Armchair Analyst: Reason to think that DC United's offseason plan is working
D.C. United, this offseason, have been been predictable, logical, and fun. Here's an answer I gave a month back as to what United need to do:
They were in position to get a lot of stuff done in a pretty short time -- they're top of the list for every player-acquisition device -- and they've done it. Their regular season was awful, but their offseason has been killer.
And they're going to be a much better team for it.
Let's start with the day's big news:
1. Eddie Johnson is a perfect fit for United...
On the field, anyway.
The Bad: United were near the top of the league in crosses from open play, but near the bottom in crossing accuracy. And only three teams attempted fewer headers.
The Good: EJ was fourth in the league in total headed shots, and third in headed shots on target. He will do all the stuff that they had Lionard Pajoy, and Carlos Ruiz, and Casey Townsend, and Conor Doyle doing last year, but he will do it better. This will not be a stylistic adjustment: this will be a "holy crap, we have somebody there who can actually finish one of these!" adjustment.
Eddie Johnson officially goes to @dcunited. He leads MLS with 13 headed goals in the last 2 seasons. DC had 19.
— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) December 17, 2013
The Bad: United were mid-table in both total passes in the final third (8 of 10 playoff teams above them), and final-third passing accuracy (7 of 10 playoff teams above them).
The Good: EJ led all MLS target forwards in final-third passing accuracy. You give him the ball up there, and he will hold it. He doesn't make "wow" plays with it, but United don't need them -- they need someone who can complete a pass to Chris Pontius, or Nick DeLeon, or Luis Silva, then roll into space and get into the box. EJ earns his bread doing that.
The Bad: D.C. United scored 22 goals last year.
The Good: EJ scored 9 by himself in limited minutes.
EJ's a goalscorer, first and foremost, and that's why he's got himself a reading from the book of "Pay Me." That's why he was No. 1 on D.C.'s shopping list.
But don't overlook the other stuff. The ability to complete passes in the final third is a huge, huge thing for both chance creation, and "big chance" creation. United were awful at both last year.
They won't be in 2014.
2. Getting Arnaud, Boswell and Franklin was a cultural move
As I said, EJ's a perfect fit on the field. Off the field... well, there simply have to be concerns.
He's not a bad guy, but he's also not going to be wearing the captain's armband any time soon. He can't be the dominant personality in a young team's locker room -- especially a young team with a young coach who's far from proven, and spent considerable time as EJ's peer.
D.C. obviously paid a premium for them, but honestly? It's worth it. I'd bet one of them will wear the armband on Day 1.
Here's what they paid for: Three quality off-the-field guys, two of whom are guaranteed starters who can tell plenty of tales about what it's like to play in MLS Cup. That's how you get the locker room right.
But they also paid for the chance to not have to scout overseas. Since about 2007, nobody in MLS has been as bad at making foreign investments as D.C. They needed players with lower risk, even if it meant lower upside as well.
So you may not be excited by Arnaud/Boswell/Franklin if you're a D.C. fan, but you're not going to be disappointed by them, either. That's progress.
3. They've left themselves plenty of other options
Buying Doyle's contract was smart, because he can play alongside EJ in a 4-4-2, or come off the bench in a 4-2-3-1 (which is my early guess for United's formation next year). He is good depth.
They kept Pontius, Silva and DeLeon, the attacking core to build around. If they can keep the first two healthy (huge "if") and the third away from the buffet table, they will create chances.
They didn't give up Collin Martin -- who is going to be really good within the next 24 months -- Michael Seaton, or any of their other young, Academy-produced talent. That includes guys still in college, about half of whom just finished as runners-up in the NCAA College Cup this past weekend.
They held onto Perry Kitchen, who was easily their most valuable asset at any spot. They held onto Jared Jeffrey, who looks like he will split time with Arnaud deep in the midfield alongside Kitchen and brings what we'll call a useful skill set:
They kept Bill Hamid and Joe Willis. They kept Chris Korb, who is good depth behind Franklin at right back. They kept Ethan White (good in limited minutes in 2013) and Conor Shanosky, two young central defenders with upside.
They kept the No. 1 pick in the draft, which they'll be tempted to use on Patrick Mullins but should use on Christian Dean. That's more defensive depth, probably at left back for a year or two before he's ready to slide into the center.
They kept their No. 1 spot in the Allocation order, so if Jermaine Jones wants into MLS at less-than-DP numbers, D.C. have first dibs. Same for a bunch of other US and Canadian internationals who could make their way to the league for sub-DP cash (Jonathan Spector? Marcel De Jong? Jose Torres?).
They're still No. 1 in the weighted lottery order, so maybe they land Benji Joya or Daniel Cuevas or a similar player. Joe Gyau? That'd be nice.
And really, it's all been nice for D.C. since the actual games stopped. They may have lost at a record rate during the 2013 season, but they're winning the Hot Stove League for the first time in a long time.
It's not enough -- this is still a fringe playoff team. But it's a start. And there's surely more to come.