from Teddy Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in the Republic” and was a way of saluting United’s effort even in a season short on results. It was a classy way to close a chapter that United hopes to never repeat.