The sunshine that greets most days at D.C. Uniteds training camp in Sarasota, Florida matches the optimism surrounding the team. The disappointment of Uniteds late season collapse has faded and the focus is squarely on options and opportunities.
We had a good team, said midfielder Dwayne De Rosario of last years squad. We just were lacking in that last 10-15 minutes left in the game. That urgency, that bite, that discipline that experience were missing. Hopefully we learned from the mistakes last year and it starts here in preseason training getting the mentality right every day.
De Rosario sounds very much like the leader he has become since joining United last summer and he is a symbol of the clubs dramatic transformation. In 2010 United was a team struggling to just compete and now it is getting ready for a new season with De Rosario as the reigning MVP of Major League Soccer.
This is a United squad with a young foundation, but it is reinforced by veterans like De Rosario. Another veteran Josh Wolff talks of having little doubt that this team will make an impact in the division. Uniteds quest to end a four-year playoff drought is strengthened by the prospect of head coach Ben Olsen having to make hard decisions when filling out the team sheet.
Midfielder Branko Boskovic has never really had a full opportunity to show the skill he displayed while playing club ball in Europe with Rapid Vienna or with his national team Montenegro. Now back after a knee injury that sidelined from all but four games last season, Boskovics return opens up intriguing possibilities in the midfield.
"Dero (De Rosario) and Boskovic creating a partnership on the field is something I'm looking forward to," said Olsen. " Hopefully they can have the same impact as former D.C. partnerships such as Marco (Etchevery) and Jamie (Moreno) and Gomez (Christian) and Luciano (Emilio)."
While Brazilian Maicon Santos, who played in Toronto and Dallas, has been added to provide more of a spark on offense, United believes it is ready to take a step forward on defense. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid, a United Academy product, continues to make bold strides in his career and recently was in goal the U.S. Mens National Teams 1-0 shout of Venezuela.
In addition last week United finalized the deal with Argentine defender Emiliano Dudar from Swiss side Young Boys where he scored a goal against Turkish power Fenerbahce in Champions League qualifying. Dudar, who has recovered from a bad concussion in 2010, is with the team in Florida.
It is hoped Dudar will help stabilize the central defense. For United it has been a big challenge to fill the void left by Ryan Nelsen. Its no coincidence that United last won MLS Cup in 2004 when Nelsen was patrolling the backline before he left for a career in England with Blackburn Rovers.
United was close last year to breaking through to the playoffs. The inability to finish games left the Black and Red leaving points on the table. A home game in September when they lost a two-goal lead to Chivas USA and had to settle for a 2-2 draw is the type of result United will hope to avoid this season with a strengthened defensive corps.
You have to maintain discipline and that drive throughout the game and weather the spells that arent that good during the course of the game, added Wolff. Our game management I think is where we slipped up a bit as group. We have had a year where guys have grown a little bit and I hope we have matured in some of those aspects.
For now in so many ways this is De Rosarios team. United is committed to building with its young players, but teams that aspire for great things need to have a great leader. De Rosario has written so many wonderful chapters in his MLS career and now he has chance to make his mark with the club that put MLS on the map.
Team bonding goes a long way, De Rosario pointed out. I will try to break up any groups I see and work to bring everyone together as one and fighting for each other. We need to create a good environment off the field and then on the field it is my job to help push everyone to work harder